SHOCK looks at the strangest good/bad movie ever made: 1968’s TERROR IN THE JUNGLE!
Wanna see something strange?
I mean, something really, really weird?
Something off and wonderfully odd?
A movie so perversely ridiculous and herky-jerk that watching it achieves some swooning-state of astral projection in the delirious viewer?
Well then, dear readers, may I randomly present to you the most insane film I’ve ever seen. And no, it’s not some gonzo panty-fetish tentacled Japanese picture, nor is it some kind of German corpse-fucking wallow, nor is it a vintage Doris Wishman joint or a David Friedman carny call-out.
The “film” in which I will briefly riff on is 1968’s wonderfully obscure and brilliantly brain-dead TERROR IN THE JUNGLE.
Have you seen this titanic slab of psychotic cinema?
Good! You’re one of the lucky ones!
Because mentioning TERROR IN THE JUNGLE in polite society will reward you with the blankest of stares. Trust me. I know.
I caught this amazingly awful and awesome gem at 4am on Toronto TV station CITY TV in my teens. 4am is exactly where this hazy, mental-case movie belongs. I was savvy enough to have recorded the picture. So I have a copy on battered consumer-grade VHS, taped on the LP speed, complete with late night Toronto-based phone sex commercials. Wanna borrow it?
Divided into three sections and helmed by three different directors, TERROR IN THE JUNGLE (which was distributed theatrically by the legendary Crown International) is the ultimate WTF mish-mash-movie, sort of like a genre-shifting Irwin Allen turned Disney movie turned Mondo flick turned…turned…Oh Christ, I don’t know what to make of it. All I know is that it exists, it’s still kinda secret and I love it lots.
The first part of TERROR IN THE JUNGLE is directed by future HELL NIGHT auteur Tom DeSimone and his bit is the best part of the picture. In it, a little kid named Henry Clayton Jr. (played by awesomely whiny and husky voiced urchin Jimmy Angle, never to be heard from again after this picture!) is put on a plane solo (after some sincere looking and admittedly heart-poking tears) by his stoic, divorcee dad, to meet his mom at some other undisclosed location.
Henry initially resists but eventually accepts his fate and boards an aircraft filled with the most astonishing rogues gallery of passengers ever committed to film!
There’s the wig-wearing, fake-Brit rock band who have a gaggle of female fans (re: cheaply hired strippers) screeching in their wake; there’s the comely heiress who is suspected of murdering her wealthy husband and stashing his loot; there’s a sex-pot B movie actress on her way to Brazil to star in a shitty movie, much like this one; and best of all, there’s a pair of glum looking nuns who are transporting a third, totally dead sister in crappy coffin!
What a motley crew!
Lost in the shuffle of eccentrics and soap-opera-culled cyphers is little Henry, clutching his stuffed leopard and sniffling ad nauseum.
DeSimone takes his time developing all of these characters at length. We even get a fucked up musical number, right in the middle of the aisles.
Brace yourself…for here is that very musical number:
Soft Lips indeed!
Anyway, the plane suddenly crashes into the Amazon and literally EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING the film has spent fleshing out so far is killed. Fuck ALIVE, forget CASTAWAY, this is truly one the most astonishing plane crash sequences I’ve ever seen, because it’s so left-field, violent and mean spirited.
The only one to escape the reaper is Henry, who is placed into the coffin after the dead nun falls out and is then eaten, like many of the other fleeing, surviving passengers, by hungry crocodiles (actually, just stock footage and crude puppets); the ones that aren’t killed on impact or devoured by beasts, die screaming when the plane burns up!
It’s all so insane. I’m reeling just remembering it.
The rest of the picture is directed by THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS cinematographer Andrew Janczak and some dude named Alex Graton (again, never to be heard from again) and, outside of the presence of little Henry, these passages seem like portions of another film entirely.
For the next 20 minutes, an endlessly sobbing Henry floats down the river like fucking Aguirre in his coffin before washing ashore and being taken in by a native tribe, who see his blonde hair and think he’s a golden god.
No, they don’t eat him. But the film is so demented, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did.
What DID surprise me is that, in the film’s dramatic (cough) climax, Henry’s toy leopard comes to life and kills one of the bad natives. And then becomes a toy again.
Read that again. Because it’s all true.
When the mood struck me to share the mania of this movie with you today, I glanced at the TERROR IN THE JUNGLE IMDB page and was pleasantly surprised to see in the comments section, embedded between the expected hilarious user responses to this prized turkey, was a mea culpa from DeSimone himself!
I have copied that passage for your reading pleasure, below:
“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.”
If that aint a ringing endorsement and a major incentive to see TERROR IN THE JUNGLE immediately, then I don’t know what is…
Find this movie!