Mesa of Lost Women
|Mesa of Lost Women|
Theatrical release poster
Joy N. Houck
Orville H. Hampton
|Narrated by||Lyle Talbot|
|Music by||Hoyt S. Curtin|
Ray H. Lockert|
|Distributed by||Howco Productions|
The film opens with a brief scene serving as its introduction. A man is being caressed by feminine hands. The next shot includes the face of the woman, Tarantella (Tandra Quinn). A brief kiss between her and the man, ends with his lifeless body falling down. A disembodied voice asks the audience "Have you ever been kissed by a girl like this?" The narrative properly begins in a desert. A narrator (Lyle Talbot) mocks the overblown ego of humanity, a race of puny bipeds which claims to own planet Earth and every living thing on it. Yet, they are outnumbered by the insects, and the Hexapods are likely to survive longer than humans. The narrator then claims that when men or women venture off "the well beaten path of civilization" and deal with the unknown, the price of their survival is the loss of their sanity.
During this narration, the film introduces its protagonists Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) and Doreen Culbertson (Paula Hill). The narrator explains that the two of them are lost in the "great Mexican desert", the "Muerto desert". They are nearly dead from dehydration and sunburn when discovered by an American surveyor and his Mexican companion. These characters are identified as Frank (John Martin) and Pepe (Chrispin Martin). The two victims of the desert recover their senses in "Amer-Exico Field Hospital", somewhere in Mexico. Grant starts narrating his story to Doc Tucker (Allan Nixon), foreman Dan Mulcahey (Richard Travis), and Pepe.
The film flash-backs to events occurring a year earlier in Zarpa Mesa. Famous scientist Leland Masterson (Harmon Stevens) arrives, having accepted an invitation from a fellow scientist named Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan). Aranya (name derived from the Spanish araña for spider) has reportedly penned "brilliant" scientific treatises, and Masterson looks forward to meeting him in person. Masterson is genuinely intrigued by Aranya's theories, but his host informs Masterson that his work is not theoretical. He has already completed successful experiments, creating both human-sized tarantula spiders and human women with the abilities and instincts of spiders. His creation Tarantella has regenerative abilities, sufficient to regrow severed limbs. He seriously expects her to have a lifespan of several centuries. His experiments have had less success in male humans, who simply turn to disfigured dwarfs.
Masterson is horrified and denounces Aranya and his creations, proclaiming that they should be destroyed. In response, Aranya has him injected with a drug, turning him into a doddering simpleton. The front page of a newspaper called Southwest Journal explains that Masterson was eventually found wandering in the desert. He was declared insane and placed in an asylum. Some time later, Masterson escapes the "Muerto State Asylum". He is next seen two days later, in an unnamed American town of the Mexico–United States border. Also present there are Tarantella, businessman Jan van Croft (Nico Lek), and his fiancée Doreen. They were heading to Mexico for their wedding day, but their private airplane had engine problems and stranded them there. Jan's servant Wu (Samuel Wu) is seen exchanging glances with Tarantella. It serves as the first sign that he is working with her.
Masterson is tracked to the bar by his nurse at the asylum, George (George Barrows, the "monster" in "Robot Monster"). The entire bar and its patrons observe Tarantella perform an energetic dance. Masterson apparently recognizes her, pulls a handgun, and shoots her. He then takes Jan, Doreen, and George hostage. He heads for Jan's private airplane and he forces pilot Grant to prepare for takeoff, despite the pilot's protests that only one engine is fully functional. The airplane departs with Doreen, George, Grant, Jan, Masterson, and Wu aboard it. Meanwhile, Tarantella regenerates following her apparent death, and leaves the bar.
In mid-flight, Grant discovers that someone sabotaged the gyrocompass, resulting in them flying towards the wrong direction for most of the flight. Wu's facial expression allows the audience to learn who was the saboteur. The airplane crash-lands atop Zarpa Mesa, where the creations of Aranya were expecting them. For a while being, the creations simply observe them from afar. The film follows the activities of the stranded group for quite a while. There is sexual tension between Grant and Doreen, culminating in a passionate kiss. Meanwhile, the group dwindles with the deaths of first George, secondly Wu, and lastly Jan. Wu is confirmed to have served as an agent of Aranya, but one who outlived his usefulness.
The last three members of the group are then captured. Grant soon recognizes that their captor's name is identical to the Spanish term for "spider", "araña". Aranya cures Masterson from drug-induced imbecility, hoping to recruit him. This backfires as Masterson uses his intellect in a suicide attack. He allows Doreen and Grant to escape, then sets up an explosion which kills himself and everyone else. The flashback ends and we return to the hospital. He fails to convince anyone but Pepe of the truth in his story. Yet the finale reveals that at least one of Aranya's spider-women has survived.
- Jackie Coogan as Dr. Aranya
- Robert Knapp as Grant Phillips
- Mary Hill as Doreen Culbertson
- Harmon Stevens as Dr. Leland Masterson
- Jeanette "Tandra" Quinn as Tarantella
- Nico Lek as Jan Van Croft
- George Barrows as George – Male Nurse
- Samuel Wu as Wu – Valet
- John George as Aranya's Manservant
- John Martin as Frank – Oil Surveyor
- Allan Nixon as Dr. Tucker
- Richard Travis as Foreman Dan Mulcahey
- Chris-Pin Martin as Pepe – Driver
- Lyle Talbot as Narrator
- Katherine Victor as Spider Woman Chauffeur
The film was originally made by Pergor Productions under the title Tarantula and was viewed and granted a Motion Picture Production Code seal in October 1951. When the producers had difficulty in securing a distributor, Howco Productions Inc. bought the film in the spring of 1952 and assigned Ron Ormond to direct additional footage for the film.
Tandra Quinn recalled Ormond took over several months after Tevos completed filming and shot additional sequences including new ones with Jackie Coogan and her character being shot which was not in the original version.
Katherine Victor remembered that she was hired by Ormond as the original film was not able to be picked up for distribution with her desert sequences added to the film.
Director Herbert Tevos, born Herbert Schoellenbach, reportedly claimed to have had a film career in his native Germany, and to have directed films starring Marlene Dietrich and Erich von Stroheim. He even claimed credit for supposedly directing the film The Blue Angel (1930). Actually Mesa was his only known film credit.
The music of the film was composed by Hoyt Curtin. It makes use of a flamenco guitar and a piano, with their sounds combined in what seems to be a free jazz composition. It was later reused in the film Jail Bait (1954). The narrator Lyle Talbot also appeared in various films by Ed Wood, such as Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). One of the various spider-women of Aranya is played by Dolores Fuller, who also appeared in Wood's films. The film also features the film debut of Katherine Victor, as the spider-woman who first drove Masterson to the desert. She would become better known as a regular in Jerry Warren films.
While Tarantella is one of the key characters of the film, this was a silent part for actress Tandra Quinn. She also had a silent part in The Neanderthal Man (1953), playing a deaf-mute. Decades later, Quinn recalled that she never received "a decent speaking part" in a film. She reportedly chose her stage name by modifying one suggested by Tevos. He had suggested the stage name Tandra Nova. She agreed to the first name "Tandra", but found the last name unsuitable and reminiscent of Lou Nova. She instead chose the last name "Quinn" in honor of dancer Joan Quinn.
Mesa was one of six 1950s films to make use of wire-controlled giant spiders. The others were Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), Tarantula (1955), World Without End (1956), Queen of Outer Space (1958), and Missile to the Moon (1958). There is a theory that Mesa and Cat-Women made use of the same giant spider prop. But closer observation of the two films has revealed significant differences in design. Also the spider used in Mesa was limited in movement, a single jump being its greatest action feat. The one in Cat-Women was created by Wah Chang and was more advanced. Both Mesa and Missile to the Moon were partially filmed in the Red Rock Canyon State Park.
The movie is criticized for the low quality acting, most notably that of Coogan, and Harmon Stevens, who plays Dr. Masterson. The plot is far from straightforward. The loud and repetitive musical score by Hoyt S. Curtin, melding flamenco guitar and piano, is seen as maddening or oppositely "very able, a sustained inspiration"  The music used in the movie was also used by Ed Wood in his movie Jail Bait.
- Craig, Rob (2009), "Jail Bait (1954)", Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-5423-5
- Johnson, John (1996), "Wire Propelled Props", Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-0093-5
- Johnson, John (1996), "Giants and Midgets", Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-0093-5
- Johnson, John (1996), "Low Budget Filming and Convenient Sites", Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-0093-5
- Weaver, Tom (2000), "Katherine Victor", Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews Volume 21 of McFarland Classics Series, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-0755-2
- Weaver, Tom (2009), "Tandra Quinn", I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-fi Films and Television, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0-7864-5268-2
- Dennis Grisbeck (July 2006). "Mesa of Lost Women (1953)". The Monster Shack. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
- p.221-225 Weaver, Tom Tandra Quinn Interview from I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-fi Films and Television McFarland, January 1, 2009
- p.386 Weaver, Tom Katherine Victor Interview Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews McFarland, 2000
- Johnson (1996), p. 261
- Warren, Bill Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, The 21st Century Edition McFarland, 12 Jan. 2017
- Weaver (2009), p. 212-231
- Craig (2009), p. 69-82
- Weaver (2000), p. 385-386
- Johnson (1996), p. 23
- Johnson (1996), p. 357