Mesa of Lost Women

Year 1968

Jackie Coogan as   Dr. Aranya
Robert Knapp as  Grant Phillips
Tandra Quinn as Tarantella
Lyle Talbot as Narrator
Harmon Stevens   as Masterson
Directors - Herbert Tevos
  - Ron Ormond  
Screenwriter - Herbert Tevos  

From the same whimsical director who brought you King of the Bullwhip comes this tale of "a race of deadly spider-women luring men to their death!" At least that's what the tag line is for Mesa of Lost Women. As for the movie, there's not much luring, I'd hardly call about a dozen of sterile spider-women a race, and I've yet to see a mesa.

Oh, there's a lot of talk about a mesa. When people describe it, it even sounds like a mesa. But, a series of sloping hills is not a mesa.

Neither a mesa nor a table be

I actually had higher hopes for this movie. Oh, I wasn't expecting much. Maybe a few good lines and something less than boring. If you take a look at the opening credits, a lot of people participated. Usually a big cast means something happens, right? Maybe usually.

To start with, there's a flashback of a flashback as imagined by Grant Phillips, Pepe (Chris-Pin Martin), and the narrator. It starts off with a story by Phillips but then the narrator chimes in with something like, "But you know better, don't you, Pepe," and the time that's rehashed starts earlier than Phillips' story to describe things that Pepe could never have seen.

To summarize what happened, Dr. Aranya (or Uncle Fester as he's more commonly known) gets another scientist, Masterson, to come and visit him. Aranya has found a way to take the second lobe of the pituitary gland of a human and put it into a spider thereby making normal sized people from spiders. (Hey, Doc! There're easier and more fun ways to make people!) But these creatures, ugly dwarf males and pretty good looking females, are mind controlled by Dr. Aranya. Masterson is there to help him create an army of spider creatures to take over the world. No bwah-ha-ha-ha, please.

Masterson refuses, Aranya makes him nuts, Masterson escapes Sunny Day Home for the Unstable, and commandeers an airplane filled with lovable mugs like Phillips. The airplane crash lands on Mesa del Zorcho or whatever the name is. It's unreachable by all but any who wish to bother to get there, it seems. Masterson blows the place up, Phillips and his new squeeze escape and the rest is flashback city.

Now I don't know about your thoughts regarding pituitary glands, but mine run along the lines of how big is this freaking spider that the lobe of a pituitary gland, about one-third the size of a pea, can be shoved into its head. It's bigger than the head of most spiders. In this case, it's a tarantula. Still, just from a size perspective, I'm not convinced. And don't even go the wonky science.

Pituitary glands turn spiders into people and at least one person into a spider who doubles as a stuffed animal at the traveling fair come the fall. Also, I found out that two engine airplanes need both engines to fly and they can't glide. I wonder if birds, who also have wings, aren't allowed to glide, either. After this movie, I dunno.

One of the things that I liked about the movie was the minimal lack of reliance on coicidence. The downside to eschewing coincidence was that a lot of impossible things were never explained. Take the Masterson character. Without him, the plot would be as linear as a Spielberg movie. (Come on, you can give the plot to Jaws in fewer words than I've had to use to explain this amalgamation to you.)

In one scene at the Funny Farm, there's a fully made iron framed bed about three feet from a window and a sheet rope. One end of the sheets is tied to the bed and the other hangs flaccidly out the window. Masterson's escaped! This tells you a few things. 1) They've got a lot of sheets at the asylum considering that Masterson wove a rope out of them without having to touch his own. 2) Either Masterson is so light that his weight can't pull his bed to the window when he used it as an achor or, more plausibly, his room is on the first floor and he didn't need the sheet rope anytway. 3) Masterson, who's called a "killer" at one point couldn't be that dangerous if he's in a room without window bars.

Just after the "breakout!", Masterson shows up at a local seedy dive. He orders a drink and pays for it. Where'd he get the money from? "Oh, he's got lots of money" we're told later. Yeah, but how did he lay his hands on it to spend? Maybe it's one of the things that they let you keep at the asylum. "Take his belt and necktie, but leave him his sheets, his money, and his folding cup." Yes, Masterson has one of those trinkets as well.

Then there's Uncle Fester. I'm reminded of a scene from Uncle Buck where John Candy flips a coin at the principal and tells her, "Here's a quarter. Maybe you can find a rat to gnaw that thing off your face." Uncle Aranya has a mole that looks like a third, droopy eye.

So far, it sounds like it might be a fun movie, right? Heck, the best part is the voice of the narrator, who's like a second tier Vincent Price, and Vincent Price is like a second tier Orson Welles. (Nobody is better than second tier when compared to Orson Welles.)

So much for the good. Now let's get onto the bad. For starters, there's the music. When I hear someone banging on a piano like they do in this movie, I can't help but remember what an uncle of mine once said when he heard me playing a nearly identical ditty. "Stop that! I just had this piano tuned." Then, turning to my father he added, "Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile."

Besides the music, Mesa of Lost Women is on the Under a Rock list because of the time spend following the characters after they've crashed their plane on the mesa. It's boring. Everyone is huddling together near the crash. One guy goes out and gets killed, everybody then leaves and comes back, another guy goes out and the two people left behind fall in love, the guy who went out gets killed, the love struck girl starts "seeing things". Love must be a hallucinogen. I think somebody else dies. Everybody still alive gets captured by the hallucinations. This takes about twenty minutes.

This boring stretch is bookended nicely though. When the plan crashes, Pillips the pilot grabs a flare gun and shoots it into the sky, where if this were a color movie, we'd be treated to a Roman Candle effect. It's black and white, though, so it's pretty drab. "Why did you do that?" he's asked by his future love. "I had one flare. Maybe somebody'll see it. Maybe they won't." Translation: " They've got to do something!"

It reminded me of a scene from a Jetsons cartoon where George is stranded. His futuristic flare gun puts letters in the sky. He fires off H-E-P-L. Noticing his mistake, he corrects it. His flare gun also shoots out strike-through effects.

Back to our survivors. Phillips yells, "Stay with us. They're afraid of fire." As if on cue, the creatures, who seem to have no fear of fire, capture everyone including the less than Cassandra-like Phillips.

Not enough Uncle Fester time, too much stranded on the mesa time, and a score that's atonal time.

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