Horrors of Spider Island (1960)
What we have for you today is a fairly sleezy West German exploitation movie from the days when such things were sure-fire money makers, marketed to audiences lusting for some skin and sex without any sort of pesky plot getting in the way. It has buxom Teutonic babes in (slightly) skimpy swimwear lounging around being all sexy and occasionally getting into hair-pulling girl-fights, it has hunky men looking for love in all the wrong bikini bottoms, and it has a tropical setting full of azure lagoons and cozy beachside cabins. And for some inexplicable reason it also has horrible mutant killer spider-people-thingies who want to murder them all and eat their flesh! Rah!
Despite all these appealing elements, Horrors of Spider Island, also found in dank corners of skeevy VHS rental shops as A Corpse Hung in the Web or It's Hot in Paradise, is probably best viewed with the sound muted and your finger firmly on the fast-forward button. This is because the English dub is tragically bad and the parts when the girls aren't in (or out of) bikinis are barely watchable. On second thought, you'd probably be better off watching Beach Blanket Bingo and imagining Godzilla stomping around in the background.
Anyway, we open in the upscale StoFo neighborhood of New York City (that's "Sto-ck Fo-otage", which is just a few blocks down from SoHo) at a talent agency where a gaggle of pretty dancers is waiting patiently in line to audition for an overseas gig in Singapore. The girls are brought in singly to see Gary the manager, which gives us the chance to try and match names with faces/bodies. It's a neat way to introduce characters, but it's kinda pointless this early in the movie, as humans we tend to associate names with actions more than appearances, especially when there are so many names to remember. And the eight girls all have names, I'm almost positive, but they are so essentially interchangeable that I don't feel the need to list any of them here. Some of them have bigger roles to play later on, so I'll save specific intros for then.
As each girl enters the room and flaunts her stuff, so to speak, we are reminded that this is exploitation of the finest order. The defining moment is when the cute girl hikes up her skirt to show off her legs when the manager asks to see them, this is the exploitation genre in a nutshell. It's not so much that she shows her legs to us, but that she so willingly shows them without an ounce of hesitation or any embarrassment. That is what we men really fantasize about and why we watch these movies, to see beautiful women who will flash us the forbidden skin without us having to jump through hoops and buy rings beforehand. That's not normally found in our real lives where women, like men, are generally much more reserved and demure, so it's what we want from our fantasies and what we'll pay money to see on the silver screen. In that respect, Horrors of Spider Island, despite the dated haircuts and bad teeth, delivers in spades.
Speaking of dated, some mention must be made of the music, both the soundtrack and the various records that the girls dance to. When this movie was made (1959/60), I'm sure that the jazzy, swingy, bigband ragtime sound was the bee's knees in Europe, but by the time it hit the American drive-in circuit in 1967 (under the Horrors of Spider Island reissue title), tastes in music for genre audiences were vastly different. By the late '60s, bouncy jazz quartets were so square, man, and Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger were busy whispering seductively to our impressionable teenagers about the illicit joys of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It's actually a surprise to me that the American company that did the dub didn't also update the soundtrack.
I'm your private dancer...
As well, as most of the girls are a tad on the "big boned" side, we are reminded that standards of feminine beauty changed drastically from 1959 to 1967. On the wane were full-figured women who looked like they just stepped off the nose of a B-29, to be replaced by the skinny, androgynous chicks of the Vietnam/Woodstock era. I suppose you could blame that on Twiggy and all those AIP "beach party" movies of the mid '60s, chocked full, as they were, of scrawny bikini babes who never tasted a cheeseburger in their entire lives. But, really, what is considered "sexy" has always, throughout all history, been a nebulous and ever-changing concept. Myself, I prefer the 1940's look, women should have curves like a '42 Ford.
I call that "healthy".
So, these eight young women will be our film's primary cast. And yes, Dick Van Patten was right, eight is enough, though, to be fair, we really could have cut that number in half and the movie would have been just fine. I suppose that the director was going on the theory that every man's tastes in women are different, so if he stocked the cast with girls of every type, from stocky to slim, from blonde to brunette, he'd have a better shot at keeping them in their seats (with their coats over their laps...).
Yeah, this one's pretty cute, I guess, whatever.
I can't continue without mentioning the big gorilla in the room: this movie's awful, horrible, soul-rapingly bad English dub. It's not so much that they couldn't/didn't find actresses whose voices matched their on-screen characters, or that some of the girls sound like they're from deepwoods East Tennessee and others sound like English is their third language, or even that the actual dialogue is so hokey and simplistic that it sounds like an episode of Sesame Street, but rather the main problem with the dub is that they seemed to have recorded it inside of what surely was a drained 50-gallon steel oil drum placed in the exact center of a cavernously empty dirigible hanger located on the lip of the Grand Canyon. There is just so much hollow reverb and dull, pancaking echo to the voices that it totally distracts you from the main purpose of this movie, mainly, the boobs. The mute button will be your best friend.
Intern Kelby's got my back on the mute.
Anyway, the lovelies and their manager Gary board a stock footage plane at LaGuardia, switch to another stock footage plane at LAX, and lastly onto what looks like a stock footage B-17 bomber in Honolulu for the last leg of the long transpacific flight to Singapore. Somewhere over the South Pacific, their plane catches fire and plummets nose-first down to the harsh waves below. And since there is absolutely no way anyone is surviving a crash with that much airframe-rending, wing-ripping, body-pulping velocity, this movie presumably ends here. Oddly, though, my DVD counter says there's still 52 minutes left. Pam, any idea why that would be the case when surely all of our lead characters are shredded shark bait?
Come on, Nate, those healthy buxom German girls will hold up under conditions that would pulverize scrawny American actresses. Anyway, we can clearly see that they all lived through it, how are you going to argue with what you see with your own two eyes?
My research suggests that girls in the 1960s came factory installed with flotation devices.
In fact, we can see that they not only lived through the crash, they escaped completely uninjured, although a few days crammed together in a life boat with little food and water are beginning to tell on them. They are all sprawled out, drooping, sobbing, and begging for water. Fortunately their manager Gary, being a man, is undaunted by the fact that they have no idea where they are, have no means of communication, and are nearly out of water. He's sure that a ship will come by soon, or that they'll hit land. I conclude that even though he's a man, his math skills leave something to be desired, since he seems to be unable to compare the size of the life raft with the size of the ocean and conclude that the odds are overwhelming that they're going to die out there. However, I'm a mere woman, and immediately I'm proven wrong about Gary's math, as they do indeed spot an island, fortunately not a desolate speck of land but rather large and heavily forested.
Say, what about the pilots and the aircrew? None of them survived, but these bimbos did? Or did they and the girls already ate them?
Since they were able to survive a plane crash that shouldn't have even left bodies intact, nobody will be surprised to hear that all those fair-skinned blondes arrived at the island without a trace of sunburn, even though the life boat had no shelter from the sun. The girls' clothing also is in surprisingly good shape, and I swear some of them are still wearing stockings (held up by garter-belts -- no pantyhose when this movie was made). The girls can barely stagger ashore, but Gary seems as fresh and energetic as though he just got off the plane. Maybe he was sneaking food and water on the life boat?
Women weren't allowed to walk in 1960.
The island itself is quite pleasant, made even more so by the saxophone playing make-out music in the background. After a brief search, Gary finds a charming little waterfall that will supply them with ample water. (There's a goof here as Gary starts down the hill to the waterfall wearing a shirt but is shirtless when he gets to the waterfall.) How is it that in movies like this the water supply is never contaminated with disease-carrying bacteria, the way it probably would be in real life? It's also fresh water, even though it's only maybe a hundred yards from the ocean.
Seems like an easier way to drink.
Gary allows the girls only a short time to drink before he orders them all to come with him and explore further. They meekly trail after him through the brush, and a couple of them are wearing high heels! Women were tougher back then. One of them comes across a hammer, and Gary reasonably deduces that there was somebody else on the island at one time, not so reasonably that he must still be there, and with no basis whatsoever that the hammer was used to excavate uranium (!!!). Being a manager of a troupe of dancers must require an astounding knowledge of geology!
"Quick, girls, let's hammer in the morning."
Shrugging off this discovery, which after all isn't of immediate concern to them, the group continues through the brush and very shortly happens across a cabin. By this time Gary's shirt has developed some gaping holes, and the girls' clothing has acquired some strategically-placed slits that show off their legs but somehow don't reveal anything X-rated. The brief drink at the waterfall has perked them up remarkably, and the women who appeared close to death just a few minutes ago now scamper eagerly toward the cabin. Their high spirits are quenched, though, when they open the front door only to see an elderly man apparently dead and stuck to a giant spider web. They all scream and run away, and I guess I can't blame them.
Thus the film's original title...
Manly Gary goes in the cabin to investigate, accompanied by Georgia, who is not a dancer but seems to be Gary's assistant, and also his Significant Other. Something must have been cut out of the movie here, and next we see a long shot of Gary carrying something out of the cabin. It must have been the old man, who Gary apparently just dumped outside like so much garbage, since there's no time for him to have dug a grave and we hear no more about what happened to the body. Georgia tells the girls to come on in, and as they leave the trees they've been huddling under, and we are more than a quarter of the way through the movie, we see the first sure sign that this is actually a horror movie: a large spider is lurking behind the girls.
Strength in numbers.
Notice I said a large spider, not a giant spider. While it's certainly bigger than any spider you'll see crawling around your house (at least I hope so, for your sake), as horror movie spiders go, it's definitely undersized. It's not easy to judge its size here on account of the way it's posed, but it seems to stand less than a foot off the ground, and its head looks to be no more than about six inches in diameter. Compare it to the whopper that turned up in Catwomen of the Moon, which made no pretense to being about giant spiders, and don't even mention the gigantic Kumonga in Son of Godzilla, a movie that was also not primarily about giant spiders. This spider is so small that a few blows from that hammer they found earlier would be enough to kill it. When it comes to horror caused by spiders, we the audience have been grossly cheated by this movie.
Shelob, he ain't.
There seems to be another bit of a gap here, and we next see Georgia and Gary discussing the demise of the old man. He conveniently left a detailed diary in the cabin, and Gary seems to have had time to read it completely. The old man, who we learn was a Professor Green, had a premonition about something awful happening, which he was considerate enough to confide to his diary. This notation seems to have impressed Gary more than the fact that he found a dead man trapped in a six-foot-tall spider web.
A young Angela Merkel, perhaps?
Georgia and the other girls express some fear about what might happen, which certainly seems reasonable in light of the fact that there's a spider lurking around, who's able to spin a web big enough to trap a man and has poison strong enough to kill him immediately, without giving him time to struggle (there was no sign of the web being disturbed). However, all is forgotten when the girls come across both canned food and a supply of the Professor's clothing, which includes more short shorts than you would think a man of his age would need, at least judging by the way the girls are dressed in subsequent scenes.
Don't be testy, there's enough clothes to go around.
As the girls fight over the clothes, Gary inventories the food and says there's about enough for a month. He decides that next morning they must go to the highest point of the island and build a signal fire. However, the next day comes with the girls still fighting. Linda, the part-time stripper we met earlier, takes off her blouse to beat the heat. She's wearing the usual sturdy bra of the time, so it's not that revealing, but then she slowly unzips her skirt, revealing that she's actually wearing a one-piece bathing suit (where did she get that?), and undulates by Gary, who seems to be sucking in his stomach as hard as he can. She gives him a smoldering look, and the look on his face says he's pretty happy with what he sees. Then for no reason we cut to a back view of a woman talking a shower outside, topless but oddly wearing panties. There's more make-out music playing in the background, and it's pretty obvious that this shot of the woman showering has nothing to do with the plot, such as it is.
Gary tells Georgia that he's going to take a walk, and as he steps outside onto the porch, we see several of the girls, all wearing much less than they were when they came ashore. Perhaps it's prickly heat, but they're all slowly writhing as they lie on the porch (which looks splintery, I'd expect more signs of pain). Gary isn't missing a move, and Linda becomes more aggressive when she sees him. She presses herself against him and kisses him, and he doesn't push her away. Georgia unfortunately chooses this moment to come outside, and the sight provokes a rather reproachful "Gary." She doesn't sound too upset, though, maybe it's the heat. However, as Gary turns red and slinks off, muttering something about how the heat made him do it, Georgia turns to Linda and slaps her twice. Georgia, you're really blaming the wrong person here, no matter what Linda did, Gary didn't have to kiss her!
"Luckily the Professor had a cabinet full of Nair!"
Gary, meanwhile, is stumbling aimlessly through the trees and bushes, as thunder rumbles and lightning crashes. (Yes, the storm really did come up this abruptly.) He stops and looks uneasy, possibly remembering how the Professor died, but it's too late. The spider appears on Gary's shoulder, and I mean that literally because we don't see how it got there. Gary wrestles with the spider for an improbably long period of time, since the spider's small enough so that somebody a lot weaker than Gary seems to be could easily pull it off and throw it away. He does finally get the spider off and shoots it with the pistol he found in the Professor's cabin, but it's too late. Gary has been bitten, and the spider venom has a very unfortunate effect: Gary grows big pointy teeth, his face gets all bumpy and ugly, not that he was all that good-looking before, and his right hand also becomes bumpy and grows big claws. You can't see his left hand, so I don't know if the effect was limited only to his right hand. With that, I'll turn the review back over to Nate.
Spiders have hands? Who knew?
Well, thanks ever so much, Pam, I'll be glad to watch another segment of beautiful, buxom women in peril. The next morning they go out looking for Gary, as they desperately need something off the top shelf of the cabinet and that pickle jar is kicking their asses. SpiderGary is lurking about, all growling and hissing, and he's got murder on is mind. He sneaks up behind one girl and puts his furry claw on her shoulder in one of those movie fright-jump moments that was probably only scary when you were seven-years old. The girl, however, can't be bothered to turn around and faint like a good 1950's woman, so she manages to escapes harm.
"I lack peripheral vision, but my gams are lovely."
SpiderGary then attacks the whorey stripperella Linda and kills her easily as she's the type to just stand there and scream. Hey, by the way, why doesn't she now turn into a spider? How does this work, the original spider bit Gary and he turned into a spider, but the Professor didn't and neither does Linda? Does it only work on the "first generation" of spiders? Did the spider only paralyze the Professor as spiders tend to do with their food? Did they not bother to check the poor guy's pulse before tossing him out in the back yard? Is SpiderGary not looking for food when he attacks the girls, is he just looking to kill them in some arachnohumanoid homicidal rage? Spiders, presumably even mutant ones, rarely kill for sport.
Linda does have peripheral vision, it seems, not that it helps her much because the skanky girls always get their comeuppance in these types of movies.
Even putting aside a killer spider thingie hunting them, the girls are now in serious trouble, as without a man around to tell them what to do, they just fall apart at the seams. Georgia is the nominal leader, as she had some pre-crash authority as Gary's assistant, but she's a bit of a twitchy mess as well and we start to get some hints of an all-girl version of the Lord of the Flies about to happen. There appears to be a sharp division between the slightly less dumbass girls and the completely retarded bimbo mattresses as they begin to squabble and compete over the limited supply of hair spray and tanning gel. Tensions explode, harsh words are spoken, and two of the girls get into a hair-pulling, belt-whipping, meaty thigh-scratching, barroom catfight that's only 17% as sexy as it sounds. It's hard to get two actresses to really "sell" a catfight, though, as it's pretty easy to get hurt and no woman is going to risk serious injury for a bit part in some crappy b-movie that only ten people will see.
"Owowow! You're on my hair! Ow!"
A month passes, their stock of canned food runs short, and since none of them could possibly think of fishing or foraging on this verdant tropical isle, the situation looks grim. Spirits are both raised and dashed when a ship appears on the horizon, but then sails away without seeing them. The girls do find the dead spider eventually, along with Gary's necklace and the pistol. From this they deduce that the monster stalking them has to be SpiderGary, though they don't really seem too upset about it. So, that throw-away line about uranium was a hint that the original spider was a radioactive mutant, right? So was that the only one on the island? Can uranium rocks really cause that sort of genetic mutation in arachnid species? There are uranium mines all over western Nebraska, dear God, are there radioactive mutant killer spiders terrorizing the fair citizens of Nebraska?!? Why hasn't Katie Couric mentioned anything about this abominable threat to our nation's heartland? I pay my taxes, shouldn't the gubbmint be doing something about this? And why is SpiderGary still wearing pants?
"Rah! Go 'Huskers!"
Anyway, just when things look dire, two men show up on the island in a small boat with supplies. These are the long-dead Professor's hired support staff, returning as scheduled with a load of food, radio gear, and (oddly) hard liquor. There's an older, more responsible guy and a younger, randier guy, both played by "actors" who are just making up their lines as they go along. Remember when I was pounding them for the horrible English dub with the eight girls? Well, whoever is dubbing these two guys apparently thinks all English-speaking males sound like either John Wayne or John Holmes.
The men have arrived, you can relax now.
They spy the girls frolicking naked in the lagoon, their worries and fears seemingly forgotten, lured by the forbidden appeal of skinny dipping and splash-fighting with vaguely lesbian overtones. Both to tease the audience and to keep the censors from setting fire to the negatives, the director films the girls from far enough away that you really have to squint and think perverted thoughts to see anything really scandalous. This is a standard adolescent fantasy, by the way, surreptitiously peeking at nekkid chicks, be they at your older sister's slumber party or through a hole in the girl's locker room shower. I can say with certainty that, unless they were raised in an isolated fervently Apostolic compound in Utah, all men have had this sort of fairly tame voyeuristic experience at some point in their early formative years, and they probably still remember it 30 years later.
Those better not be flesh-colored bathing suits.
Once everyone gets together and all the mistaken identities are worked out, all is fine. The men tell the girls their boat is coming back soon and they can all go home, their long ordeal is over. The girls, now that they have real men around to make the decisions for them, can go back to devoting all their energy and brain-power to being exploitable sex-objects again. So they fashion bikinis out of tree bark and palm fronds, break out their emergency stash of eye liner and razors, and that night have a dance party with the men to celebrate. The music is popping, the whiskey is flowing, the boobies are bouncing, and no one remembers to mention to the men about the mutant killer beast hunting them down one at a time.
Chatting with the fresh meat (for both sides).
The younger guy, quite possibly the horniest man alive, gleefully goes from girl to girl, slobbering and kissing on anything that has breasts he can get his hands on. The girls are pretty ok with sharing him like this, though you can tell that one of them (randombrunettechick) has ulterior designs to domesticate him and have his babies. He's not exactly the handsomest man alive, and he clearly hasn't had a shower in quite a few days, so you wonder if the girls are just desperate for some lovin' and virtually any man will do at this point.
That causes babies, stop it.
The older guy, however, seems to have settled on Ann, the shy blonde girl from Minnesota with the hourglass figure and the slick dance moves, and, after small-talking with her for about two minutes, is totally in love and stuff. She's willing to be wooed and ready to settle down and give up the single life, so I can predict they will one day have a nice house in the suburbs and one of those fancy refrigerators with the ice maker in the front. And as the eternal fires of love are stoked, back now to Pam to finish off Horrors of Spider Island.
Thanks ever so, Nate. By the way, I can explain why Gary turned into a sort-of spider but the Professor and Linda didn't. It has to do with the ratio of testosterone level versus the amount of melanin in the skin, which is synergistically related to...ah, the bone density and, uh,...the strength of nail cartilage, and...and...Well, it's very, very scientific, you'll just have to take my word for it. Anyway, we see it happen on screen so it must be true.
SpiderGary needs some skin lotion.
Back to the movie, where trouble has arisen. The two guys have gotten into a heated argument about the virtue, or lack thereof, of the dancers. For some reason they decide the appropriate location for a fight is inside the cabin, so they head in there and go to it. However, the fighters quickly collapse into laughter, possibly about how obviously staged the fight is, and the brief moment of excitement is over. The younger guy wanders off into the woods and Randombrunettechick trails after him -- something that proves her devotion, because she's barefoot and it's dark (or supposed to be, the day-to-night effect isn't as good as it could be).
Alcohol and jealousy never mix.
True love seems impervious to rocks and stickers, and Randombrunettechick catches up to Younghornyguy, who is sitting under a tree. She's too late, though, he falls over dead at her feet, and we see a bloodstain on his neck. We can deduce that SpiderGary must have bitten him, although there's been no sign of him anywhere around. Poor Randombrunettechick screams, alerting the other girls and Older Not-so-horny-guy, who run to help her. She is racing through the woods, somehow managing not to run into anything, while Gary-the-spider chases her. They are climbing over the rocks at the beach when the others reach them, but curse the luck, the older guy's gun won't fire. He gallantly leaves the girls to help their comrade while he "returns to the cabin for ammunition," or so he says. The girls are braver than you'd expect, or maybe they've just had a lot to drink, because they climb the rocks to try to help her. Their effort prove useless, as the poor girl falls over a cliff onto the rocks below and must surely be dead, although she's draped very gracefully over the rocks instead of lying in a crumpled heap. Must be her dancer's training.
And she already had their China patterns picked out!
The older guy is delayed in his quest for ammunition when he comes across the body of his buddy and pauses to grieve a little, but he does eventually recall that there's a woman in grave peril back on the beach and gets up to go to the cabin. Proving that in the end it's useless to flee from danger, who should he run into but Gary. The fight is brief, and Gary gets the best of the older guy, who runs off with Gary in hot pursuit. (In some of the longer shots, it appears that Gary isn't wearing his spider's makeup.)
"This rock is so heavy!"
We have another disjoint now, as we see the older guy and Georgia in the cabin with Gary breaking through the door. Georgia crouches fearfully against a wall, and the older guy moves out of camera range and...does something. Possibly. Whatever it is he's doing, it's quiet. (I think he's just hiding from Gary.) However, another reproachful "Gary." from Georgia makes him back away from her, and finally the older guy emerges from the shadows to bravely keep away from Gary as Gary repeatedly lunges at him. Gary finally gets him by the throat and proceeds to strangle him, having apparently forgotten that he now possesses fangs and venom, not to mention long sharp claws. In the meantime Georgia has set a stick of wood on fire, and in the best tradition of movie monsters, Gary drops the older guy and runs away as soon as she waves it at him.
I think that's a highway road flare.
Now that Gary has left the scene, the older guy grabs the torch away from Georgia and issues orders to the other girls, who by now have abandoned Randombrunettechick and returned to the cabin. The girls put up no argument when the older guy gives them all flaming torches and tells them to find Gary. To be fair, the older guy is right there with them this time. They spend a lot of time running through the woods, but Gary is finally spotted and pursued. He runs into a patch of quicksand that was never mentioned before, and in a less-than-dramatic manner flounders through it until he hits a deep spot, at which point it's curtains for Gary. And as Gary slowly sinks into the west, a ship appears in the lagoon, and they all head back to civilization. The end. No joke, the movie really does end this abruptly.
SpiderGary is no more.
Brother. What a movie. According to the Internet, which sees and knows all, this movie was never intended to be a horror movie at all. It was supposed to be a movie about the aviation industry and airplane safety...No. As you've probably guessed, it was supposed to be a movie about randy men and women on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere. It was made in Germany and released as an "Adults Only" movie in the United States, but it turned out to be a little too raunchy for Americans of the time. Not wanting to miss out on the lucrative American market, the filmmakers cut out the most daring parts and hastily shoehorned in some footage about a large spider. Possibly the movie made more sense before it was hacked apart, but I can't imagine it was ever very good. Who wastes good acting on what's basically soft-core porn?
Before we leave this excellent movie, is there anything you want to add, Nate?
Ah, nah, no thanks, Pam, I've run out of aspirin and shotgun shells, so I better not think about it too much more.
Written in March 2011 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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