Friday, April 18, 2008

The Horrors of Spider Island (1962): or, Old School Hoff/Bra Haus


You know, it's easy to disparage David Hasselhoff. He got famous taking orders from an effite-voiced muscle car, he's made dozens of pop albums that only a German could love, and his only career outlet now seems to be self-parody. But the thing you can never take away from him is that he had the foresight to see the genius of buxom beach babes running in slow motion and realize he could turn it into television history and a vast personal fortune. After all, when you've got that, things like plot, music, acting, and production values are secondary.

But wait a minute--WAS it foresight? Or was it in fact HINDSIGHT? Is it possible that the Hoff did NOT create the formula he popularized? Blasphemous as such questions may seem, I had to entertain them upon my recent viewing of the 1962 classic, The Horrors of Spider Island.

Let's look at the facts here. Buxom blonde babes? Check. Beachfront sets? Check. Any excuse to show skin? Check. GERMANS? Check! Hmm....

It doesn't matter, really, because like Baywatch, The Horrors of Spider Island is a treasure trove of campy, fleshy fun. You know you're in for a good time from the opening titles, when you see the credit "Barbara Valentin as 'Babs'". First of all, when your lead actress has to be named the same as her character in order to keep her role straight, that's a red flag.

And "Babs"? If Babs isn't a 50-year-old housewife, she's a bodacious young slutmuffin. Those are the only two possibilities for that name. No points for guessing which we have here: hailed as "The German Jayne Mansfield," Ms. Valentin is a quivering mound of voluptuousness, almost to a frighteningly fleshy degree.

But what of the plot? Well, hold onto your hats, boys. We open in Sunny California--palm trees and surf music--and immediately go into the office of a snivelly, sunglasses-wearing casting agent, who is holding auditions for dancers to join a troupe that's going to tour the nightclubs of Singapore! Not seedy at all, no siree!

The girls prep for their all-dancing production of Heart of Darkness.

As a result, the waiting room is a veritable Babe-O-Rama, especially if you love the full-figured beauty standard of the early 60s--which I do, oh yes I do. We get about 10 minutes of auditions, allowing each of the girls to be leered at while the beefy troupe manager Gary and his first mate (?) Georgia look on. The fun-nuggets in this scene include:

  • "Show us your legs...You're hired!"
  • Babs gets the dancing gig without dancing a step--of course when you're the German Jayne Mansfield, all the rest is just details.
  • One girl walks in and strips to her undies completely unprovoked. She's hired on the spot.

With the seediness of its set-up and the readiness of (nearly) every girl to get down to her girdle for a swing at stardom and all the Kari Lemak Ayam they can eat, this scene is like time-traveling to The Land Before Porn. One can only imagine the heavy breathing such shots must have occasioned in 1962. But it's going to get much better, kids...

Once the troupe is assembled, Gary and his Glamorous Gamlets charter a flight on Stock Footage Airlines to Singapore. They quickly fly the pre-filmed skies, taking off in a jet with two engines. We're treated to some aerial shots of New York City--wait a minute, how'd we get to New York? Where are the palm trees?

Before we can fathom this, though, our now-four-engined jet runs into trouble. Stock-filmed crew members fiddle with switches, and suddenly our passenger plane is a WWII bomber going down in flames! As it plummets we get shots of our dancers screaming in terror in a pitch dark room! The suspense! The bomber goes down, but incredibly the whole troupe and Gary survive on a raft with a gas-can full of water (?). The separately-filmed flight crew's fate is lost to history.

After a few tense moments at sea arguing about water rations, the girls spot land and row madly for it. Once there they collapse in scantily-clad exhaustion on the beach, their plump legs splayed as Gary carries them ashore, one by one. Hubba hubba Grandpa, this is for you!

After solving their water problem by finding an idyllic waterfall (everyone jump in!) they explore the island under Gary's authoritarian leadership. Soon they find a long-handled hammer in the bushes, from which the canny Gary quickly deduces that there's prospecting going on here, "most likely for Uranium!" None of the dancers calls him on his logic leap, which is just as well since he's absolutely correct! They find the prospectors' cabin and rush in, only to find the corpse of an old man ensared in a giant web! Needless to say, something has put a damper on his prospects.

Aufiderzein!

The girls are so distraught they run outside in full panic-jiggle mode, unwittingly escaping an attack from one of the best spider puppets ever--a Muppet-worthy contraption with a pissed-off, scrunched up face, a nose-stinger, and the darkest eyes, the devil's eyes...really a marvel of sfx for 1962.

Much distress and undress follow, as after Gary buries the professor (we learn from his journal he was a professor) the girls fight over the clothes they find in the cabin, ripping the garments to pieces as they roll around on the floor in a nice catfight scene! Gary lays down the law, and soon the girls are sewing, doing dishes, and cooking--as they should! One of the girls can't take the heat so she strips down to her undies, and another treats us to a hilarious Daisy Mae accent. We even get a 1962 shower scene and a sultry sleeping montage! This is as sexy as it gets in 1962, and believe it or not, it's actually pretty sexy.

But where's the horror, you might ask? It comes in spades as Gary, overcome by the heat, goes for a walk and is attacked by the grumpy spider puppet! He kills it, but not before he is bitten. Not all radioactive spider bites make for superheroes, apparently, as Gary becomes a hairy-faced, claw-handed manbeast! How will the girls survive?

"C'mon, punk! I got chunks of guys like you in my stool!"

Well, I could go on and on, but suffice to say that two beefy boys who worked for the professor show up out of nowhere, the girls throw an "island dance" to celebrate their rescue--complete with luau costumes!--and Gary shows up to ruin the party. Good prevails, the spiderbeast dies, and they all go off into the sunset--except the ones who died, naturally.

Though it's stupid and badly dubbed and worsely acted, I found it difficult to dislike The Horrors of Spider Island. The transparent goals of the movie--to show the girls in as much undress as possible for whatever reason--and the way the producers had to tiptoe around moral standards of the time make it simultaneously sleazy and innocent--a hard combo to pull off. (Much harder to pull off than a luau skirt, that's for sure!) The fights and effects are fun, and there's even a "death reveal" that prefigures many such scenes in future slashers, as a girl taps her beau on the shoulder only to have him fall dead at her feet. Not the greatest movie ever, but fun enough for 77 mins and a time capsule of pr0n of the past.

Apparently this was released in Germany in 1960 under the title Ein Toter hing im Netz (A Corpse Hangs in the Web), and had some nekkidity in the original artistic Euro version; still, I think it loses nothing in the US cut version. A neat little glimpse into our parents' pervy past, HoSI gets 2 thumbs for fun, if only half a thumb for actual cinematic quality.

And Hoff, if you didn't rip this off, you're just lucky you stumbled onto what the Germans already knew and loved. Oh, the whole KITT thing too--what a lucky break THAT was.

1 comment:

Karswell said...

I have a weakness for this film too, it reminds me of those Italian films like Playgirls and the Vampire or Vampire and the Ballerina in that it's chocked full of gorgeous half naked nymphs 90% of the time instead of plot. No biggie. I really liked your Hasselhoff intro to this review too, I started reading it thinking "Where the hell is he going with this?" but you tied it all together nicely. I'm still giggling about "charter a flight on Stock Footage Airlines" too.

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