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.
(Mesa of Lost Woman usually played -- often in the southern United States -- on double bills as the second feature. Below are a couple of old newspaper clips of it in release. It served as a double feature to Barbara Payton in Bad Blonde in a drive in at the Wichita Daily Times, in Wichita, Texas. Note that in one clip, from the Greenville Daily Democrat in Mississippi, it is referred to as Lost Women. That was during its later re-release. In that clip Barbara Payton is not only mistakenly touted as a star in the film, her last name is misspelled. Above is an example of Mesa of Lost Women actually headlining at a southern states drive in in Lubbock Texas' Morning Avalanche.)
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 Productions, that 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.