Horrors of Spider Island and the Sex-Horror Genre
Horrors of Spider Island started its life in 1960 as Ein Toter Hing im Netz, which means roughly “a dead man hung in a web.” It was written and directed by Fritz Böttger. He was trained as a dancer, and had a modestly successful career in front of the camera until 1950. At that point, he changed to writing, wracking up writing credits on 48 movies and television shows. He also dabbled in directing, and Horrors of Spider Island was the last of his three attempts. His first two outings were more serious. He went out with bang. In many ways, Horrors of Spider Island is the ultimate exploitation film.
The story starts in what is supposed to be New York, but some of the stock footage looks awfully like southern California. Suave Egyptian actor Alexander D’Arcy plays Gary who, along with his assistant Georgia (Helga Franck), is going to take an all-woman dance company on tour, starting in Singapore. The first 10 minutes of the film is taken up with the auditions, which mostly involve showing off the bodies of the young ladies.
Before we know it, the troupe is on an airplane, and through a combination of stock footage and a man alone in a room with a radio, the plane crashes. Shockingly, everyone dies except for Gary, Georgia, and the dancers. After four days in a raft, they spot the island in the title. Soon everyone jumps in the water, and if that isn’t enough for the lecher inside you, they find a waterfall. Once we’ve had enough pleasure watching the women get wet, the group sets off into the interior of the island (also known as Yugoslavia).
The group is surprised to find a cabin, but when they go inside, they find an enormous spider web, with a dead old man trapped in it. The six dancers run away, but Gary and Georgia stick around, disposing of the man and web. They also go through the old man’s diary and find that he had discovered Uranium. And then, everyone pretty much forgets that there is a giant spider on the island, although we do get a short look at it after the huddled dancers leave their hiding place.
If you had to pick a group to be stranded on an island with, this would be low on the list. It’s kind of like Gary, Georgia, and their six teenage daughters. There is much petty arguing. And after Georgia catches Gary making out with the most aggressive of the dancers, he runs into the jungle to get his head together. Unfortunately, he is bitten by the spider. Even though he kills the spider, he is still turned into a kind of deformed human-spider thing: Monster Gary.
So Gary becomes the horror that the remaining women face. There appears to have only been one spider, because we never see another. So the Horrors of Spider Island were (1) the spider and (2) Monster Gary.
Despite the fact that there is clearly a huge spider wondering around the island, most of the women choose to sleep outside. When they aren’t primping and looking particularly lovely, they are having catfights. This is by far the biggest part of this film: watching two women roll around on the ground with each other. They do go out and look for Gary the next day. To watch the cabin, they leave behind the sex-pot who Gary was making out with. But Monster Gary shows up and strangles her to death.
About a month passes without rescue. But just about when their food is going to run out, Robby (Rainer Brandt) and Joe (Harald Maresch) show up. They bring supplies for the professor (the dead old guy in the spider web). Robby watches the women swim naked and eventually grabs and makes out with one of them. Joe is held at gunpoint by Georgia. But eventually, all is revealed and they learn that they will be rescued the following day. Hooray! Time for a party.
Joe falls in love with Ann (Helga Neuner) while Robby is interested in jumping the bones of anything with a pulse. But it turns out that Robby has actually feelings for Gladys. So both of them are killed by Monster Gary. At one point, Gary is about to kill Georgia, but somehow, he remembers her and turns away.
Eventually, everyone uses torches to chase Gary into quicksand where he drowns. The next day, Georgia, the four remaining dancers, and Joe leave on a boat. Joe and Ann are clearly together. But strangely for a movie, everyone seems sad that their friends have died.
Horrors of Spider Island as Genre Film
The idea of exploitation in the term “exploitation film” is that the filmmakers exploit whatever they have. For example, Phil Tucker had a friend with a gorilla suit. But sex has long been the ultimate thing to exploit. It’s harder now, given what you can show on prime time television. But in 1960, showing a bunch of women in their underwear rolling around on the floor was very sexy indeed.
It probably would have been better to name the film “Sexpots on Some Generic Island.” The horror elements in the film are few. And they are hard to take seriously because the characters don’t take them seriously. It’s a little sad, because there’s a lot of material in the film that could have been developed instead of watching catfight after catfight after catfight.
Still, this is a distinct genre: sex and horror. And it’s kind of refreshing really. I can’t watch most slasher films without seeing them as cautionary tales: have sex and this is what will happen to you. They are gory versions of The Hook.
All and all, Horrors of Spider Island is pretty enjoyable. The spider looks pretty cool, for one thing. Despite being two-dimensional, the dancers are all distinct. Alexander D’Arcy really is a good actor and hard not to like. It’s too bad he spends most of the film covered in make-up and running around. And that one scene with Monster Gary and Georgia is poignant. A lot of big-budget films don’t have that much to recommend them.