The Lost Empire (1984)

I’m always saying I’m not a fan of Jim Wynorski’s movies and then find myself realizing that yes, I like several of his films.

The director may have flunked out of film school, but he turned an introduction to Roger Corman into a career and a chance to write scripts, starting with one of my favorite Corman science fiction films, Forbidden World, and moving on to SorceressScrewballsBeastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time and so many more.

This is the movie that he started directing with, also making Chopping MallDeathstalker IIBig Bad Mama IISorority House Massacre II and III, Return of the Swamp Thing and 976-EVIL II, which is another film of his that yes, I admit that I enjoy. I even like his Cinemax After Dark movies like the Body Chemistry sequels and stuff like Munchie.

So alright. I like his movies. I’ve learned something. I can even respect that he’s gone the way of most horror directors of my youth, alternating between children’s movies like A Doggone Christmas and A Doggone Hollywood with the softcore stuff he’s known for, SyFy-style creature movies and weird stuff like Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre.

But if every movie Wynorski made was like The Lost Empire? He’d probably be one of my favorite directors.

We start in Chinatown, where three masked intruders try to steal the glowing eye of a statue. Everyone dies in the battle except for one cop who barely makes it. And then, the next day, terrorists take over a school before Inspector Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz, Hunk) takes out everyone, which almost includes a fed named Rick Stanton (Paul Coufos, 976-EVIL II). Luckily, she stops in time for him to survive and then, as is customary in police and federal working relationships, they aardvark.

When they wake up the next morning, Angel and Rick learn that her brother Rob (Bill Thornbury, Jody from Phantasm!) was the police officer who survived the jewelry store shootout. In the hospital, he hands her a throwing star and says, “The Devil exists and the Eye knows where.” Instead of being freaked out, Rick launches into exposition mode to tell us all about Lee Chuck (when I realized this was Angus Scrimm, I lost my mind), a man who has become immortal yet must give Satan a new soul every day.

Keep in mind that we are about fifteen minutes into this movie and we’ve already had a job versus ninja battle, terrorists fighting a lone cop, a sex scene and an occult backstory. I already was head over heels for this one.

When Angel examines the crime scene, one of the glowing eyes makes its way into her purse — all on its own — before Inspector Charles Chang (Art Hern, Simon King of the Witches) goes into even more exposition, explaining the Eyes of Avatar, two jewels that the Dragon-God blessed with the power to rule the world. He tells her that Lee Chuck is real, has one of the eyes and has joined up with the cult of Dr. Sin Do (also Angus Scrimm!).

With her brother dying from his wounds, Angel decides that she must destroy Sin Do, who has begun recruiting an army of terrorists, including Anthony Kiedis’ dad Blackie Dammit and Angel Pettijohn as Whiplash. So she does what any of us would. No, she doesn’t file the paperwork to get a task force and multiple police and federal units involved. She instead learns that Dr. Do — no relation to Mr. Do, although both have castles — only accepts groups of female soldiers in threes. And that means that she has to bring in her old friend, the Native American supersoldier Whitestar (Raven De La Croix, perhaps the greatest of all Russ Meyer’s women next to Tura Satana; she was also the associate producer, costume designer and animal handler of this movie while doing all of her own stunts) and Heather (Angela Aames, Fairy TalesH.O.T.S.), a convict who she promises to parole — how does she have that power? — if she helps like some nascent version of the Suicide Squad.

Whatever. Logic be damned, the ladies are off for Golgotha, Dr. Do’s castle fortress, where more ninja battles and a cast that includes Robert Tessier (who was one of the four members of Stunts Unlimited along with Hal Needham, Glenn R. Wilder and Ronnie Rondell Jr.), Linda Shayne (Miss Salmon from Humanoids from the Deep who would go on to direct Purple People Eater), Kenneth Tobey (who was in so many movies, like the original The ThingDirty Mary Crazy LarryThe Howling and more), Anny Gaybis (who was in a movie with one of my favorite titles, Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman!) and Tommy Rettig (Jeff Miller from the Lassie series and the star of one of the strangest movies to ever escape Hollywood, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) await.

I mean, this movie is so close to being in the same continuity as Big Trouble In Little China that Alan Howarth did the music for it. I’ll go ever further and say that thanks to Blackie Dammit being in it, it might even be in the same universe as 9 Deaths of the Ninja. It’s a total blast, a movie that is somehow the answer to the unasked question, “What if Russ Meyer directed Enter the Dragon?”

This is definitely the movie to put on if you’re down. I mean, how can you be sad after watching a movie where Angus Scrimm’s bad guy character has a giant snake and can survive losing his head, much less one that features a prison shower flashback just to prove that one of the heroines was in jail at one point and hints that Raven De La Croix has supernatural powers? We’re going to have to go through a black hole and out the other side to create new stars to come up with how many I’d give this movie.

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