By Doug Gibson
I just watched the Howco so-bad-it's-good mini-budget classic "Mesa of Lost Women." Plot in a nutshell: A couple is found near death wandering in the desert near Mexico. The man, a pilot, recounts a bizarre tale of escaping a 600 foot mesa in the Mexican desert -- they crash-landed -- where a mad scientist, Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan) turns insects, particularly spiders, into beautiful women and dwarfish, disfigured men. While he's recounting his tale, a stereotypical Mexican nods somberly and knowingly. The tale, in flashback involves several characters, including Dr. Masterson, a colleague of Aranya driven mad played atrociously by an actor named Harmon Sevens. There is also Dr. Aranya's prized creation, Tarantella, a tarantula turned sexy dish played by Tandria Quinn. Throughout the entire a flamenco guitar musical score from Hoyt Curtin assaults the viewers' senses. It's so grating as to almost unbearable. Ed Wood fans who have seen "Jail Bait," another Howco regional cheapie, will recognize the score. It's the same.
I don't want to dwell any more on the plot. The film must be seen to be fully impacted and comprehended, as Ed Wood might write! It was a Howco release, the company run by AJ White and Joy Houck, the latter owned a lot of drive-in theaters in the south and I'm sure "Mesa" played at everyone. The film, includes Wood's then girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, in a small role. The special effects are a hoot. There's a cheap model of a plan "flying" through air as it prepares to "crash" on the mesa. A giant spider on the mesa that's allegedly killing everyone wouldn't pass muster in a second-rate haunted house. Stereotypes abound, including the sexy insect women and their gnarlish insect men. Dr. Aranya explains the transformation difference is because females are better spiders than males.
Two directors are listed, Herbert Tevos and Ron Ormond. It seems Tevos started the film but was eventually canned and replaced by Ormond, a colorful figure who progressed from cheap science fiction to cheap near-nudies and eventually closed his career making sadistic Christian films for southern hell-fire-and-damnation congregations that in loving detail recounted the burning horrors that awaited sinners who chose Sunday afternoon football over church services. Eventually, I'll get around to reviewing the Ormond family's Christian scare films of the 1970s.
Despite its low budget and ridiculous plot, "Mesa" sort of resembles "Island of Lost Souls" with Coogan's Dr. Aranya playing the Dr. Moreau role. The film, as bad as it is, is a lot of fun, even with the jarring musical score. (The only worse score I have heard is the awful "For Love or Money" song from the 1967 Ed Wood-involved nudie of the same name.) I like to imagine that Ed Wood, working for Howco at the time, might have contributed a bit to the final product. One of the campies scenes has the sexy Tantarella, who I guess is a stand in for Kathleen Burke's "The Panther Woman," doing a hoochie dance at a dusty Mexican cantina. In the Medved Brothers' "Son of Golden Turkey Awards," the film was named "Most Primitive Male Fantasy." I almost forgot to mention that veteran low-budget actor Lyle Talbot, another Wood actor, provided the narration.