Before Ron Ormond went off and made his religious films, he was making some really out there movies. Actually, the religious films are just as bonkers, but Mesa of Lost Women is plenty strange as well.
Originally called Tarantula, Ormond came in, added some new footage and gave it the kind of name that would draw drive-in audiences. That’s after the original director, Herbert Tevos, claimed to have directed films on Germany starring Marlene Dietrich and Erich von Stroheim, including The Blue Angel. The truth is that Mesa is the only movie he ever worked on.
As we’ve watched movies where women — specifically outer space women — lorded over matriarchal societies this week, we’ve seen plenty of them working alongside giant spiders. Cat-Women of the Moon, Queen of Outer Space and Missile to the Moon*, you share something in common with this movie!
I love the beginning of this, as we watch a man get caressed by the monstrous hands of Tarantella, who kisses him to death as the narrator** intones, “Have you ever been kissed by a girl like this?”
What follows is not as good as that opening.
Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) and Doreen Culbertson (Paula Hill) have been lost in the desert for days and nearly died from exposure and dehydration. As they recount their tale at the Amer-Exico Field Hospital, we discover the story of Leland Masterson, who has been invited by the spidery-named Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan!) to see the doctor’s human-sized tarantulas and women with the abilities and instincts of spiders, including Tarantella, who can regrow her body parts and could live forever. As for the males, well, they all turn out to be mutated dwarves. You can’t have it all, I guess.
Man, this movie is all over the place from here, with Leland getting drugged into insanity, Tarantella dancing in a club until she gets shot*** and then bringing herself back to life, George Barrows — the monster in Robot Monster — playing a nurse, sexual tension and, of course, a heroic and suicidal death for one of the leads, all wrapped up by the man and woman back in the hospital, telling their story that no one believes.
Hoyt Curtin wrote the music for this on guitar, bass and piano. It’s either going to make you happy or insane. Ed Wood must have been in the former camp, as he reused it for his movie Jail Bait.
This movie will hurt your brain, but hey — I’m all for a women-run society with gigantic spiders that believes in the power of dance numbers.
*To be fair, Missile is the exact same movie as Cat-Women. It was also filmed in the same location as Mesa, Red Rock Canyon Park.
**It’s Lyle Talbot, who also shows up in Amazon Women on the Moon, a movie surely influenced by this one.
***Before he shoots her, Leland quotes II Kings 9:33 by saying,”…So they threw her down, and some of her blood splattered on the wall and on the horses; and he trampled her underfoot…” as if he’s a proto-Jules Winnfield.
You can watch this on YouTube. There’s also a copy on the Internet Archive.