Thursday, November 22, 2012
Movie Reviews: HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA/THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD...TEMPLE OF HELL/JUNGLE RAIDERS
HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA
I cacciatori del cobra d'oro
1982, Vestron #VA4217, HF/OOP, 95m 2s
THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD...TEMPLE OF HELL
I sopravvissuti dela citta morta
"Survivors of the Dead City"
aka THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD
1983, Trans World #19004, HF/OOP, 98m 9s
La leggenda del rubino malese
"The Legend of the Malaysian Ruby"
1985, MGM/UA #MV800691, HF/OOP, 101m 4s
Reviewed by John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #62
The worldwide success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK had unexpected benefits for director Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson), who was enlisted to helm these moderately enjoyable low budget imitations. At their best, the films recall similiarly spirited independent efforts of the 30s and 40s, albeit with the added bonus of actual location work. Mainstays in the Action/Adventure section of many video stores during the 80s, they have become much harder to find in recent years and deserve to be re-issued in proper widescreen editions.
The first and best of the three, THE HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (as the film is identified onscreen) opens in the dying days of World War II. As the American army drives Japanese forces from the Philippines island of Palawan, Allied agents Bob Jackson (David Warbeck) and David Franks (John Steiner) pursue a Japanese double agent but are separated. Jackson is attacked by natives but a mysterious blonde girl intercedes on his behalf and he is spared. The film then picks up a year later, with the men re-united on a military sanctioned trip back to Palawan to search for the invaluable Golden Cobra. Worshipped by religious fanatics and reputedly possessing supernatural properties, the Golden Cobra's recovery is essential for maintaining stability in the region. They are joined on the quest by American archaeologist Greenwater (Luciano Pigozzi/Alan Collins) and his niece Julie (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD's Antonella Interlenghi, billed here as Almanta Suska), twin sister of the jungle girl, who was separated from the family a number of years back. After Franks and a guide (Rene Abadeza) are blown up in an attack, the three remaining explorers make their way through the underbrush and finally come across the tribe guarding the Cobra. Julie and her uncle claim only to be interested in finding the girl but really have their sights set on the same prize that Jackson seeks.
Well-paced and boasting a reliable mixture of explosions and fisticuffs, HUNTERS also benefits from miniature work that is a bit more convincing than that found in most of Margheriti's work. Warbeck and Steiner (hamming it up as an exceedingly British man-of-action) make a entertaining team and Tito Carpi's screenplay delivers requisite genre components like lethal spiders, murderous native lackeys, poison-dipped blow darts, human sacrifices, and a rickety ledge encircling a towering pit of lava. Composer Carlo Savina's score recycles some cues from his soundtrack for the previous year's COMIN' AT YA!
THE HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA was released directly to American TV, in slightly cut form, by World Northal (or WW Entertainment, as they are called here) and Vestron's master is, unfortunately, identical to that version. As was commonly done with the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies World Northal's TV arm distributed, artificial slow motion and repeated footage have been used to conceal three shots considered too strong for television (in one case, the aftermath of a cobra biting its victim on the face). The presentation also does not offer Sandro Mancori's cinematography in a particularly flattering light. The 2.35:1 frame is awkwardly panned-and-scanned and close-ups look far too tight. The image is also marred by weak contrasts and drained colors; the sound (taken from the optical track of the print) occasionally suffers from some sprocket noise.
In an interview conducted by Peter Blumenstock for Video Watchdog #28, Margheriti remarked that his infamous YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE "was one of those attempts to combine the Italian and Turkish film industries, and the results are always something very special." THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD...TEMPLE OF HELL was another co-production between these two countries and, while not nearly as "special" as YOR, it is still enjoyably nonsensical and bears more than a passing resemblance to HUNTERS. Veteran safecracker Rick Spear (David Warbeck) arrives in Istanbul and hooks up with Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios), a shady local merchant acting as his contact. His assignment, however, turns out to be a fake, orchestrated as a test of his abilities by Lord Dean (John Steiner, playing another erudite Englishman). An affluent collector of antiquities, the wheelchair-bound Dean seeks the sceptre of the half human/half demon King Gilgamesh, found in the mythical Temple of the Sun God. The entrance is protected by an elaborate mechanism that will cause the place to self-destruct, if not opened correctly, hence the need for Spear's talents. The object is also sought by a band of religious fanatics and, if it falls into the wrong hands, the entire region may become destabilized. While some dimwitted local thugs do their best to waylay them, Spear and Mohammed shanghai alcoholic guide Beetle (Luciano Pigozzi/Alan Collins) and head off into the desert. Their progress is watched carefully by forces who intend on finishing them off, once Spear has managed to snatch the prize.
In a typical Margheriti touch, the car chases are staged almost entirely with miniatures and the script's attempts at "local color" fail miserably ("May you drown in the dung of a thousand sheep!"). Fortunately, there is a fair amount of action, some fabulous location work, and a fairly exciting climax to hold one's interest. Incidentally, there is no Ark of the Sun God and the box synopsis states that Spear is out to find the lost treasure of Semiramis, Queen of Babylonia. It also claims that the Turkish lead villain is a "fanatical German terrorist." It's a wonder the copywriter didn't also claim that the movie was set in the 1930s and concerned the adventures of a certain fearless, bullwhip-wielding archeologist!
The opening and closing credits are letterboxed but the remainder of the film is cropped from 1.85:1. The reformatting of Sandro Mancori's cinematography is far less ruinous this time out, though the blown-up image works against the effectiveness of the miniatures. Contrasts are weak at times and the cave sequences are far too dark. The box lists an incorrect running time of 92m. THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (...TEMPLE OF HELL appears only on the video box and tape label) is one of several Trans World Entertainment titles later issued in LP-mode budget editions by Interglobal Video.
Set in 1938 Malaysia, JUNGLE RAIDERS stars Christopher Connelly as amiable swindler Duke Howard, whose red, white and blue apparel has earned him the nickname "Captain Yankee" among the locals. With his drunken Scotch partner Gin Fizz (Luciano Pigozzi/Alan Collins), Howard makes a living taking rich dolts on phony expeditions filled with "danger," courtesy of his native cohorts (led by Rene Abadeza). The local lawman, Captain Warren (Lee Van Cleef, appropriately sporting a black cowboy hat and six shooter, instead of the standard issue pith helmet and riding crop), tolerates Duke's con games and even helps set him up with a legitimate expedition, backed by beautiful but clumsy museum curator Professor Yanez (Marina Costa). She seeks the mythical "Ruby of Gloom" and Borneo pirate leader Tiger knows it, ordering his men to shadow the adventurers and steal the prize from them, if or when it is found. The party treks into an underground cavern, at the base of a volcano, and locates the gem...along with its murderous "guardians" and Tiger's equally inhospitable troops. Duke and company are able to escape and decide to put a stop the pirates' murderous activities once and for all.
Once again, all of the car chases are augmented with miniature destruction inserts (trashing antique automobiles was apparently a frill not built into the budget) and a miniature oil refinery also gets blown to kingdom come. The story this time out is concerned with nothing more than setting up the action. There is yet another plot to destabilize the nation but it is only mentioned in passing and never really plays a part in the story, while the all-important ruby turns out to be nothing but a McGuffin. The only fantasy element in the film concerns the highly unlikely relationship between a friendly native boy and his well-trained pet cobra. Cal Taormina delivers an engaging Big Band-style score, supplemented by cues heard previously in THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD.
Like many of the Cannon features released on video by MGM/UA, JUNGLE RAIDERS received little or no domestic theatrical play but, unlike the other two films covered here, it was at least submitted to the MPAA for a rating (and received PG-13). The image has been cropped from 1.85:1 and the framing is often tight; the opening credits are squeezed and the end crawl is partially presented in the form of artificial still frames. The tape was released only a year or so after the film was produced but the source material is already riddled with speckles, colors are rather bland, and contrasts are weak; the sound is okay.