“En route to a show in Singapore, a troupe of beautiful dancers are stranded on a deserted island by a plane crash. Their routine of skinny-dipping and devising new skimpy outfits is interrupted when a radioactive spider bites their manager and turns him into a wild-eyed, furry-faced monster with three fangs and a passion for strangling.” (courtesy IMDB)
Witness, if you dare, a handful of girls enslaved by a diabolical human beast on an island where there is no way out! Watch him strangle his victims with his mammoth claws! One bite from a giant spider turns a man into the world’s most hideous monster with a diabolical lust to kill, craving the blood of beautiful women! Shock upon shock, terror upon terror, in the blood-curdling, hair-raising, spine-chilling, Horrors Of Spider Island (1960)! And all that just from the poster art!
I’m not exactly sure where to begin with The Horrors Of Spider Island. From the poor black and white photography, horrendous dubbing, low-grade production values, completely idiotic characters, stock footage padding, tacky monster effects and sheer schlock factor, this movie is loaded with all the proper ingredients for a true cinematic train wreck. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I find it not only watchable but strangely, and dare I say disturbingly enthralling as it unfolds.
It isn’t just the sight of all that female flesh on parade. Sure, a couple of the girls are curvy and cute, but I don’t really find them that attractive to look at, and just a few shots of these whiny, complaining broads stomping around the so-called ‘jungle’ will pretty much cure even the worst case of girl trouble. And Babs! Wow, look out! That woman is almost Amazonesque. In some shots she looks beefier than Gary! I could almost hear the cabin creaking and shaking in despair as she clomps around inside. Don’t get me wrong, I like a woman with more meat on her bones, but she sometimes looks like it was her that ate the flight crew. A few more days on the island and Spider-Gary might not have been the only one hunting down the survivors.
The strange appeal of Horrors Of Spider Island certainly isn’t because of the monster, either. Spider-Gary has got to be one of the silliest monsters, in both execution and origin, to ever grace the silver screen. He looks more like a dog-faced boy than a spider-monster, and the finished product looks like one of those portraits of inbred royalty a few centuries back that were covered in hair from head to toe. It certainly doesn’t remind me of a spider. He doesn’t climb walls, sprout extra limbs or shoot webs out of his backside and his so-called rampage is about as thrilling as the speed humps in a shopping centre parking lot. The poster artwork for the film really makes it out that once transformed, Gary became a veritable killing machine. Well, what kind of killing machine takes a three and a half-week break between kills? That’s not a rampage, that’s just an annoyance.
Any interest generated by this film is not because of a riveting story with earnest characters. Most of the girls seem like carbon copies of one another and the plot is as about as exciting as an afternoon doing your taxes. Most of the women are portrayed as weak, incompetent, mostly useless and utterly unprepared to survive, while the film makes it clear that all the male characters are the leaders, saviors and clearheaded thinkers. The only problem is, these guys are still morons. Gary walks off by himself and gets bitten. Moron. Bob, knowing full well that there is something dangerous on the island responsible for at least two deaths, be it man or beast, still walks off alone so he can have a private tryst with Gladys. Moron. Joe is the only guy with some semblance of a brain, and naturally the film plays him up as being somewhat inexperienced with the ladies.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about production values, or the complete lack thereof. This film just looks terrible. I don’t know if it’s because the film print hasn’t aged very well, or if it’s because the cinematographer should have been shot for incompetence. Some scenes are entirely too dark, even in the infamous day-for-night shots used in times past, while other shots are almost blindingly bright. Continuity was a word that was evidently not in the vocabulary of the producers. A twin engine plane later has four engines, a dead woman is at first under then above the water level of a pond, and the sun seems to rise and set at the drop of a hat.
However, by far the worst continuity error is the Spider-Gary make-up. It’s apparent that all the close-ups of Spider-Gary were shot separately. This is evidenced by the fact that in nearly all of them, he is standing in a black void, as if shot in a dark studio. Still, in these close-ups his entire transformation can be seen, fur covered face, dagger-like teeth, hairy hands and long fingernails. Yet in all the location shots, it’s obvious that the actor is only wearing the hairy hands and claws, but his head appears as normal as ever. True, this is hidden somewhat by the crappy lighting and use of shadows, but it can still be spotted.
Since this was a Yugoslavian/West German production, when the film made it’s way to American shores it had to be dubbed into English. Now, who out there can honestly say that they have ever seen a foreign-language film with good dubbing? Sure, some films are better than others, but depending on the original language with which the film was shot, and how it differs from English, dub jobs can get pretty bad. Horrors Of Spider Island is no exception. At times it’s just okay, while at other times it’s horribly bad. Some of the girl’s voices are just so bland that I wonder if the same woman provides the voices for all of them, a bit like Sylvia Anderson voicing most of the female parts in Gerry Anderson productions, they all start to sound like Lady Penelope.
Still, despite these setbacks, there is an overall sense of unbelievable awe at the hokiness of it all that transcends the crappy building blocks and elevates the film, just ever so barely, to the level of fun bad movie making. In much the same way people stare morbidly at train or traffic accidents, this movie compels the viewer to keep watching, if only to see where the wreck is going to finally stop. Horrors Of Spider Island leaves more unanswered questions than 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
What happened to the flight crew of the plane? Did they all die on impact or did some survive only to die later? Were there any other passengers other than Gary and the dancers? If so, what became of them? Gary and the gang were afloat in that raft for four days before they found the island. That would be more than enough time to dispose of any extraneous people draining their dwindling water supply. Where did those funky spiders come from, anyway? Were they just some previously unknown species that was native to that island, or did the local uranium deposits have anything to do with their far-out appearance? Inquiring minds want to know!
Why didn’t the professor turn into a monster when the spider got him? One bite and Gary becomes Spider-monster, but the Professor remains unchanged, other than being quite dead. Maybe he wasn’t bitten? Perhaps the Spider just stuck him in the web and the poor old guy died before he could extricate himself. If so, how did that little spider, as big as it is, get a grown man off the floor and into such a perfectly spun web? Or maybe it was a gang of spiders that broke into the Professor’s crib and whacked him?
What the devil did Spider-Gary do for those twenty-five undocumented days? No one saw or heard a thing from him. He must have eaten something! Maybe he snacked on the Professor’s corpse! Still, you’d think that at some point the ladies would have seen or heard something of his presence on the island. On the other hand, maybe he spent the whole time cooped up in that hollow tree. Yes, that must be it. After being bitten by a funky spider and turning into a Wolf Man clone, I’d hide out of sheer embarrassment, too. Still, he did manage to keep his trousers in near-pristine condition all that time. No doubt he dropped his dacks and wiped his backside with something when nature called. Hey, he may be a monster, but he still has standards!
Anyway, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Public Domain I shall return next week with another brain-bursting B-grader, so please join me as I again guide you through an atmosphere-filled excursion to the back side of Hollywood for Horror News! Toodles!
Horrors Of Spider Island (1960)