(1948, Drama-Adventure, b&w), with:
The Phantom Creeps: Chapter One, The Menacing Power
(1939, SciFi Serial-Mad Science, b&w)
This forest needs a woman’s touch.
In a nutshell:
Short: A mad scientist invents exploding spiders.
Film: A pair of pilots rescues a marooned heiress from an African jungle.
In The Phantom Creeps, a mad scientist that looks like Karl Marx (played by Bela Lugosi) invents mechanical spiders that find Alka-Seltzer-like disks irresistible. When one reaches a disk it explodes into deadly white powder. Actually, Lugosi blusters something about it causing suspended animation, but between his incomprehensible accent and the film’s bad sound, I had trouble understanding anything he said. He demonstrates his invention to his estranged wife by using a disk and spider combo to kill a claymation plant.
Just then, his estranged scientist ex-partner (I think) who’s hanging out with his estranged wife walks in and declares it a revolutionary discovery that needs to be safeguarded by the military. Lugosi scoffs at this and declares that he will sell it to the highest terrorist/evil government bidder. While the ex-partner runs off to get the authorities, Lugosi foils them by moving his laboratory and inventions into his home’s secret basement.
While the feds search the house above him, Lugosi shaves his Marxist beard and takes off from the secret garage with his assistant. As luck would have it, they pick up a bearded look-a-like hitchhiker and, also as luck would have it, they get into a car accident that kills the look-a-like hitchhiker, totals the car, and leaves Lugosi and his assistant uninjured. So he decides to suspendedly animate his wife with a disk/spider combo while she’s in an airplane, so that she can’t identify the body as not being him. Unfortunately, she finds the disk in her purse and hands it to the pilot so that he can get a look at it. The spider jumps him instead and kills and/or puts him in suspended animation, destroying the controls in the process. The plane crashes, killing most of its occupants.
There’s also a big ugly robot, an invisibility belt, an unidentified brand of cigarettes, and a peeping blonde girl who skydives mixed into the above summary. Everyone behaves as if they’re important, but they don’t seem to have anything to do with the plot.
In Jungle Goddess, slimeball charter pilot Bob and his noble sidekick pilot Mike (played by George Reeves, TV’s original Superman) decide to ditch their passengers and search for a missing heiress in the African jungle. They fly in circles over some stock footage and then land when they easily find the wreckage of her plane. After wandering around with rifles and pith helmets for a while, they meet a tribe of stereotypical Hottentots. Of course Bob shoots one, despite the fact that they outnumber the pilots by quite a lot and are clearly not threatening.
The natives take them to see their queen, the eponymous Jungle Goddess, who’s also the missing heiress, Greta. She publicly sentences Bob to death for his crime, and then invites Mike back to her hut for a meal. Over dinner she narrates an irrelevant anti-war flashback about how she was the only survivor of her plane wreck and then plans to escape with Mike and Bob.
Mike tries to take Bob’s gun away, but Bob goes crazy and kills another native while they fight. Bob, Mike, and Greta all run into the jungle, where she promptly sprains her ankle. Bob steals the gun and runs away, randomly firing in all directions. In spite of the sprained ankle, Mike and the heiress make it to the plane first, only to get jumped by Bob. The angry natives catch up to them and spear Bob in the back, letting Mike and Greta escape. Once they get airborne, Mike asks Greta to come to Colorado with him, but she tunes him out so that she can plan her future millinery exploits.
Joel and the ‘Bots play hide and seek with the inexplicable mysteries of the cosmic universe.
Host Segment One:
The cosmic universe doesn’t bother to try and hide when its turn comes up. Joel demonstrates the remote control saw, which is just like it sounds. He cuts a hole in the floor around him by accident and falls through to the next level. Dr. Forrester cuts off his own head and grafts it to a saxophone. Frank cleans out his spit valve.
Host Segment Two:
Tom and Crow put on fake British accents and do an infomercial for exploding mechanical spiders.
Host Segment Three:
Joel demonstrates the use of the gobo, a board put over the camera lens with holes of different sizes and shapes. These simulate binoculars, keyholes, microscopes and so forth. Crow does his amoeba impression. Quoth he, “I am an amoeba.”
Host Segment Four:
Mike and Bob from the movie (played by Mike Nelson and Jim Mallon) come to the Satellite of Love. Mike demands mineral rights, scalps, women, and a number of other things while Bob indiscriminately fires his toy Uzi at anything that moves. They try to impress Joel and the ‘Bots with their stove lighter, a.k.a. “magic fire stick”
Host Segment Five:
It’s the sitcom, My White Goddess, with Joel as the White Goddess, Crow as Mike, Gypsy as a native woman, and Tom as the trigger-happy Bob. It’s a bad laughtrack extravaganza! Frank enjoys it way too much. They read letters while Frank mimics Dr. Forrester in a high squeaky voice.
The host segments are all pretty good in this one. Dr. Forrester’s head on a sax is pretty inexplicable—it just seems like an excuse to use a mirror box—but the remote control saw is pretty funny. The infomercial and the gobo segments are funny and well paced, but run a little long. Mike Nelson is perfect as Mike the pilot, noble and condescending at the same time.
Both the movie and the short are bad prints, with fuzzy sound and visuals, and the movie’s so overexposed it’s almost unwatchable. Not that there’s anything worth seeing. Aside from that similarity, the movie and the short are pretty much opposites of each other. Looking back at what I wrote about them, it took more space to summarize the fifteen-minute short than it did to summarize the hour-plus movie. The short is like watching a cinematic train wreck. Blood and oil and sharp bits of plot fly in every direction. There’s just so much. The mechanical spiders (“Ding-dongs with legs” as Crow calls them), the strange disks, the robot with the Mardi Gras head, the inviso-belt … I could just go on and on.
Okay, I will. He fools the Feds by moving his laboratory to the secret ground floor? He has a secret garage on the same property? The Feds of the past must have all been half-blind, really gullible, and fairly stupid. He just happens to find a dead ringer for himself hitchhiking by the side of the road and then accidentally gets him in a fatal car accident before he can kill him himself? I guess in a universe where exploding spiders are hailed as a revolutionary invention, anything is possible. The problem is, there’s no continuity to be had anywhere in the short. Not a scrap of it. It’s just a lot of cool stuff all crammed together with just the barest attempt of a plot.
The movie has the opposite problem. While the short struggles with far too much content for it’s running time, the movie stretches almost nothing in content right to the breaking point and beyond. The good guy and the bad guy find the girl. The bad guy kills some natives and dies. The good guy and girl fall in love and escape. That’s all there is to it. No character development, no motivation, very little action, just a lot of stock footage and stereotypical tribal antics. Despite some funny host segments and some funny riffing from Joel and the ‘Bots, both the short and the film are too horrible for words. It’s worth one viewing if you’re a die-hard fan, but otherwise I’m sure you could find a better episode to watch.
(1948, Drama-Adventure, b&w), with: