ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A.C. Nicholas, who has a sketchy background and hails from parts unknown in Western Pennsylvania, was once a drive-in theater projectionist and disk jockey, Currently, in addition to being a writer, editor, podcaster, and voice-over artist, he contributes to Drive-In Asylum. His first article, “Grindhouse Memories Across the U.S.A.,” was published in issue #23. He’s also written “I Was a Teenage Drive-in Projectionist” and “Emanuelle in Disney World and Other Weird Tales of a Trash Film Lover” for upcoming issues.
Quick. Name a movie written by the late, great Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon writer Michael O’Donoghue and the late, great Saturday Night Live writer and creator of the cult TV show Square Pegs Anne Beatts, starring John Belushi, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, and Brian Doyle-Murray. (No, it’s not Nothing Lasts Forever, the famous “lost” Bill Murray film produced by Lorne Michaels and written and directed by Tom Schiller.)
Give up? It’s the American version of La Honte de La Jungle, re-titled for the American market as Tarzoon, Shame of the Jungle and later just Shame of the Jungle. (In the UK, it’s known as Jungle Burger). Whatever its title, it’s a dirty French/Belgian animated film, with the English-language version written and voice acted by all those SNL folks.
But why have I never seen nor heard of this thing, a John Belushi/Bill Murray film, you ask? Good question. I’ll get to it. But first, some details about the film itself. Made back in the heyday of adult animated films like Fritz the Cat, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, and Down and Dirty Duck, Shame of the Jungle, to stick with its final U.S. title, is a twisted, adult version of Tarzan. We have Tarzoon, renamed “Shame” after the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate cried foul, along with “June” and a masturbating monkey living in the “bush” of Africa. (Yeah, the movie’s humor goes there—and I just did too.) Evil queen Bazonga wants to take over the world tomorrow, but unfortunately, she’s bald. Along with her beauticians, who are conjoined twins, she hatches a plan to kidnap June and scalp her for her long, flowing locks.
And it gets smuttier and nuttier from there with an army of human-sized penises bouncing along on their testicles, animals having sex, humans having sex, a racist depiction of African natives, a stereotypical British explorer, and Shame, our hero, meeting one “Craig Baker from Champagne-Urbana,” a drunken frat boy with “69” on his shirt, voiced by John Belushi. If you watch the end credits, Belushi is uniquely credited as having “created and performed” the character.
So now you’re asking, what manner of insanity is this, and who created it? Well, it’s the work of celebrated Belgian animator Picha, a/k/a Jean-Paul Walravens. Picha’s animation has that fun, exaggerated 70s look (if you remember the “Keep on Trucking” bumper stickers, you’ll get the idea) in pastel color. Or maybe it was just the washed-out print I saw. In spots, there are some reused backgrounds, not unlike the economy measures taken by Saturday morning cartoons back in the day. (And let’s not forget about all the kinky cartoon sex.) But overall, the film looks good.
The humor starts low (the “bush” joke) and never rises above sniggering middle-school playground stuff, but you know what? It’s mostly funny, if you like the lowest of lowbrow humor, and it doesn’t wear too thin throughout the short run time. That run time, by the way, is debatable. The gray-market versions that I’ve found online all run about 68 minutes, though I’ve seen reports of 71- and 85-minute run times.
The voice actors acquit themselves well to the dubbing script by O’Donoghue and Beatts, with the coup being that the U.S. post-production team got Johnny Weismuller, Jr., son of the legendary original Tarzan, (Johnny Sr. was born in Windber, in my vicinage of Western Pennsylvania, of all places) to play Shame. Another notable, Adolph Caesar, the booming voice of many 70s trailers, including Dawn of the Dead, is also in the cast. But you’ll be hard pressed to identify the voices of the SNL folks, who have small parts. All, that is, except for Belushi. As mentioned, he wrote his college-kid part himself, and he’s a highlight of the film, especially when he goes off on a drunken tangent about the film The Silver Chalice with Jack Palance.
But back to the burning question: Why is this movie unknown to even the most ardent Belushi and SNL fans? I think the answer is that it was released by International Harmony, a company set-up by the great Stuart S. Shapiro, who created the legendary USA Network series Night Flight. While Shapiro’s work on that show was brilliant, his efforts as a movie distributor were far less successful. He made money with Tunnel Vision, an early sketch comedy, but his company was also the original distributor of the ill-fated Effects, the brilliant, low-budget Pittsburgh horror film. It played only a few theaters in 1980 and disappeared without a trace for decades, the victim of no marketing and bookings due to International Harmony’s financial troubles. It seems Shame of the Jungle was plagued by even more distribution problems. First, there was the copyright issue. So the film had to be retitled and perhaps re-looped. And it initially received an X-rating.
I read where Shapiro said that even though the film was pornographic, he didn’t recall any problems importing it into the U.S. It was later cut to get an “R” rating–hence, the different reported run-times—and it played a few places, mainly at midnight showings. Many sources report that it first played in the U.S. in 1979—indeed, there’s a New York Times review from September 14, 1979–but I distinctly recall midnight showings of the X-rated Tarzoon version in Virginia when I was at the University of Richmond, circa 1978. And while later it made it to VHS, it’s never had an official DVD or Blu-ray release in North America. (It’s part of a Picha Blu-ray box set in Europe.) You can find it on YouTube and the Internet Archive in what I’m going to assume is the cut, R-rated version (but I can’t be sure),
So now you know the name of the lost SNL feature film. It’s a “shame” this film isn’t more widely available (keeping with the film’s low humor, I couldn’t resist the pun). If enough people read this review, see the VHS rip, and convince a company like Vinegar Syndrome to find it, we can all enjoy an oddity that has been lost to the sands of time. I sure hope that happens. Shame of the Jungle, by any name, is worth it.