Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mesa Of Lost Women (1953)

Mesa Of Lost Women

USA 1953 b&w

aka Lost Women, Lost Women Of Zarpa

Directors Ron Ormond, Herbert Tevos Writer Herbert Tevos

Cast Jackie Coogan (Dr. Aranya), Allan Nixon (Dr. Tucker, camp physician), Richard Travis (Dan Mulcahey, foreman), Lyle Talbot (Narrator), Mary Hill (Doreen Culbertson), Robert Knapp (Grant Phillips), Tandra Quinn (Tarantella), Harmon Stevens (Dr. Leland J. Masterson), Nico Lek (Jan van Croft), Dolores Fuller (Blonde 'Watcher in the Woods')

What started out as “Lost Women Of Zarpa” ended up on the shelf for several years until it was bought by Ron “If Footmen Tire You…” Ormond, wrapped in extra scenes and released it as “Mesa Of Lost Women”. It’s hard to see where the old footage ends and the new footage begins – in fact every scene barely hangs together, it’s like a patchwork quilt held together by moth spit and fading hope.

It starts in a fairly straightforward fashion - two lost souls wander endlessly across the Muerto Desert as the Narrator informs us it means “the desert…of death!” before launching into a rant about the war the bipeds – that’s us pathetic humans – and the hexapods. What could he mean? Well, pathetic humans, all will be revealed soon enough…

Once rescued, the male, pilot Grant Phillips, manages to spit out his story of “supermonsters… superbugs” to an incredulous foreman, but Pepe the sympathetic Mexican is a believer. The Narrator then talks directly to Pepe and flashes him back even before Grant’s story to an earlier one: that of Dr Masterson, leading organotherapist, visiting the famed scientist Dr Aranya, in his Mesa hideout in the Mexican mountains. There he finds actor Jackie Coogan, former child actor, future Uncle Fester and now single name actor in Mesa… with a bung eye and mole the size of a German cockroach perched on his face, and his experiments in crossbreeding humans and spiders using venom from an enormous spider puppet he keeps in his closet.

The women are gorgeous, decked out in diaphanous gowns and Bo Derek wigs, but the males end up as dwarves, “puny” and “insignificant”. The wills of both sexes are controlled by Aranya, whose ambitions are (not surprisingly) to take over the world. Masterson has an attack of conscience and tells Aranya he’s insane. “Gibberish!” (not jibberish) Aranya yells back, and does something off-camera to Masterson to send him straight to the Meurto State Asylum.

Cut to the Muerto Cantina, in which rich guy Van Croft and his unimpressed fiancĂ©e Doreen watch one of Aranya’s most successful creations Tarantella do her spidery dance of seduction before she’s dispatched by a wiggy, gun-toting Masterson whose male nurse informs everyone he’s not supposed to be outside his rubber room, and is not the full tray of sausages. Masterson forces Van Croft’s group and his pilot – ah, finally Grant’s story begins! Welcome, old son - at gunpoint to fly over the Muertos Desert, only to crashland in Aranya’s Mesa that’s crawling with his experiments.

And that’s just the beginning of a classic bad (and I mean BAAAAAD) film that seems much longer than its seventy minute running time, though you’ll wish it would never end. If the preposterous narration sounds like Orson Welles reading an Ed Wood Jr script, you’re close – it’s actually Wood regular Lyle Talbot. And the Ed Wood Jr connections don’t just end there; that’s also Wood’s girlfriend and erstwhile leading lady Dolores Fuller as the 'Watcher in the Woods'. Like Wood’s films there’s a jaw-dropping weirdness and delirium about the proceedings that’s utterly addictive, and always – ALWAYS! – that fluttering, stuttering flamenco guitar in the background that’ll send you right to the Muerto State Asylum (“the asylum…of death!”). Superbugs, Superbad, Superfreaky – it’s the 1953 Mesa Of Lost Women.

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