Horrors of Spider Island (1960)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-08-04 04:44

Written by: Fritz Böttger, Eldon Howard, and Albert G. Miller
Directed by: Fritz Böttger
Starring: Harald Maresch, Helga Franck and Alexander D'Arcy

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

"What are dancers? Hot goods for cold nights."

Gary Webster (Alex D’Arcy) seems to have it pretty good in Horrors of Spider Island. He’s the head honcho of a dance troupe, and he gets stuck on a desert island with the showgirls that he’s tapped for his latest show. Sure, he kind of crash-landed there en route to Singapore (but, hey, it's Singapore), but it’s not an altogether bad proposition until you consider that he’s also stuck there with a bunch of rubbery spiders and that he’s trapped in one of the most infamously bad films of all time.

This West German import is a thoroughly misguided effort that doesn’t just crash-land itself: it hardly gets off the runway with a threadbare but impossibly side-winding plot, horrendous dialogue, even more horrendous dubbing, and all the technical competence of a director who never helmed another film after this one faded away. However, it eventually rose from the ashes of obscurity, although that wasn’t exactly graceful either since it was caught in the crosshairs of the Satellite of Love crew.

Horrors of Spider Island is actually amusingly bad for a brief while, especially when Webster is holding auditions for the gals before they plunge into the Pacific in a cheaply-conceived plane crash that consists of stock footage and over-acted reaction shots from the cast. Even when they make it aboard the island, the film shows a little bit of promise--don’t get me wrong, it’s airless and plodding, but it’s at least moving somewhere as Gary and his go-go troupe explore their new surroundings. They end up stumbling upon a man caught up in a giant spider-web (“It’s a dead man caught in a giant web!” one of the girls exclaims, presumably for emphasis and clarity); it turns out to be the island’s professor who was poking around for uranium (Webster makes this leap when he discovers a hammer with a long handle). I’m guessing the possible presence of nuclear material accounts for the giant Muppet spiders inhabiting the island that eventually attack Webster, thus turning him into a were-spider and making his name a shitty pun.

At least that gives us something to work with, right? You’d think so. Webster does stalk around in his cheap-o, Jack Pierce knockoff makeup and strangles a girl to death, but then he just disappears for a while. In his stead, we get Lord of the Flies re-enacted by showgirls for a little while, complete with bitching and cat fights, at least until a couple of dolts show up. They’re the professor’s assistants, and they’re dismayed to learn of their mentor’s death for all of a few seconds until they realize they’ve inherited an island full of babes. At this point, Horrors of Spider Island becomes a lame beach party movie as the two attempt to bag one (or four) for themselves (of course one is sensitive while the other is a meat headed sex fiend, which leads to their own fisticuffs). It’s all so tediously bad that you’ll be wishing it were the umpteenth low-rent creature feature that it started out as.

No matter which mode it’s in, the film is mostly incompetent. Shots are staged with little imagination, the (presumably) stock music is often incongruous with what’s on the screen, and the acting turns are woeful. D’Arcy seems especially out of place; he’s meant to be a millionaire playboy, but he lumbers through each scene with the charisma of a wooden statue. Obviously, the dub jobs can’t be pinned on the actual actors and actresses, but they’re amusing all the same (particularly the one that’s attempting to pass as “southern” but merely comes off as “brain-damaged”). The island and lagoon set itself looks like a couple of rocks, and the setting often oscillates between broad daylight and the dead of night from shot-to-shot. Even the “giant” spiders are obvious hand-puppets in many shots as they creep up behind their targets (who then have to hold them up to their face as they’re “attacked”).

It’s probably fair to say Böttger was more interested in the ladies than anything else; in its day, the film was probably quite titillating with its scantily-clad bikini babes prancing around. One even strips on screen during her audition, which might have qualified as softcore as the 60s dawned. At least one distributor attempted to capitalize on this since the film was re-branded as It’s Hot in Paradise. Either way, both titles are rather misleading since the final product is too boring to be considered hot or full of horror; at least it definitely delivers an island of spiders. The film has shown up under its various guises on a bunch of public domain releases; on Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics set, it’s given a serviceable presentation, but your mileage may vary. Something Weird released a special edition way back at the turn of the century if you must have the definitive release of this truly terrible film. Avoid it unless Mike and the ‘Bots (or mind-altering agents) are keeping you company. Trash it!

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