Some could describe Mesa of Lost Women (1953) as "male chauvinism meets arachnophobia", and such opinions would not be entirely unfounded. However, it is qualities such as those that still make the film viewable and semi-entertaining today.
The story begins with a couple, wandering lost in the desert, being picked up and given medical attention. As they recover, the man tells a fantastical tale of giant spiders... and his outburst are disregarded at first as hallucinations of dehydration. But with little else to do, the surrounding people decide to hear him out. And so we enter the story via flashback one year prior.
Dr. Aranya (played by Jackie Coogan) is a crazy scientist, who has been experimenting with a serum to co-mingle spider and human DNA in his laboratory on top of a desolate mesa.
The results are odd. Women injected with the spider serum are beautiful and sensuous, and have great abilities of rejuvenation.
Male subjects are transformed into hideous dwarfs. Spiders injected with the human serum grow to human size and have human capacity for thought.
In need of an assistant, Dr. Aranya summons Dr. Masterson to his laboratory, but Masterson is horrified at what he sees and refuses to help. Aranya has Masterson injected with the serum, turning him into a simple-minded dope and he is subsequently institutionalized. Masterson escapes the asylum and encounters a group of travelers, and in a near-hypnotic sate, leads them to Aranya's mesa. The story goes on from there...
What first attracted me to the film was the curious prospect of seeing a grown-up Jackie Coogan in the role as the mad doctor. Many know Coogan as playing the title role as a young tyke, in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 silent classic, The Kid. Once that novelty wore off, I got into the film. It has it's faults, like any other Sci-Fi film of the era (plot holes, bad acting, etc.) but those are exactly the things that give Mesa of Lost Women it's charm.
Mesa of Lost Women- Trailer