Mesa of Lost Women

Mesa of Lost Women

Black Mesa of Lost Women is a black and white science-fiction film, released on June 17, 1953 (as Lost Women). It is available on DVD, with a theatrical trailer. Wade Williams describes it on the DVD case as a "must-see for fans of the bizarre and unexplainable". It was in a 2004 documentary, The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. It won the award of "Most Primitive Male Chauvinist Fantasy" in the book Son of Golden Turkey Awards.


A couple are found wandering nearly dead in a desert. Recovering, they tell their story. The movie flashes back a year. A mad scientist, Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan), has created giant spiders in his Mexican lab in Black Mesa to create a race of superwomen by injecting spiders with human pituitary growth hormones. Women develop miraculous regenerative powers, but men mutate into disfigured dwarves. Spiders grow to human size and intelligence. Aranya invites another scientist, Dr. Masterson, to join him. Masterson visits Zarpa but is horrified. Aranya has him injected with a drug, turning him into a doddering simpleton. Masterson escapes, and visits a cantina. A rich man (Jan van Croft) and his young American fiancee also visit the cantina while their private plane is repaired. Masterson joins them and fawns over Doreen. Tarantella, (Tandra Quinn) one of Aranya's best spider women, does a strange and sensual dance for Masterson. He shoots Tarantella (although she recovers). Masterson hijacks Van Croft's group, forcing them to fly in the un-repaired plane. They crash land onto Black Mesa. Soon the small group begins to be killed off one by one by giant spiders. Grant (the pilot), Doreen and Masterson are captured by Dr. Aranya. Masterson recovers from his drug-induced imbecility, sacrifices himself to let the others escape, blowing up the lab. Grant and Doreen wanders into the desert until picked up by the oil surveyor from the movie's opening scenes.


The story is vaguely similar to H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. Black Mesa of Lost Women takes the theme of a rogue scientist creating humans from animals, but adds several twists. Confusingly, the screenplay is structured as a double flashback. There are enough holes in the plot and loose threads that the film frustrates somes viewers. This may be due to editing.

The movie is criticized for its acting, notably that of Coogan, and Harmon Stevens, who plays Dr. Masterson. The plot is far from straightforward. The loud and repetitive musical score by Hoyt S. Curtin, melding flamenco guitar and piano, is seen as maddening or oppositely "very able, a sustained inspiration" The music used in the movie was also used by Ed Wood Jr. in his movie Jailbait.

The advertising is not unlike that of the sensationalist Prehistoric Women and Wild Women films.


Hijacked flashbacks — There is a complicated layered flashback structure. The story starts as if being told by Grant, but shifts to Pepe, the oil company's jeep driver, and returns to Grant. Pepe's flashback is not a personal account but a collective account of what his people have heard of Dr. Aranya. All that is back story for the cantina scene where the Americans pick up the story.

Role of Tevos — Herbert Tevos is credited for the screenplay. He is not credited for any other work. Tevos is said to have started filming a project for Howco Productions tentatively entitled "Tarantula", doing the directing. It has been said that the project was halted because Tevos was too difficult to work with, though there is scant evidence. Howco later had director Ron Ormond pick up the project, adding footage to finish the project. It's been said that the Dr. Aranya footage is what Ormond added, though this is difficult to confirm. Aranya is so pivotal to the plot, that he must have been in the original screenplay and not invented later. Tevos had an artistic vision, but perhaps was too inexperienced to get that vision onto film. Ormond didn't help much, but the project may have been too far along, or too little budgeted to fix.

Missing Heat — The promotional posters imply salacious elements the movie does not contain. This may be, in part, original plot elements that were edited out or not completed. What may be a surviving trace of this is the cantina scene. The cantina folk seem to calmly accept Tarantella's bizarre dance. Perhaps in the original conception she danced to lure men to Zarpa for Aranya experiments.

Good vs. Evil — Tarantella is Aranya's sensual creation. The other spider women are stoic. She represents the dark, animal, female side. Masterson, in his drug-induced derangement, proclaims Tarantella to be evil. He quotes from the Old Testament (2 Kings 9:33) about the death of evil queen Jezebel. Masterson also pronounces Doreen to be "good." Doreen, with shorter blond hair and modest suit dress, represents the virtuous woman. Aranya himself represents the dark side of science, while Masterson represents the moral and heroic side.

Plot Fragments

The "lost comb" is another plot feature that confuses people. It's a symbolic object that tips the love triangle. We start out with young Doreen engaged to old Jan van Croft. She doesn't love him but is marrying for security. She and the pilot, Grant, don't hit it off well at first, but during the post-crash crisis, he's heroic and caring, while van Croft becomes more and more selfish. His obsession over the lost heirloom comb symbolizes his materialism. This negates him as a worthy mate and sends Doreen into Grant's arms.

Tarantella is different from the other spider women. She is like Dr. Moreau's panther woman — a special project, pushing the envelope of the essence of womanliness. In a Shakespearean twist, Tarantella develops feelings for Masterson. How else to explain her being miles from Zarpa, in the town Masterson was hospitalized? Her sensual spider dance for him in the cantina seemed a response to Masterson fawning over Doreen. Masterson's ultimate rejection is a deeper analogy of civilization-morality confronting animality.

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