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Old 10-18-2007, 06:58 AM
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Scored: 5
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Default Horrors of Spider Island




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: October 18, 2007

Released by: Something Weird Video
Release date: 11/14/2000
MSRP: $9.99
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: No


Shock upon shock! Terror upon terror! One bite from a giant spider turned him into the world’s most hideous monster, with a diabolical urge to kill!

The Story

inline ImageWe open in New York City as hotshot talent scout Gary (Alex D’Arcy) arrives at a talent agency to select girls for a dance troupe that he will be taking to Singapore. After sitting through numerous auditions, he and his partner Georgia (Helga Franck) finally select a group of eight girls by the names of Babs (Barbara Valentin), Linda (Elfie Wagfner), Ann (Helga Neuner), Gladys (Dorothee Parker), May (Gerry Sammer), Nelly (Eva Schauland) and Kate (Helma Vandenberg). The group boards a plane bound for the Pacific, but en route it catches fire and crashes into the ocean. Gary and the women take refuge in a life raft that floats aimlessly for five days until they reach a tropical island.

inline ImageExploring the island, the group happens upon a cabin. Entering, they are horrified to find the body of a man hung in a giant spider web! They bury the body. Looking over his journals, they discover that he was a scientist seeking to harvest the island’s vast deposits of uranium. The group settles in for the night, but Gary can’t sleep so he decides to go for a walk. Wandering through the woods, he is attacked and bitten by a giant spider. Writhing in pain, he falls to the ground and transforms into a hideous half-man, half-spider monster!

inline ImageThe next morning the women set out to look for Gary. Linda, left behind at the cabin to watch over things, wanders outside by herself and is promptly killed the monster. The girls find her body and are shocked, but ultimately they are distracted again by the arrival of Bobby (Rainer Brandt) and Joe (Harald Maresch), two hunky young men who arrive on the island. They were hired to assist the dead scientist to help with his research, but with him gone they have little to do but party it up with the girls. But the bestial Gary is still lurking out there in the woods, and sooner or later the group must confront the horrific monster or die...

inline ImageHorrors of Spider Island is a West German production that was released in Europe in 1960, but didn’t reach American audiences until 1962. The original German title was Ein Toter Hing im Netz (English translation: A Corpse Hung in a Net), which is far more accurate than its initial U.S. title, It’s Hot in Paradise (the onscreen title here, in fact). Pacemaker Pictures, its initial U.S. distributor, seems to have thought that the film would have sold better as a straight “beautiful women stranded on a tropical island” picture. Later in the decade it was re-released under the much more accurate Horrors of Spider Island title.

inline ImageIt’s hard to know exactly what the worst thing about this movie is. Is it the bad direction and lethargic pacing? Is it the shoddy make-up effects, or is it the bad dubbing? Maybe it’s the script, which features too much exposition and makes half the film feel like a sleazy beach party movie. Actually, you know what? It’s everything. Nothing is much worse than anything else. It’s just all bad.

The movie is almost schizophrenic in the way it is divided against itself. Once the girls arrive on the island the story moves promisingly in the direction of a traditional horror film, with the discovery of the scientist’s body hanging in the web, the transformation of Gary and the killing of Linda. Yet, after this, Gary disappears from the picture entirely for a significant amount of time. Once Joe and Bobby arrive on the island we are treated to lots of scenes of the girls dancing and partying with them, as well as a lot of perfunctory romance scenes before Gary finally pops up again for the climax. Right before the two men arrive, one of the characters mentions that it has been a month since Linda’s death and Gary’s disappearance. “Spider Island” does not seem to be very big, and there is no logical reason why Gary should drop out of sight for so much time, only to reappear at the end.

inline ImageThis inability to stick with one genre consistently shows a major lack of clarity on the part of the filmmakers as to what audience they were making the movie for. Are they trying to scare us, or are they trying to arouse us? Even taking into account that continental horror films of this period were allowed to be a little more risqué than their American counterparts, it’s hard to believe that even European audiences could have been satisfied with this awkward mix.

The director, Fritz Böttger, had been working in German cinema since the late 1930’s. Here he brings little to the table. The two major non-horror sequences – when Gary auditions the girls at the beginning, and the party at the end - both move at painfully slow paces. His direction of the horror scenes is somewhat better (there’s even a reasonably good scene where the monstrous Gary confronts Joe in a room that is almost completely dark), but even if those scenes were directed perfectly they still wouldn’t be able to make up for all the ultra dull filler between them.

inline ImageThe Egyptian-born Alex D’Arcy seems lost in the role of Gary. Earlier in his career he had been a fairly popular supporting and bit player in Hollywood films like The Prisoner of Zenda and the later How to Marry a Millionaire. Nobody has ever tried to claim that D’Arcy was a brilliant thespian, but he did bring an urbane sophistication to his roles, and that’s why directors kept using him. In this film, however, he is wasted in the relatively small part of Gary, and is transformed into the monster so quickly that he is only in a handful of scenes. Still, he does provide the film with its only gasp of class, despite having to spend time walking around shirtless for no apparent reason (for a man in his early fifties, his physique was actually quite good). Horrors of Spider Island marked a downturn in D’Arcy’s career. Afterwards he appeared in movies like Russ Meyer’s Fanny Hill and Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula’s Castle.

Overall, there is something very depressing about the movie and its cheapness. Whether it be the cheesy, incomplete special effects for Gary and the spider that bites him, the drab pacing, the stock characters and their needless entanglements, or the unconvincing locations (this is the first tropical island I’ve ever seen that is full of evergreen trees), Horrors of Spider Island simply doesn’t hold up. It’s a bad movie, and it’s not a bad movie that can be enjoyed in a good, funny away.

No, it’s just boring.

Image Quality

inline ImageThe movie is presented letterboxed at 1.66:1, and is not enhanced for 16x9 TVs. This disc hit the streets in 2000, making it one of the first DVDs put out by Something Weird Video, and by the standards of 2000 it wasn’t a bad release. Anamorphic enhancement was still not completely the industry standard by that time, and in fact, it would be several years more before Something Weird released any 16x9 enhanced titles at all.

The good news is that the transfer was struck from elements that were in very good shape, with relatively little print damage to get in the way. One the downside, the image has a rather soft look to it, and the picture is not nearly as sharp as one would hope. Contrast is also somewhat below average.

Sound

The film’s original English language dub is presented in Dolby 1.0 Mono. It sounds flat and somewhat muffled, with noticeable hissing and popping in the background of some scenes.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageSomething Weird has always done a good job of putting extras on their discs, even if it means throwing together material that has nothing to do with the film at hand. This release is no exception. The extras kick off with three spider-themed short subjects. The first is a Scopitone short subject called Web of Love from 1966. For those who don’t know, Scopitone shorts were what music videos looked like back in the days before MTV. They were 16mm films that were mounted inside a machine that would play them back. They were popular in the 60’s, but then dropped out of sight.

Web of Love features the beautiful Joi Lansing (who can be seen in movies like The Atomic Submarine and Hillbillys in a Haunted House) singing a song by that same title. Dressed in some remarkably revealing outfits, Lansing is the one saving grace of this short, which features a horrible, badly written song, cheesy, tacky visuals and mediocre lip syncing.


inline Image inline Image inline Image


Another short is called Spider Girl, and it features an attractive female dancing around in a shroud with a spider’s web on it. Eventually the shroud comes off, revealing that her private areas have been covered with giant fake spiders. This is followed up with another short feature called The Stripper and the Spider Girl, which shows an attractive and busty redhead performing a strip number in front of a giant fake spider web.

There follows an amusing six-minute gallery of grindhouse and drive-in poster art and promotional material, complete with vintage radio spots for exploitation movies playing over it.

The release is finished off with Liner notes by Frank Henenlotter.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to recommend Horrors of Spider Island. Normally I enjoy movies of this type, yet even I had a hard time getting into this one. Still though, with its $9.99 MSRP this release is only a few dollars more expensive than the budget releases out there from companies like Alpha, and with its special features and letterboxed transfer it is a much better deal.

Rating

Movie – D
Image Quality – C
Sound – C
Supplements – B

Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 17 minutes
  • B&W
  • Chapter Stops
  • English 1.0 Mono
  • 1 Disc

Supplements
  • Web of Love Scopitone feature
  • Spider Girl short feature
  • The Stripper and the Spider Girl short feature
  • Gallery of exploitation art and radio spots
  • Liner notes by Frank Henenlotter

Other Pictures

 

 

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