Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Horrors of Spider Island (Germany/Yugoslavia/1960)

The third and (unsurprisingly) last film directed by Fritz Böttger, Horrors of Spider Island (Ein Toter hing in Netz) is the most readily available of the three women-on-an-island exploiters that the legendary German sleaze-film producer Wolf C. Hartwig produced at the start of the 1960s, the other two being the almost as enjoyably bad Flitterwochen in der Hölle (Isle of Sin) and the abysmally boring Die Insel der Amazonen (Seven Dancing Girls).
Horrors of Spider Island was first released in the U.S. in 1962 entitled It's Hot in Paradise due to a few discreet "nude" scenes (a nude group swim seen from the distance and a showering woman wearing only panties and seen from the back, among others), but was soon re-released in its present form and under its present title — supposedly the new version was trimmed of some skin, but most likely the actual cuts made are the cause of the occasional savage jumps in the (non)action later in the film. In any form, Horrors of Spider Island is a classic example of z-grade filmmaking, a film so hilariously inept in every way that it achieves that special, indefinable level of otherness that causes some celluloid mistakes to become enjoyably entertaining.
The opening scene of a casting call in L.A. for dancers for a review to be performed in Malaysia alone makes the film worth seeing. The bad dubbing is easily overlooked as various curvaceous ladies (no anorexics here, for sure) of varying moral levels prove their performance skills by showing-off their legs or stripping down to their undies. In no time flat, eight babes and their macho manager Gary (Alexander Darcy, also seen as Count Dracula in Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)) are on their way to Malaysia by way of New York (!), but half-way to Hawaii (!) their plane catches fire and crashes into the ocean — all of which is shown using stock footage and an occasional close-up of some screaming dancers or a supposed air traffic controller in an empty room.
Of course, no one but the girls and Gary survive the nose-dive crash of the flaming plane, and after five days floating in a raft on a waveless ocean they land upon an island where they promptly find a cabin containing a dead man in a spider web (the inspiration for the German title, which translates literally into "A Corpse Was Hanging in the Web"). With nothing better to do, the eight gals spend the first night getting in catfights, doing their lipstick and sleeping in their skivvies on the porch while Gary tries to play the man in charge.
Linda-the-Slut (Elfie Wagner) gets Gary all hot and bothered so he walks out into the night looking for a place to rub more than just his shirtless chest, but before he can get unzipped he gets bitten in the neck by some hilariously cheap looking mutant spider (much like the monster in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (1955), the spider has a hard time attacking without help from the attacked).
Transformed into a clawed and fanged monster desperately in need of a shave and haircut, Gary goes back to the cabin the next day and kills Linda-the-Slut while the rest of the gals stumble around the island searching for him.
(As one of the girls says later when they find Linda's body submerged in a pool of water, "(She was) strangled by a spider!") Next Gary almost goes for his assistant Georgia (Helga Franck — who died for real in 1963 when she supposedly tripped out of the window of her 5th floor apartment in Munich) — but decides to run for the forest instead. 28 days of cat fighting later Gary still hasn't reappeared, but Joe (Harald Maresch) and Bob (Rainer Brandt) do. Helpers of the titular man in the spider web, they have come back to the island with new supplies. (According to Time Magazine (Monday, Dec. 25, 1944), Harald Maresch, once known as “Harold Ramond,” not only fought Nazis in Vienna and Prague as a member of the underground, he was also a Dachau escapee. He was also the man whom the “Mexican Spitfire” Lupe Valez, her career on the wane and facing public disgrace by being both unmarried and pregnant, spoke to in her suicide note, which said: "Harold: May God forgive you and forgive me too, but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's before I bring in him with shame or killing him.") Confronted by all the pulchritude, the two manly men quickly forget that their boss is dead and decide to spend the next six days until the supply boat comes back partying down with the babes — as Bob says at one point, "What are dancers? Hot goods for cold nights." That night there is a big bikini party, but even as Joe falls for Ann (Helga Neuner) and Bob works his way through the remaining willing babes on his way to meet Gladys (Dorothee Parker — the only actress to be in all three of Hartwig’s island movies) on the beach, Gary still wanders the island jungle...
Although the plot synopsis above does give some indication of the ineptitude of the production, what it fails to convey is the film's actual overall graceless incompetence in every aspect, be it the direction, editing, narrative, acting, dubbing, lighting, continuity — everything! To point out the film's flaws would take more time than to watch it. Indeed, Horrors of Spider Island is a truly, wonderfully lousy film; one of those so-bad-their-good z-films that reveal to the world that Ed Wood was not alone in his surrealistic ability to create surreally crappy but entertaining crappy films (to give Ed Wood credit where credit is due, he at least did so with lower budgets). If you like bad films, give this turkey a chance and you might think it's Thanksgiving; if you don’t like bad films, well, don’t say you weren't forewarned.

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