Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mesa of Lost Women

By Steve D. Stones

Just how bad is Mesa of Lost Women? Well, I may be the wrong person to
answer this question, since I’m a peddler of bad cinema. Even by my
standards, Mesa of Lost Women is pretty bad. With two directors at the
helm, Mesa should have turned out so much better.

The growing cult surrounding the film may be a result of many principle
players of the film having ties to Ed Wood. For example, Lyle Talbot,
star of Wood’s Jail Bait, Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space,
narrates the film. The annoying music score by Hoyt Curtin is used in
both Mesa and Jail Bait. The lovely Dolores Fuller and Mona McKinnon
star as spider girls. However, this film is much more difficult to watch
than any Ed Wood film, which is saying a lot.

Another cult aspect of the film has to do with the casting of George Barrows as a sanitarium nurse. Barrows is the actor who put on a gorilla suit and scuba helmet to star as Ro-Man in the infamous Robot Monster. Barrows went on to play another gorilla named Anatole in Hillbillies In A Haunted House.

Jackie Coogan, who went on to star as Uncle Fester in The Adams Family television show, plays Dr. Arana. Arana conducts experiments in a secret laboratory in the Muerto Desert on beautiful women and spiders.

Dr. Leland Masterson, the worst actor in the film, is invited to Arana’s
lab to witness some of Arana’s experiments and findings. Arana explains
to Masterson that he can inject beautiful women with a growth hormone
from spiders, which makes the women become indestructible. Masterson
accuses Arana of being mad, so Arana injects him with the growth
hormone, which causes him to go insane.

Somehow Masterson escapes Arana’s lab, ends up in a Mexican insane
asylum and then escapes from the asylum in less than ten seconds of
screen time. He then makes an appearance at a local Mexican cantina
where he becomes infatuated with a pretty blonde, played by Mary Hill.
The blonde is getting married later that evening to her much older
fiancé. The two sit at a cantina table as Masterson joins them.
Masterson’s nurse, played by George Barrows, then joins them at the
table in an attempt to take Masterson back to the local sanitarium. One
of Dr. Arana’s spider girls named Tarantella, played by the beautiful
Tandra Quinn, performs a very bizarre dance in front of the patrons in
the cantina. In a fit of rage, Masterson kills Tarantella with a
gunshot, and then takes the bride, her husband and Barrows hostage.

I could go on and on with the plot of Mesa of Lost Women, but you get
the point in just how bad it is. It should also be noted that Howco
Studios who produced Mesa of Lost Women also produced Ed Wood’s Jail
Bait. This may be the reason why the Hoyt Curtain score is used in both
films, and why many of the same actors are used. If Ed Wood had directed
this film, I feel it would have turned out much better, which may not be
saying much. At least the bad elements of an Ed Wood film are funny,
campy and enjoyable to watch. The bad elements of Mesa of Lost Women
could never rise to Ed Wood’s level of “bad cinema” excellence.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mutiny in Outer Space, a Great 60s Space Opera

By Steve D. Stones

From the moment I read about this film in Scary Monsters Magazine #22, I had to track it down and purchase it for my collection. The film is a summation of so many great 1950s & 60s cult science fiction films, such as: It-The Terror From Beyond Space, Space Probe Taurus, The Green Slime, Day of The Triffids, First Man Into Space, The Thing From Another World and Assignment Outer Space. What makes the film particularly interesting to me is that it stars many cult actors, such as Glen Langan from The Amazing Colossal Man, the lovely Dolores Faith from The Phantom Planet and Richard Garland from Attack of The Crab Monsters. Some of the music from The Phantom Planet is also used in this film.

Space Station X-7 sends Major Gordon Towers and Captain Don Webber to collect samples from ice caves on a nearby moon. On the way back to the space station, Webber complains of a pain in his leg. After returning, Webber faints and is taken to a care unit on the station. Dr. Faith Montaine, played by Dolores Faith, is a biochemist who conducts experiments on plants in her laboratory and tests a sample taken from Webber’s infected leg. She concludes that a fungus brought back from the ice caves has infected him. Webber’s infected leg soon grows rapidly with fungus. The fungus eventually consumes his entire body and kills him.

Major Towers suggests to the ship’s captain, Colonel Cromwell, played by Richard Garland, that they report Webber’s death to earth base immediately. Cromwell fears that if they report the truth about Webber’s death, the ship will become quarantined and supplies will not be delivered to them from earth base. This causes Towers and Cromwell to fight.

Meanwhile, Dr. Montaine is in her lab conducting more experiments. Giant fungus plants trap her in the lab. Towers is able to save the damsel in distress and quickly get her out of the laboratory.

Towers reports the giant fungus plants to Cromwell, and once again the two men disagree on how the incident should be reported to earth base. On earth base, General Noland, played by Glen Langan, orders a quarantine of Space Station X-7. Towers suggests that everyone on board the space station get into their space suits so that the temperature can be lowered to freeze the giant fungus plants. General Noland aids in the fight by ordering rocket ships to blast the area surrounding the space station with cold air. This eventually kills the fungus plants for good.

What I love about this film is the fact that the real monster and threat in the film is not the giant fungus plants, but claustrophobia itself. Like the 1951 version of The Thing From Another World, it is not the space alien played by James Arnes that is the real threat in the film. It is the threat of having no place to run or hide, much like the survivors in Night of The Living Dead who trap themselves in an abandoned farmhouse. The cold outside is also the real monster in The Thing From Another World. Mutiny In Outer Space works so well because as a viewer, you begin to feel trapped and become very claustrophobic on board the Space Station X-7. Here, it is the cold that saves the characters of the film. A similar situation occurs in It-The Terror From Beyond Space when Marshall Thompson orders everyone on board his ship to get into space suits so he can lower the air pressure of the ship to kill the alien on board. I suppose Mutiny In Outer Space may have borrowed this concept from It-The Terror From Beyond Space.

If you’re a fan of 1950s and 60s cheap science fiction films, I suggest you seek out Mutiny In Outer Space. This is another film that is difficult to find at any local video store. Lucky for me, someone was selling it on e-bay. It is now a treasured addition to my movie collection.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

50s Sci-Fi: Recalling Fire Maidens in Outer Space


This is another one of those “middle aged men meets curvy cuties in tight outfits on the moon” film that was typical of 1950s entertainment. Other films in this science fiction sub-genre of the 50s include: Cat Women of The Moon, Missile To The Moon and Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor. While Queen of Outer Space is the most well produced and well known of these films, I find this film to be the most interesting of the group.

After landing on a moon near the planet Jupiter, a group of space travelers, known as Expedition 13, encounter a beautiful screaming woman. She leads them to a stone dwelling and to a room with a painting of a woman floating on a seashell. The painting looks much like Sandro Botticelli’s painting of “The Birth of Venus.” In fact, the man waiting to greet the expedition, known as Prosis, refers to the women of Jupiter as “the last descendants of Aphrodite,” an Ancient Greek goddess. The room is decorated with Ancient Greek art, and the women even wear dresses that display the meandor pattern found on Ancient Greek terra cotta vases. The women dance to the music of Borodin’s “Polovetsin Dances.” The title of the film suggests they are fire maidens because they perform sacrifices around a burning altar.

The most interesting aspect of this film is the dopey looking alien monster that secretly watches the second group of Expedition 13 behind a group of trees. Later, the alien attacks the maidens as they perform a sacrifice. The alien wears black tights and a mask that looks like a rejected design for the Planet of The Apes films, minus the facial hair and lots of pimples. Both Missile To The Moon and Queen of Outer Space have scenes using a ridiculous looking giant rubber spider, but I find myself more interested in the dopey looking creature used in this film. He growls like a lion at the zoo.

If you purchase this film for your collection, I would strongly recommend that you purchase it from Sinister Cinema in Medford, Oregon. The print they sell is in very good condition. Avoid at all costs the print sold by Crypt Flicks. It is out of focus and in very poor condition. Many of the films I have bought from Crypt Flicks, such as The Lost Missile and Fire Maidens In Outer Space, have been very poor in quality. It is not worth the $15 they charge you for each film. Plus, they never respond to e-mail complaints if you send them an e-mail.
Steve D. Stones

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Vincent Price and The Haunted Palace

On May 3 THIS movie network ran Vincent Price chillers all days. One was The Haunted Palace!

The Haunted Palace, 1963, 85 minutes, American International, directed by Roger Corman. Starring Vincent Price as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen, Debra Paget as Ana Ward, Frank Maxwell as Ian/Dr. Willett, Lon Chaney Jr. as Simon Orne, Leo Gordon as Edgar Weeden/Ezra Weeden and Cathie Merchant as Hester Tillinghast. Schlock-Meter rating: 7 stars out of 10.

This is a better-than-average Vincent Price AIP 1960s offering. It offers chills, atmosphere and good direction from movie legend Corman. The story concerns a mild mannered man (Price), who moves to the mysterious town of Arkham with his wife (Paget) to inhabit a creepy castle, or palace. The townspeople, a forbidding, brooding, suspicious group except for one doctor (Maxwell), react in panic after they discover Price's character (Charles Dexter Ward) resembles an evil ancestor (Joseph Curwen) who was executed by Arkham residents long ago.

It isn't long before Price begins to take on the personality of his evil ancestor, much to the terror of his lovely wife, whom he begins to treat very roughly. With some assistance, the now evil Price (possessed by Curwen) spends much of the film extracting revenge from the descendents of the townspeople who killed him, and trying to resurrect to life a long-dead love (Merchent).

The film boasts a lot of atmosphere. Including aging horror great Lon Chaney Jr. was a casting coup for Corman. As an evil henchman of Price, he doesn't have much to do, but he lends a spooky credibility to the film just with his presence.

The title The Haunted Palace is from Edgar Allen Poe, but there's no resemblance to the story. Indeed the plot is from an H.P. Lovecraft short novel, The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but even then, the story only touches briefly on Lovecraft's plot. As is often with a Lovecraft tale, the sinister town of Arkham is the setting. Fans of Price will really enjoy this film. He's at his best. Others will find it an excellent sample of AIP's 60s horror offerings.

-- Doug Gibson