Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Experiences TERROR IN THE JUNGLE (1968)
Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
TERROR IN THE JUNGLE (1968)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), THE CREEPING TERROR (1964), EEGAH! (1962), and SHOWGIRLS (1995) are all laugh-filled, so-bad-they’re-good films that entertain even as they astound us with their ineptitude. Allow me to introduce you to TERROR IN THE JUNGLE (1968), a practically home-made tale of schlocky adventure and horror in which every scene contains multiple mistakes, atrocious acting, inept editing and directing, and the funniest script that a group of hacks ever thrust in front of an unbelieving audience. You think I’m kidding? Let’s get to the plot.
We begin our story on a beach front, split level home where the worst child actor ever (Jimmy Angle, who thankfully never worked again) portrays Henry Clayton Jr. The tow-headed tyke, barely four years old, is about to embark upon his first airplane ride ever to see his mother. Clutching his stuffed lion, Henry gets on the plane along with dozens of hilarious stock characters. There’s Mrs. Sherman, draped in furs, who is attacked by reporters asking if she really killed her husband and hid the bank robbery money. There are two nuns, accompanying their dead Mother Superior in a wooden coffin. There’s a bombshell actress, Marion, played by Fawn Silver (ORGY OF THE DEAD-1965!). She is heading for Rio to film a musical, and she’s played by a gushing brunette who tries unsuccessfully to fill her lines with Jayne Mansfield-esque sexual innuendo. There’s a trio of musicians in terrible wigs followed by screaming teenage girl fans. They take their instruments on the plane with them. Something tells me the guitars wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartments! Henry Jr., meanwhile weeps and cries incessantly, “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.”
Suddenly, a card pops up over the action stating that this picture was filmed on location in Peru, and the producers would like to thank the wonderful people of Peru for their hospitality. Now, back to our story.
During the flight, we get to know our stock characters better. The actress slinks up to Mr. Keyes, a millionaire who flirts with her in a smarmy manner.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she says.
“No more than any other attractive young lady disturbs me,” he says, showing her a magazine. “Your presence is much better than this. If there’s anything worse than pornography, it’s badly written pornography.”
As a come on line, it works!
Little Henry is still crying, and his stuffed lion has miraculously turned into a stuffed tiger. One of the nuns gives her newspaper to Mrs. Sherman, who is greeted with the trumpeting headline “Ruth Sherman Set Free! Money Still Missing!” Mrs. Sherman then yells at the nun in fury, “I expected this from the others, but not from a nun!” An older red-headed woman talks about the lost Incas in Peru and the Jivaros who live as cannibals. The band immediately pulls out their guitars and plays a request for their song, “Soft Lips:”
“You’ve got what I want, babe.
You got what turns me on.
Soft lips, soft lips, really really really really soft lips,
I really want you!”
Women dance in the aisles, the nuns rock out, and the plane enters a storm, I think (it’s hard to tell, because the picture goes to a blue screen every time we see the exterior of the plane.) The pilots struggle with the controls and decide to crash land in the jungle, near the Amazon River. They first try to get rid of any excess weight, so everyone gives up their suitcases or their instruments. In the process, Mrs. Sherman’s case flies open and money swirls all around the cabin, while she has a nervous breakdown. One of the nuns gets sucked out of a door in the clumsiest fall out of a cardboard hatch ever. As the plane approaches the ground, everyone seriously puts on their life jackets, and the plane crashes, I think. It’s still hard to see anything other than that darn blue screen and some wispy clouds. Meanwhile, annoying little Henry’s toy tiger is once again a toy lion! It’s good to focus on the toy, since the kid can’t even remember his lines.
The crash is actually brutal and swift, with people’s heads bashing into windows and blood flying everywhere. One woman’s gilded canary cage is thrust into and through her face. The actress dies in the millionaire’s arms. “No more promises. No more … argh.” Only a few people are left alive, and they jump out of the sinking plane into a river, where alligators immediately attack them. The remaining cast is devoured in front of the screaming little boy’s eyes! One at a time, every character that’s been introduced is eaten alive.
But, poor little Henry Jr.! He can’t swim. Luckily, the stewardess and pilot spot the nun’s coffin. They dump the sister’s body out, put the kid in the coffin, and send him down the river just as the plane explodes killing the last of the survivors. The entire cast is dead except for the little boy with the magical morphing stuffed toy, who floats on the river while alligators hiss at him from the shores and bump into his boat. In fact, he floats for what seems like seven hours while sobbing, “Daddy! Daddy!” and more alligators go after him.
Meanwhile, back in the states, Henry Sr. gets the news that he put his son on a doomed flight, and he heads for Rio to find out more about the missing boy. Henry Jr. eventually gets out of the water and has the time of his life playing with monkeys. A Peruvian rescue flight spots his red jacket, and the toy becomes a tiger again. The stupid rescuers are attacked by Jivaros Indians (remember that mention on the plane?) with blow guns, and abandon the kid. One pilot is hit by a dart, and his buddy gets him to the safety of a mission, headed by a Peruvian priest who has lost his faith. Despite his ministrations, the pilot dies.
Luckily, the natives believe Henry Jr. is some sort of god because he has blond hair. They take the weeping wonder to their village and set him up on a throne. “Daddy! Daddy!” They believe he is the son of their god, Inti. We know this because the missionary priest can interpret their drums and conch shell calls.
On an impressive Incan Temple set, Henry Jr. is treated to a big dance production number performed to Les Baxter’s jazzy music (didn’t know they had saxophones and xylophones in the jungle.) Dozens of native women perform a ballet in colorful headdresses and costumes, Martha Graham-style. Hey, what’s a jungle picture without a perfectly choreographed native-girl dance number? The music is pretty cool, and … yes, the damn toy has now turned into a spotted leopard.
Henry Sr. arrives in Peru. After a bit of sight-seeing, he visits a monastery, where he is informed that the red jacket was seen, and he is given the address of a Father Bates who will take him to the mission in the jungle. So much work to find a kid any parent would be happy to ditch in the wilderness! That’s probably why he takes time out from his search to watch an entire festival parade go by, and he even tours the local architecture before bothering to get to Father Bates.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, the Jivaros witch doctor is jealous of the attention Henry Jr. is getting, and he tells the tribe that the boy is the reason the sun has been hidden behind clouds for a week. Plans are hatched to kill the little boy, all in subtitles with a fake Indian language that sounds exactly like “Ungu bungu banga bunga.” Thank goodness, the missionary priest overhears the plot, and he sets off to free the little brat. Henry Sr. arrives just in time to join him on the rescue of his son.
Henry Jr. is tied to an altar made of green bananas, clutching his tiger and, of course, crying his eyes out. It makes you wonder how they got this little punk to cry so much. Were they constantly pinching him? Taking his toy away? Forcing him to watch the dailies? In any case, a rival tribe sets the village huts on fire, everyone stabs everyone with long spears and knives in bloody fights, the sun comes out, and Henry Jr.’s stuffed animal turns into a real live leopard that saves him from the evil witch doctor. Yes, you read that right. The toy saves the kid, and not even in its lion or tiger form, but in the handy stock footage that was available at the time and a real stuffed immobile leopard. Deus ex machine, my ass!
Then comes the giant snake. Then, the quicksand. Then, the piranha attack. This kid just can’t get a break.
The film is aided by good, if hysterically inappropriate, music by Les Baxter, including “Peru, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, you’re calling, calling, calling, my Peru.” a Tom Jones-style number. Baxter wrote music for more than a hundred movies, including gems like BEACH PARTY and BLACK SABBATH (1963), HOUSE OF USHER (1960), and THE BEAST WITHIN (1982).
TERROR IN THE JUNGLE’s plane sequences were directed (Ha!) by Tom DeSimone, who began his career editing children’s matinee movies and instructional films. This was his first feature. In two years, he would adopt the moniker Lancer Brooks and direct and produce dozens of X-rated gay films like CONFESSIONS OF A MALE GROUPIE (1971), SWAP MEAT (1973), and THE HARDER THEY FALL (1977). That year, he moved into more straight-forward exploitation drive-in hits, like the hilarious talking vajayjay movie CHATTERBOX (1977), the Linda Blair slasher flick HELL NIGHT (1981), ANGEL III (1988), and REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986), with the great Wendy O’Williams. He later moved to television, where he directed many episodes of FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES, SWAMP THING, and SUPER FORCE. Hey, I guess he was always working.
The jungle scenes were directed by Andrew Janzack, who was the cinematographer on such baddies as THE CREEPING TERROR (1964) and THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1966). Meanwhile, Alex Graton helmed the spectacular dance sequence at the Incan Temple. Interestingly, Graton was the producer of UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS, under the name Alejandro Gratton.
How these three men met and made this film will probably forever remain a mystery.
If you love terrible movies, and I mean movies so bad they’ve gone around the curve and emerged as superbly entertaining, then you simply must see TERROR IN THE JUNGLE. It’s crammed with laughable dialog, atrocious acting, long stretches of Peruvian tourism, bad special effects, stock footage, continuity errors, swinging Sixties fashions, crazy scenes that just seem randomly strung together, the song “Soft Lips,” and the funniest plane crash ever. All this plus a kid yelling for his Daddy several thousand times. TERROR IN THE JUNGLE is easily one of the worst/best movies ever made.
I give TERROR IN THE JUNGLE four lions, no leopards, and no tigers out of four. A true classic of bad cinema waiting to be rediscovered!
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl