Bite Size: Horror Safari (1982)

Horror Safari, AKA Invaders Of The Lost Gold AKA Greed is one of those low budget productions that makes up for a lack of resources by luring an international cast of familiar faces with the promise of a beautiful shooting location/free vacation. Directed by bottom rung knock about Alan Birkinshaw (Killer’s Moon), and produced by the much more successful Dick Randall (Pieces, Don’t Open Till Christmas), the production was troubled by the loss of an early financier. With the post Apocalypse Now boom in Filipino film production, Safari was clearly looking to cut costs via ripe for exploitation unregulated local talent and a built in exotic setting.

The film opens in 1945, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. A small platoon of Japanese soldiers to transporting crates of gold bullion, but soon finds themselves ambushed and outnumbered by a local tribe. Not wanting to lose all of the gold, the platoon’s three commanding officers stash the loot in a remote cave, vowing to come back and retrieve it together.

Several decades later, writer Rex Larson (British stage actor and Hollywood almost was Edmund Purdom) tracks down each of the officers, seeking the map to the missing gold. The first man refuses to divulge the location, and is shot by Larson for his secrecy. The second ex-officer commits ritual suicide rather than breaking his sworn vow. Larson finally gets his wish in Sergeant turned martial arts instructor Tobachi (Harold Sakata, Goldfinger), who offers to share the map in exchange for a twenty-five percent stake in the final haul.

This leads to the assemblage of your standard line up of ragtag adventurers, all with their own personal motivations and percentage to look after. There’s financier Jefferson (David De Martyn), who uses his control of the purse strings to justify bringing both his pretty blonde daughter (Glynis Barber) and his personal bodyguard, Cal (Woody Strode, Once Upon a Time in the West).

The expedition’s jungle guide is Mark Forrest (Oscar nominee Stuart Whitman), a down on his luck soldier of fortune who has both a past and an axe to grind with Mr. Rex Larson. Given the deeply held distrust between himself and Larson, Forrest brings his own scout, Fernando (Junix Inocian). Fernando just happens to be married to Mark’s ex lover Maria (Laura Gemser, Women’s Prison Massacre), who tags along in the hopes of rekindling an old flame.

Despite the briskly paced opening flashback and a constellation of B cinema stars, Horror Safari takes a very leisurely stroll toward anything that its myriad titles promise. Aside from a delightful scene where Mark and Cal beatdown some racist sailors in a strip club, the first half of the film is primarily different combinations of badly dubbed characters bickering in rooms over percentages and who gets to join the expedition. The film is half over before a single person heads for the jungle or even steps on a boat.

Some of the narrative is explained in verbose speeches detailing events that are never really sketched out on screen, like a love triangle between both of the beautiful young women in the cast and Stuart Whitman’s gin blossomed Mark Forrest—even his dubbing sounds slurred. The rest of the loosely defined story beats are shown on screen without context or explanation. Tobachi and Cal suddenly come to blows, but both laugh and there’s a quick cut to the next scene. Laura Gemser’s Maria takes a skinny dip at a waterfall and screams in slow motion. In the next shot, her body is floating lifelessly without any visible cause of death.

Horror Safari clearly draws influence from a variety of subgenres, from Italian cannibal flicks and Agatha Christie mysteries to 40s adventure serials. It’s just that the film clearly has a poor handle on what makes any of those things enjoyable. No one watches a cannibal gut muncher to watch characters complain in the jungle, picks up a Christie whodunit for the bouts of casual racism, or watches an adventure story for melodramatic interpersonal sub plots with no actual action to speak of.

It’s only in the final 20 minutes that Horror Safari leans into the And Then There Were None structure it was halfheartedly setting up. It’s obvious who the mastermind behind all the death is, as only one character has a history of violence and of bitterly complaining that there are too many people on the trip. For a movie that spends nearly an hour attempting character development, it still leaves them all as stock caricatures at the end of the day. What a waste to assemble such a stacked cast of genre faces for a film that serves as a scintillating look at the joys of sweating, screaming, and just standing there.

Indifferently photographed, ploddingly scripted and so sleepy even the luminous beauty of (severely under utilized) Laura Gemser can’t save Horror Safari from itself. The opening 10 minutes are a solid attention grabber, the strip club showdown is a good time, and Ms. Gemser’s skinny dip gives a much needed dash of skin. The rest of the film is eminently skippable. Use the time saved to pour one out for the copy writers who had to tie themselves in knots to try to make this listless misfire sound like a manic energy filled jungle stomping exploitation gem when it was recently released on disc.

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