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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Treasure of the Amazon (1985) review


Stuart Whitman (Gringo), Donald Pleasence (Klaus), John Ireland (priest), Bradford Dillman (Clark), Pedro Amendariz (Pablo), Hugo Stiglitz (boat captain), Sonja Infante (Morinba), Ann Sidney (Barbara), Emilio Fernandez (Tacho)

Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.

The Short Version: A great cast, some juicy gore and a throwback storyline to the serial adventures of old
enliven this Mexican mishmash of 'B' movie cliches. As a bonus, there's some amazing cinematography that captures both the danger and splendor of the Amazon jungle. Occasionally collapsing into unintended hilarity, fans of RAIDERS style rip offs and Italian gut crunchers may wish to seek out this obscure minor league treasure.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and gore***

An aging gold hunter, a myriad group of danger seekers and a Nazi intent on creating a race of superhumans are on an expedition to locate a vast treasure in gold and diamonds hidden away somewhere in the amazon jungle. While everyone has their own agenda, they all face an onslaught of treacherous obstacles including alligators, piranhas, flesh eating crabs and a vicious band of cannibalistic head hunters.

This pulpy adventure yarn melding elements of the Italian cannibal sub genre, Disaster movie cliches, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK styled thrills and a dose of SCAVENGER HUNT (1979) is enjoyably fluffy nonsense from Rene Cardona Jr, the mastermind behind such trash as NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972), TINTORERA (1977), CYCLONE (1978) and GUYANA, CULT OF THE DAMNED (1979); the latter of which also starred Stuart Whitman. Making movies was a family affair in the Cardona household and they certainly have accrued a fair amount of notoriety throughout the careers of both Cardona junior and senior. Their films are so similar you'd swear they were made by the same person.

Cardona senior was a well known commodity in the Mexican exploitation arena churning out a load of crappy, if frequently entertaining Mexi-horror-wrestling movies such DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963) and WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964) being two of the more tolerable. His most famous flicks--outside of Mexico, anyway--includes the gory excess of NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969) and the box office success, if forgotten to time SURVIVE! (1972) about the Andes crash survivors who resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.

TREASURE OF THE AMAZON is probably the younger, yet late Cardona's best and most likable exploitation picture. It's not quite as long nor does it suffer from the severe pacing issues of his TINTORERA and CYCLONE, but could afford to lose about ten minutes nonetheless. The great cast helps immensely and lends the proceedings a Disaster Movie vibe, albeit one with lots of nudity and gore; the latter of which this sync sound Mexican production has a healthy dose of. There's blood squibs, multiple throat slashings, a few noggin removals and even a shrunken head or two. The gruesome showstopper is an attack by an army of flesh eating crabs(!) that bite, rip and tear away at one of the cast members. This sequence is almost verbatim from the 'Spider Attack' seen in Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND (1981). Only here, the effect is more convincing.

Stuart Whitman tries to hide himself underneath a bearded mash of facial hair and proves to be the life of the party in what quickly becomes a running gag watching him frequently get a little too excited whenever the subject of gold and jewels is brought up. Whitman's character of Gringo isn't much of a good guy, but he does provide some humorous moments both intentional and otherwise. The messy script is too ambitious for its own good teasing us with some interesting backstory for some of the characters, but no one here is really worth rooting for. Everyone's out for themselves and the knives come out when backs are turned.

Pleasence is anything but pleasant as Klaus, a Nazi with dreams of starting the new Aryan race. He treks through the danger riddled fauna armed with a sub machine gun and guided by Morinba, an attractive guide whose wardrobe appears modeled on Maria Socas's lack thereof from THE WARRIOR & THE SORCERESS (1984). With her bouncing bosom popping and jiggling into view with veritable frequency, Klaus never once cops a feel, nor shows the least bit of interest. Sadly, the script underwrites him, too. Klaus has the potential to be a grand villain, but he takes a backseat to the jungle savages. These head shrinking, noggin lopping, flesh chompers (we only hear about their flesh munching exploits) run around the jungle painted up in bright colors, firing off poisonous blow darts while feverishly slashing throats, hanging victims by their tongues with meat hooks and removing heads with gleeful abandon.

Mexican cinema mainstay, Emilio Fernandez starred in many big budgeted American westerns such as RETURN OF THE SEVEN (1966), GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN (starring Anthony Quinn [1968]) and most famously in Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969) where he played the brutal bandito who spurs the BUNCHes blood soaked vengeance. He's also seen in PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974) and the Charles Bronson action-comedy-thriller BREAKOUT (1975).

Hugo Stiglitz was also a popular and prolific Mexican star, but his role here as the river boat captain is mostly inconsequential. He has a few lines and that's it. He appeared in many of the Cardona family's more notorious pictures and also headlined Lenzi's ambitiously grim NIGHTMARE CITY (1980). Pedro Armendariz (CHISUM, EARTHQUAKE!), Bradford Dillman (ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, PIRANHA) and John Ireland (HATE FOR HATE, SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS, THE INCUBUS) round out the big names.

In the face of some cumbersome 'B' level dialog and a delightfully ravenous throwback appeal, Daniel Lopez's photography is nothing short of stunning. The crew took full advantage of the South American floral surroundings capturing some awe inspiring vistas and a beautiful selection of waterfalls. Honing its 'B' movie nature, TREASURE OF THE AMAZON makes a flub rather quickly during the opening credits in an attempt to label this as a true story. A title card states the setting is a fictional one, but both the films title and dialog from the cast state otherwise.

Whether a move to protect its tourism trade (does the amazon have such a thing?), the film manages to showcase the South American hot spot as a great source of eye candy and popcorn entertainment, but not such a nice, nor hospitable place to visit.

Boasting a boisterous score by Mort Garson, the abrasive soundtrack sounds like it should be in a bigger movie, but still has a slight hint of a TV Movie of the Week sound despite all the nudity and bloody shenanigans. Those with a fondness for Euro items like MAN FROM THE DEEP RIVER (1972), MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978) and RAIDERS rip offs like HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982), ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1984) and JUNGLE RAIDERS (1985) will most likely feel right at home here in Mexico's entry into the 'Violent Jungle Adventure' sub genre capped off with an ensemble cast of familiar Hollywood faces and cult cinema vets.

This review is representative of the VCI DVD

DVD stats: 1.85:1; non-anamorphic; 1:45:02

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