PURE TERROR MONTH: Terror In the Jungle (1968)

I kind of wish that I was alive in 1968 just so I could have been part of this movie. Seriously, I’ve never seen a film that so quicky changes its tone and central theme so quickly, abandoning characters that its taken time to set up for an entirely new situation. And then we get the airplane, with swinging bands playing on it and people going bonkers before it crashes? I want to live in this insane world.

After we meet all these folks — bound for Rio — we better not get too used to them. Except for little Henry Clayton Jr., who is taking his stuffed lion to live with his mother after his parents split up. There’s also Mrs. Sherman, who may or may not have killed her husband, but has a suitcase full of money and is given to insane crying jags. And there’s an exotic dancer on board as well! And some nuns, traveling with one of their dead sisters in a coffin! And then there’s a band! And a rich dude that talks about cannibals!

Everybody is having so much fun that the band plays their big hit and Marian, the exotic dancer, shows off and even the nuns enjoy it.

However, the movie soon turns into sheer insanity, as the plane begins to crash. Money spills all over the plane, a nun gets pulled out of an open door and half the cast abruptly dies. Seriously, somehow this went from “Soft Lips” to dudes getting their foreheads split in half and a gory death with a birdcage. I have no idea what brought on this narrative shift.

Then, to top all this off, every single other person we met is eaten by alligators.

You read that right.

The entire cast is dead.

Everyone except Henry, who is now floating down a reptile filled river in the coffin of a dead nun.

What the actual hell is going on here?

The natives — yes, the cannibals that were discussed on the plane that call themselves the Jivaros — find Henry and thanks to his blonde hair and the magic of 1968’s worst special effects, he has a halo. The leader of the tribe declares that he is a god, except that one of them thinks he has to die. So he chases Henry into the jungle and the kid’s stuffed lion transforms into a real lion and eats the dude.

So wait — is Henry really a god?

This is a movie that starts with the declaration that “This pictur was filme don location in the Jivaros Regions of the Amazon Jungle. Without the assistance and encouragement of the Government of Peru it would not have been possible.”

It’s also the kind of movie that randomly has Fawn Silver be Marian, the exotic dancer. If you don’t know who she is, she’s Criswell’s assistant in Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead.

It also has three directors — Tom De’Simone directed the plane sequence, Andrew Janzack the jungle parts and the temple close was directed by Alex Graton. That may explain the strange narrative leaps that this makes.

Let’s break down each director.

Tom De’Simone went on to become adult film director Lancer Brooks, as well as creating some of my favorite films, like Hell NightReform School Girls and Chatterbox.

Andrew Janzack never directed another movie, but was the cinematographer for The Undertaker and His Pals.

Alex Graton would finally direct another movie eleven years later, a romantic comic entitled Only Once In a Lifetime that has Claudio Brook — yes, the same Claudio Brook who was in Luis Buneul’s The Exterminating Angel — in it.

I love IMDB because it has comments directly from De’Simone in the review. I’ll share it below for your enjoyment:

“OK, now it’s my turn to weigh in on this disaster. I’m the director who’s credited with this fiasco but in my defense I have to explain that there were three directors on this film and we all suffered under a producer with no experience, no taste, no sense and worst of all, NO MONEY. I was fresh out of film school working as an editor when I was introduced to him when he was looking for a director. I convinced him I could handle a feature having already won two awards at film festivals for two shorts I had done. This was the biggest mistake in my life. Once on, for a mere $50 a day, I realized what I had gotten into. He hired a bunch of non-SAG actors who actually PAID HIM to be in his movie. None had any experience in front of a camera and all the characters were his creation. I was stuck in that plane mock-up for two weeks with these desperate souls trying to create something from nothing. The script was only half written when we started and he said he would finish it when we got to the jungle. When we completed the plane interiors, including the now famous “crash” scene, the rough cut was 83 minutes long and we hadn’t even reached the jungle part of the story.

I told him we had to make some serious trims, both for time and for performances. He refused to cut anything. He was so in love with the crap we had he actually once said he believed that the actress playing the stewardess would win an Oscar for her scream scene in the fire. I knew I was doomed. We argued over and over about what I felt should be dropped, trimmed and eliminated until I had it. I walked from the production and that wonderful salary.

Undaunted, he went to Peru and used the cameraman as the replacement director. Down there they wrote the second half of the script and shot it as he wrote it. Back in LA they now had a bigger disaster, naturally. The film was way too long, badly shot, badly acted and unwatchable. He and this second director fought, as did I, and he then walked away as well. Now the producer was over a barrel. He had sunk what little money he borrowed and still believed he had a hit on his hands if he could just get it finished. He hired a third guy to come in and fix the problem. This genius hired a bunch of extras, put bad wigs on them and went to Griffith Park in LA and shot more crap that was even more laughable than what they got in Peru. After that the producer shopped around for stock footage of native ceremonies and came up with some god-awful crap from a 40’s schlock film and cut it in… the final disaster is what’s on screen. I’ve lived in shame my entire career because for some reason I always get the credit for making this turkey. I was one of three victims! The entire debacle was the brain child of the producer and none of us had a chance in hell to make it any better than it was doomed to be from the start.

And that’s the truth.”

In case you haven’t realized it yet, I love this movie. Like, beyond love. I’m going to bother everyone I know to tell them just how great it is and then laugh when they look at me and wonder why I enjoy this blast of craziness so much. Beware!

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