Color, 1960, 84 mins. 8 secs. / 77 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Jamie Nolan (Fritz Böttger)
Starring Alexander D’Arcy, Barbara Valentin, Harald Maresch, Helga Franck, Rainer Brandt, Helga Neuner, Dorothee Parker, Walter Faber
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
More famous as a ridiculous episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 than an actual movie, Horrors of Spider Island is one of the odder fusions of monster mashing and cheesecake girlie ogling from the early days of European exploitation. The German/Yugoslavian co-production was filmed as Ein toter hing im netz (A Corpse Hangs in the Web) but christened with the more direct Horrors of Spider Island for its general U.S. assault on movie houses from coast to coast. However, a spicier adult variant called It’s Hot in Paradise also surfaced, and it’s under that title that this oft-maligned little slice of lunacy hit home video on VHS and then DVD from Something Weird, the latter format in 2000 through its deal with Image Entertainment. Clarifying things considerably in 2020, Severin Films brought the film back into circulation on both Blu-ray and DVD featuring both the longest English-language version and the complete German cut. No matter which option you choose, it's a wild experience from the golden age of grindhouse cinema that often feels like it's being beamed in from another planet.
The typical corral of ditsy pinup models winds up on a plane with burly, neckerchief-wearing Gary (Blood of Dracula's Castle's D’Arcy), but unfortunately their trip to Singapore is waylaid when they crash onto a seemingly deserted island. The girls, including the unbelievably over-voluptuous Babs (future Fassbinder regular and occasional pop singer Valentin), pass the time by dishing out inane dialogue, cat fighting, dancing, and skinny-dipping. Unfortunately they also discover a dead professor’s body hanging in a huge spider web, and then poor Gary is nipped by an eight-legged horror out in the woods. Soon he’s transformed into a fanged beast, running rampant through the island and scaring the poor models out of their wits.
Though watchable even in its shortest version, Horrors of Spider Island becomes a delirious experience with the added peekaboo swimming footage. The atrocious dubbing contains some of the more quotable one-liners around, while D’Arcy’s weird but decidedly non-threatening monster makes up for the decided lack of actual arachnids on screen. (D’Arcy also claimed to have directed most of the film, an achievement of which not too many Hollywood actors would boast.) Something Weird’s affectionate, lavishly produced DVD features a crisp (albeit oddly squeezed) transfer (of the Paradise cut running 76m59s) that maximizes the sweaty atmosphere embedded in the glossy black and white photography. It’s also easier than ever to spot the inserts of D’Arcy with monster make up, apparently shot in a completely different location. The disc includes another variation of their ad slick/radio spot combos, complete with tinted stills for this film as well as a trio of slinky, eight-legged treats. “The Stripper and the Spider Girl” and “The Spider Girl” are your average surreal bump and grind routines, but the real treat is "Web of Love," a splashy, funky number in which chanteuse Joi Lansing cavorts with a guy who could have stepped from the pages of Diabolik. The MST3K version is also easy to find on DVD in a few iterations, which fans most likely own already; that said, this one’s loony and funny enough to stand quite well on its own, thank you very much.
The honor of the ultimate release of this film easily goes to the Severin edition on Blu-ray (with a DVD option as well, though sadly there's no bundle option with a big plush spider monster), which defaults to the uncut German cut as the main viewing option with DTS-HD MA English or German tracks (as well as English SDH or English translated subtitle options; when the English dub is played, German subs pop up for the extra bits). As you'd expect, watching the film in German with subtitles is a far different experience and a much more credible work of cinema, though whether that's a good or bad thing will be up to you. (That dub, after all, is one for the ages.) The bulk of the extended footage comes around the middle of the film and was obviously trimmed for pacing reasons, though you do get a little extra nudity in there as well. Quality-wise the film obviously shows its age but looks about a few hundred times better than it ever has before on home video; the scan is cheekily cited as being from "the Düsseldorf dupe negative," and while much of the film looks very nice, a few chunks have obviously been pulled from a lesser, more flickery source (part of a dance routine in D'Arcy's office and a shot of the girls clambering across the beach being the most obvious, not to mention a cigarette burn or two popping up). It's all part of the charm really and doesn't account for that much of the running time; to put it mildly, this is a very substantial upgrade. The shorter, all-English It's Hot in Paradise version is also included (complete with its longer jazzy musical intro at the beginning) and is advertised as being from a "pristine low con print;" it's also far better than the transfers we've had before (and is in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio to boot). Though we're deprived of the deep scholarly commentary the film clearly deserves, you do get a great video analysis of the film by Prof. Dr. Marcus Stiglegger, "The History of Spider Island" (15m2s), which goes into the Anglicized nature of the credits, the nature of exported German genre fare like this and The Head, the background of director and onetime choreographer Fritz Böttger, and the sometimes amusing backgrounds of the actors like Rainer Brandt's tendency to do local dubs with some offensive flourishes. A very brief audio interview with D'Arcy (2m36s) by David Del Valle is also included along with a reel of alternate clothed sequences (8m6s) from an SD and the familiar American theatrical trailer.
SEVERIN (Blu-ray) (Uncut Version)
SEVERIN (Blu-ray) (It's Hot in Paradise)
IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (DVD)
Updated review on June 16, 2020