Mesa of Lost Women (1953)

Rating: D+

Dir: Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos
Star: Harmon Stevens, Jackie Coogan, Robert Knapp, Paula Hill

This strikingly poorly-conceived storyline shifts perspective and in the early going, with all the grace of a semi-tranquilized hippopotamus, beginning by sounding like an educational short, before the narrator shifts into a more hectoring tone, complaining that humankind has far too high an opinion of itself. After a brief diversion into the mind of Pepe the Mexican surveyor’s assistant, and a flashback involving a young couple found staggering through the local desert (Knapp + Hill), it eventually settles down into the story of Dr. Leyland Masterson (Stevens). The scientist accepted an invitation from renowned colleague Dr. Aranya (Coogan) to visit him in Aranya’s remote evil overlord lair research establishment.

But when Masterson finds out Aranya’s goal is to cross-breed humans and spiders – and has already succeeded with women (men are, apparently, a bit trickier) – he ends up driven mad. Locked up in an insane asylum, he escapes, makes his way back to the border, links up with the young couple, hijacks a plane which crashes on the mesa where Aranya’s lab is located, whose minions then capture the survivors. I hope you were paying attention, because this will be on the test. It is every bit the incoherent mess it sounds, and I didn’t even mention the exotic little dance number carried out by one of Aryana’s cross-breeds in a cantina, before Masterson guns her down [if only he’d done so before her routine, that would have made the whole film five minutes shorter.

No jury in the land would convict…]. Stevens’s scenery-munching performance as a genuinely mad scientist takes the biscuit, and it appears to be a large ham-and-cheese biscuit, too. But easily the most godawful aspect of the film us the score, which appears to consist of two guitar/piano cues, used in strict alternation, with precisely zero regard for whether or nor they are appropriate. I believe Ed Wood subsequently used it for one of his films, which gives you some idea of how bad it is. On the other hand, it does have an idea at its core that is not without potential, and it will stick in your mind – albeit, almost entirely for the wrong reasons – when many other films have been forgotten entirely.