4. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)

Ein Toter hing im Netz, AKA A Corpse Hangs in the Web [literal translation], It’s Hot in Paradise, and others   

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Böttger

FEATURING: Alex D’Arcy,  , & buxom German exhibitionists

PLOT:  A plane carrying team of eight dancing girls, along with one male and one female manager, crash into the ocean en route to Singapore.  There they find a cabin with the body of a man hanging in a giant spiderweb.  The lone male is bitten by a spider and turns into a spider-human hybrid, who then briefly terrorizes the girls at a party to celebrate their impending rescue after two men row ashore.



BACKGROUND:

  • With some brief nudity included, this German/Yugoslavian co-production was originally released in the US as a sexploitation feature under the title It’s Hot in Paradise.  After the nudity was clipped out, the movie was re-released under the present title and marketed as a horror film.
  • The movie was featured in the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (show 1011).
  • Horrors of Spider Island is believed to be in the public domain.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The puppet-like evil spider, with it’s large, shiny, almost cute eyes and clawed hands.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDHorrors of Spider Island takes place in an alternate universe that’s nothing like our own.  The poor dubbing, including a mangled deep south accent, immediately takes us out of reality and makes suspension of disbelief impossible.  The plot is thin as a wire, made to hang chauvinistic male fantasies on, and often seems to be improvised on the spur of the moment.  Horrors of Spider Island already seems like a half-remembered bad dream, even as you’re still watching it.

4 minute clip from the film, including spider attack, courtesy of Something Weird video

COMMENTSHorrors of Spider Island is a movie that falls into the “so-bad-it’s-weird” category.  It’s quite obvious that the film was made with little skill or passion, with the sole intention of making a quick buck off of flashes of voluptuous women in their underwear.  Such films often become accidentally weird or surreal in snatches, as the producers rush to put attention-grabbing scenes on screen with little care for logic or continuity.  Horrors of Spider Island manages to sustain a consistently tawdry and strange atmosphere through its entire running time.  Even the slow parts, and there are many, have an “off” tone to them that makes them bearable to those tuned in to their weird wavelength.

Mainstream movie reviewers consider this type of fare beneath notice, and the more fannish reviews tend to consist of long recitations of the storyline, complete with snide asides regarding this or that obvious plot hole, continuity error, or inane piece of dialogue. (Reviewers’ favorite observation is to wonder how Gary instantly pegs the long-handled hammer he finds lying on the island as “for the purpose of excavating some sort of metal–most probably, uranium”).

I prefer to let the viewer discover Horrors‘ specific flaws for themselves, should they so wish.  Rather than describing specific scenes, obvious flubs and inane dialogue, I’ll restrict myself to mentioning some of the recurring, interwoven features that keep the fever dream vibe going throughout the film:

  • Bad Dubbing.  As previously mentioned, poorly dubbed voiceover acting blocks any possibility of suspension of disbelief.  Lip movements don’t match the words on the soundtrack, and the lines that are delivered are flat and uninspired (besides being kind of stupid).
  • Chauvinism.  Exploring the male fantasy of being the only Y-chromosome bearer on an island full of women is one thing, but Horrors of Spider Island is so dismissive of females (at one point a sailor opines, “What are dancers? Hot goods for cold nights”) that the misogyny becomes a parody.  Gary instantly becomes the polygamous king of the island, ordering the women to do chores and fetch him cold drinks.  No excuse is spared to strip the dancers down to their underwear, whether because it’s too hot at night to sleep in those heavy cotton dresses or because the girls want to put on a bikini party for the boys to thank them for rescuing them.  Women are abducted and immediately make-out with their captors.  Women pull guns on male interlopers and they laugh it off, as if their skin would be impervious to girl bullets.  In Horrors, the patriarchy is a hilariously arrogant institution.
  • Bizarre pacing/plot choices.  The initial audition of the dancers goes on for ten full minutes, with the director taking care to make sure they never look for the same thing twice: one girl is asked to show her legs, then hired, one dances the ballet for a few minutes and is passed over, and one simply starts stripping without being asked (and is hired).  In the middle of the film, everyone simply forgets about the threat of the spider-man for awhile to follow the new plot-line of the two workers landing on the island and trying to make time with the ladies.  You never know what’s going to happen next on Spider Island.
  • Strip-joint jazz soundtrack.  The combo that provides the frequent background music is fairly talented, developing interesting melodies and exotic rhythms suited to the tropical setting.  The flagrantly sensual sax and leering riffs from a muted trumpet, however, inevitably conjure up clichéd images of swaying hips and twirling tassels half hidden behind a haze of cigar smoke.  The accompaniment helps create an aura of sleaziness that partially compensates for the lack of skin or explicit sin, and is more competent than anything else in the movie.  During tense scenes, an electronic drone is added to the mix.

Add to this continuous strange background noise blatant continuity errors (the audition takes place in Los Angeles, but the plane carrying the troupe takes off from New York City) and sprinkle with the occasional bizarre image (the corpse hanging awkwardly in the web, the evil spider puppet, and the spider-man that looks like a wolfman being chased into quicksand by flare-wielding islanders) and you have a genuinely weird movie that rises above its exploitation roots.  Horrors of Spider Island is less a “they don’t make ‘em this way anymore!” movie than it is an “if it hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed they ever made ‘em this way” movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Here the fantastic and the soft porn unite in an absence of scenery, building or mise-en-scene and the result is to leave us with unforgettable images.  Involuntarily The Horrors of Spider Island is a Dadaist film.” -Ado Kyrou, quoted in Tohill & Tombs, Immoral Tales

“…Horrors of Spider Island is a classic example of z-grade filmmaking, a film so hilariously inept in every way that it achieves that special, indefinable level of otherness that causes some celluloid mistakes to become enjoyably entertaining…” -A Wasted Life

“…nothing else [producer Wolf C. Hartwig] made can match Horrors of Spider Island and its companion-piece, The Head, for sheer weirdness…. with the were-spider and its little hand-puppet monkey-bug friends on the one hand, and all the lifted skirts and shimmying hips on the other, Horrors of Spider Island would have easily scored enough points to qualify it as a minor classic of trash, but its creators weren’t satisfied with those things alone. Their hearts overflowing with generosity, they also gave us some simply beautiful not-even-trying dialogue and a storyline of such all-encompassing inanity that even I had not seen the like of it in a good, long while.” -100 Wasted Hours

IMDB ENTRY: Toter hing im Netz Ein Toter hing im Netz, Ein (1960)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST: Watch Public Domain Print of Horrors of Spider Island at the Internet Archive

Episode 1011 – Horrors of Spider Island MST3K Episode Guide

DVD INFO:  Because Horrors of Spider Island is in the public domain, it can be found in many competing versions.  The version distributed by Image Entertainment version (buy) (from a Something Weird restored print) is the best, and includes three arachnid-themed burlesque shorts.  The film can also be found in the Sci-Fi Classics 50 Movie Pack (along with such mockable dreck as Santa Claus vs. the Martians and Mesa of Lost Women) (buy) and on several other multi-DVD sets.  Of course, there is also the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” version to be considered–it’s on Volume 11 along with Ring of Terror, The Indestructible Man and Tormented (buy) (both the uncut version and the commentary version are in set).

2 thoughts on “4. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)”

  1. No comments on this so far. I just watched this one and here’s my theory. The misogyny in the film actually goes as far as to (accidentally?) create a subtext wherein male domination is presented as parallel to the predation by the spiders. One stand-out example is the overlong audition process, wherein Gary makes silent decisions about the acceptability of the dancers by crossing or uncrossing his legs. It sounds like a stretch, but his use of his legs in such a way is much like the action of a spider weaving a web. Gary’s transformation later in the film is one of a predator that has actively caught his prey and now has the time to devour it.

  2. I’m persuaded that “chauvinism” so-called is the reason for the movie to exist in the first place. Stripping dancers down to their underwear is par for the course in a film of this nature!

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