Saturday, July 14, 2007

MESA OF LOST WOMEN



















TYPICAL REVIEW

"Put it all together, and you have the closest approximation I've ever seen to a fever dream I had once when I was running a temperature of 112 degrees." - Dave Sindelar, SciFilm.com

THE PLOT

Right. I'll do my best. Grant and Doreen are found wandering near death in the Muerto Desert. (Muerto means death the narrator informs us.) Upon recovering, Grant begins to tell in flashback the story of how they escaped from the laboratory of local mad scientist Dr. Aranya (And Aranya means spider!). However, Grant's flashback is interrupted by local handyman Pepe who knows some stuff he's not telling. But before Pepe can get his flashback going, the narrator interrupts and begins his own flashback in which he... Look, let's start over. There's this other guy Masterston, who travels to Dr. Aranya's lab whereupon he discovers the crazy scientist is breeding amazon spider women, dwarven spider men, and enormous spider puppets. This knowledge drives him insane. Later he visits a cafe and kidnaps a plane full of people in order to return to Aranya's lab and destroy it. People dance, people fall in love, people die.

THE POINT

Sometimes, it's best just to step back and let a film speak for itself. Following, with no embellishments, are just a handful of the things you will experience watching Mesa of Lost Women.

After a brief intro, the narrator begins the movie proper with these words. "Strange the monstrous assurance of this race of puny bipeds with overblown egos, the creature who calls himself man. He believes he owns the earth and every living thing on it exists only for his benefit. Yet how foolish he is... In the continuing war for survival between man and the hexapods, only an utter fool would bet against the insect." He never once stops speaking in this manner until the end credits. Often the characters appear to hear him, stop what they're doing, and look around to see who is talking.

With the exception of one extended dance sequence, the musical soundtrack consists entirely of an endlessly looped thirty second music clip featuring a flamenco guitar and some piano chords. In especially tense scenes the composer adds a percussion instrument, or possibly just a person, making the noise Pssst Pssst!

While in a cafe, one of Dr. Aranya's spider women launches into the aforementioned improvisational dance, a routine which includes creeping on all fours along the ground, holding two fingers up to her face like fangs, and waving her arms above her head like pedipalps. After she finishes dancing a man stands up and shoots her.

Following the crash of their plane, Grant (the Pilot) and Doreen (who is supposed to marry someone else in 12 hours) fall in love over a bottle of liquor and some cigarettes. Their conversation on the meaning of their lives would represent the longest scene in the film if it weren't occasionally intercut with spliced in close ups of misshapen dwarf faces giving suggestive looks.

When Doreen becomes inconsolable over the loss of her hair comb, her man-servant Wu, an Asian who speaks only in fortune cookie like proverbs, volunteers to sacrifice himself in order to try and find it in the nearby monster infested woods. His parting words are "He who serves well will also serve in danger, there is a day to be born and a day to die." Wu never returns and Doreen never gets her comb.

Scene after scene after scene the movie careens ever more into the surreal until by the end you stop worrying which character is actually having a flashback and start worrying that you might be having one of your own, even if you've never ingested a drug any stronger than aspirin. How did such a thing eve see release? Well, apparently the original director abandoned production when the money ran out and the film was shelved. Much later legendary exploitation director Ron Ormond came in to film enough scenes to pad out the movie to a minimal theatrical running time. By the time it was finally complete, Ormond's wife June (also a filmmaker) would call Mesa Of Lost Women "the lousiest thing I've ever seen." (Of course, Ron Ormond hadn't made his extreme protestant evangelical films yet, but that's another review for another time.) And Mrs. Ormond wasn't alone in her critique. Along with garnering scores of bad reviews, Mesa Of Lost Women has also been featured in the documentary The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made and in the book Son of Golden Turkey Awards.

It's a bad movie. Sure, there are plenty of unintentional laughs and a number of moments where you'll sit gaping in wonder at the absurdity of it all, but in the end, it's just bad. In fact, it's so bad you have to ask the question, is it evil? Did director Ormond commit an evil or immoral act by unleashing such a cinematic abomination on the world? The Catechism, taking its cue from Aquinas, states that the morality of human acts depends on three things: (1) the object chosen; (2) the end in view or the intention, and (3) the circumstances of the action. These three criteria "make up the "sources," or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts." Well, good luck, Mr. Ormond.

So, number one. "The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good." Is the very act of making a movie, like the act of stealing or murder, breaking some accepted rule of moral conscience? No, not as far as I've ever read. As a craft (and sometimes art) filmmaking is one of those actions that can go either way. I'm sure the makers of something like The Nativity Story would find the idea that filmmaking is inherently evil a little silly.

But the makers of The Nativity Story obviously had good intentions from the outset, which brings us to number two. Was Ormond's personal intention behind filming Mesa Of Lost Women an evil one? "The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken." If my description of this movie is even half accurate, then the obvious question that arises is what possible good could have been anticipated in completing this abomination? Obviously, the goal here was not to produce an uplifting piece of art, but there's also nothing in the interviews I've read that suggests Ormond had any secret motives to intentionally damage the viewer's psyche. No, according to his wife, Ormond's intent here was just to make a paycheck, and even the Catechism grants us that "everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family." So, he squeaks by here too.

Which leaves number three. "The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death)." This one's a little tricky, because it addresses two issues. One is the physical circumstances surrounding the act (i.e. stealing because your children are starving) and the other is the actual outcome of the act. I can't address part one, because I really just don't know if directing this movie was a matter of life or death for Ron Ormond. (Although, for his sake, there's a part of me that desperately hopes it was.) But as for part two, well, this is where things start to look bad for old Ron, because (just in case you might have skipped the comments on the movie) the outcome of his efforts was truly, truly horrible.

But wait, there's hope. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his encyclical Veritas Splendor, this part about the outcome of an action is actually in there to counter bad philosophy like the Utilitarianism of J.S. Mill which proclaims that ONLY the consequences will determine the morality of acts. In a Catholic morality, the ends can never justify the means. But conversely, neither can the ends automatically condemn the means. JPII goes onto say, "Everyone recognizes the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of evaluating all the good and evil consequences and effects — defined as pre-moral — of one's own acts: an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible. How then can one go about establishing proportions which depend on a measuring, the criteria of which remain obscure? How could an absolute obligation be justified on the basis of such debatable calculations?" In short, the act itself determines its species (good or evil) and the outcome is secondary. So it seems Ormond slips by here too. Even though he did something poorly, he didn't necessarily do something evil since the original act of making the movie wasn't intrinsically immoral and who in their right mind could have foreseen the end result.

All of which is fine for Ron Ormond, but not so fine for us, because it in no way makes Mesa Of Lost Women a better movie. It's still bad. Not evil, but bad. Oh dear Lord is it bad.

THE STINGER

"Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu: An action is good when good in every respect; it is wrong when wrong in any respect." (Just a little Latin to let everyone know that, yes, I'm well aware of the release of the Motu Proprio last week.) It kind of seems like the odds are against us in this whole good or evil thing. In order to judge an act good, it has to pass all three criteria; in order to be judged immoral or evil, it only has to fail one. Thanks a million, God, not a lot of room for the spiritually lazy, is there?

9 comments:

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Rum, misogyny, and the lash. Ah, the peculiar joys of the B-movie.

And ah, the peculiar joys of the B-Movie Catechism! A little more facetious than most, but you managed a fine extrapolation of how to judge the morality of acts! Bravo!

Of the reviews I've read here, this sounds like the worst movie so far, by far.

I admit I was wondering (perhaps hoping?) you were going to comment at more length on just how the film portrays and generally treats women.

EegahInc said...

Ah well, you go where the muse leads, I suppose. (Not that I'm claiming these things are inspired or anything.) This blog is first and foremost a learning exercise for me, and I just happened to be puzzling over how much the outcome of your actions could be held against you, so it all kind of fell together.

Truthfully, a lot of these movies could cover more than one topic. Mesa of Lost Women is so poorly executed in so many ways it could easily inspire a month's worth of blogs. (At the rate I write anyway.) Maybe I should revisit it. Or....

Since you've got no small talent at pulling these kind of topics out of movies yourself, if you ever get the urge to pass up watching them there big budget thingies and feel like slumming it, I'd happily cross post your take on this, er, classic. (Or something similarly wretched.)Mesa of Lost Women is in the public domain and freely available at YouTube, Invasion Cinema, and other sites for your viewing pleasure. Go ahead, you know you want to. (This must be what Palpatine felt like.)

Che' Lovell said...

"...a routine which includes creeping on all fours along the ground, holding two fingers up to her face like fangs, and waving her arms above her head like pedipalps. After she finishes dancing a man stands up and shoots her."

HEY! Except for that last part that's exactly like the liturgical dancing at SOV2!

Che'

Histor the Wise said...

Pardon my nitpicking, but "hexapod" is not a word - and spiders have eight legs, not six, so you can't use a word with "hex-" to describe a spider.

Histor

EegahInc said...

Please direct all complaints to Herbert Tevos, the screenwriter of Mesa of Lost Women. Good luck, as this was the only movie he was ever involved in. And he's Hungarian. And probably dead.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Big budget thingies? While I certainly have not your vast knowledge of movies, I have been known to enjoy a B flick from time to time. Billy the Kid Versus Dracula will remain one of my favorites.

I would gladly endure Mesa of Lost Women for the sake of a blog post (anything for a blog post), so I think I will take you up on that offer.

EegahInc said...

Excellent! I'm not sure how it works though. Will I copy and paste from your blog, or do you email me html, or what?

Anonymous said...

prefix hexa means six. insects have six legs

Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!