Thursday, September 15, 2016

RAIDERS OF THE LOST IMITATORS


Now that summer's almost over, I think it's safe to declare May to August 2016 one of the worst popcorn movie seasons on record. Every big budget popcorn movie I dragged myself to in a theatre either disappointed or predictably underwelmed (Ghostbusters, Jason Bourne, Star Trek: Beyond). Hell or High Water was the highlight of the season, but I wouldn't call that a popcorn movie (a western-noir indie hybrid, perhaps). The Nice Guys at the beginning of the summer was a solid Shane Black guns n' gab fest, and Don't Breathe at the end was an out-of-nowhere low budget horror surprise. But the most FUN I had at the movies was thanks to an old Spielberg reliable...a double feature at a drive-in of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.

You've probably seen the first one on that double bill. If you're like me, you've seen it on countless formats dozens and dozens of times. But if you haven't seen the documentary and are a Raiders fan, you should absolutely check it out (it's also on Netflix streaming). When I was kid, I used to don a felt fedora, grab a length of rope as a makeshift bullwhip and swing from tree to tree in my backyard by way of a garden hose, imitating Indiana Jones. I didn't film it like the kids in the documentary. If I had, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had the means to deliver anything on par with the shot-for-shot remake these upstart Spielbergs accomplished. So, with summer drawing to a close, the "serious" fall movie season beginning and my taste for good old fashioned popcorn action-adventure still unquenched by this summer's parched offerings, I decided to spend the last few weeks watching some other "Raiders Rips" I'd collected.

What qualifies a movie as a Raiders Rip? Well, it should've been released somewhere within the timeframe of the original Raiders trilogy (Raiders '81, Temple of Doom '84, Last Crusade '89). It should feature an adventurer/archaeologist of some type (The Indy) looking for some lost relic (The Treasure). He should have some form of love interest (The Marion), a villain who also wants the treasure (The Belloq) and a sidekick of some kind (The Short Round/Sallah). The movie should be filmed in some exotic location (Globetrotting) or at least attempt to mimic it. More than likely, it has nowhere near Spielberg's budget or star power (which is why I excluded Romancing the Stone/Jewel of the Nile). Most importantly, it should feature much action/adventure!

Here are the results of my 11-movie quest for long-lost popcorn gold, with Relic Ratings included (a zero to four relics quality scale)...


HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982) 
Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: A golden cobra statue rumored to possess supernatural powers, now under the protection of a jungle tribe in the Philippines. It resembles one of those aluminum foil animal sculptures they package your leftovers in at certain themed restaurants.

THE INDY: Bob Jackson, an American WWII soldier/adventurer (David Warbeck from Fulci's The Beyond). He's competent, but not wildly charismatic.

THE MARION: Twin sisters Julie and April. Two love interests for the price of one. Sadly, there's very little hanky-panky in this flick.

THE BELLOQ: Julie/April's father, Greenwater (Luciano Pigozzi). He schemes to get his hands on the cobra first while keeping Jackson's claws off his twin daughters.

SALLAH / SHORT-ROUND: A British intelligence officer (John Steiner) who appears intermittently to provide quips and the occasional gun-play assist.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Hunters mostly confines itself to Philippine jungles and a few ramshackle sets, due to its limited budget.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Not bad. The action is fast, shaky and generally well-paced. There's a solid opening raid on a Japanese camp, an enjoyable cockfighting scene, lots of poison darts and a tense shoot-out on a moving bus. The prerequisite snake pit only contains half the serpents in Raiders' Well of the Souls (probably non-union snakes). The climactic scene in the volcanic temple offers some cheap intrigue, though the copy I watched was so red and washed out it was sometimes hard to differentiate where lava ended and land began.
RELIC RATING: 


HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) 
Brian G. Hutton

THE INDY: Alcoholic airplane pilot and World War I vet Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck). Supposedly, he took this role after losing out on Raiders because of Magnum, P.I. commitments.

THE MARION: Spoiled heiress Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong). She hires O'Malley to help her find her father. More importantly, her father's inheritance.

THE TREASURE: No ancients relics here. The McGuffin is Tozer's long-lost father (Wilford Brimley). Those Quaker Oats commercials qualify him as a national treasure, yes?

SALLAH / SHORT ROUND: O'Malley's mechanic, Struts (Jack Weston). He tags along to provide various cartoon faces and wide-eyed reaction shots.

THE BELLOQ: Tozer's business partner, Bentik (Robert Morley). He's set to take over the family business if Brimley is not found, and thus runs much interference.

GLOBETROTTING: A bunch. China, India, Turkey, Nepal, Afghanistan. But it's easy to hop around when you're in a biplane for most of the film.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Disappointing. High Road takes the rom-com/romantic adventure route, eschewing significant action. What's there generally takes place in the air (tons of aerial stunts). If you're a fan of the Blue Angels, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, prepare yourself for several lackluster battle scenes, lots of dropped grenades, too much playful bickering between Selleck and Armstrong. The best part is their stopover in Afghanistan to visit a tribal leader named Khan (Brian Blessed from Flash Gordon!).
RELIC RATING: 



TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983) 
Ferdinando Baldi 

THE TREASURE: Magical gems hidden inside four ancient crowns. One crown is already found, one is lost for good. The last two are hidden inside the heavily booby trapped compound of a spooky religious cult. Think Jonestown with the world's best ADT security.

THE INDY: J.T. Striker (Tony Anthony), a no-nonsense freelance adventurer who favors red windbreakers and doesn't believe in "hocus pocus." He's hired by a wealthy professor to find the remaining crowns.

THE BELLOQ: Brother Jonas, a Charlie Manson/Jim Jones type cult leader who uses the power of the hidden stones as religious rocket fuel. (note: in no way related to the Jonas Brothers)

THE MARION: Sorry, folks. JT is practically celibate. No love interest. But...

SHORT ROUNDS: There's a whole heist crew of assembled sidekicks! The security expert, the drunk mountain climber, the elderly circus clown and young trapeze artist wife. If you're thinking Topkapi, you're onto something.

GLOBETROTTING: Very little. Treasure basically confines itself to several sets/extended set pieces in Madrid. That said, these set pieces are doozies.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Grade A for awesomely ridiculous! This movie was made for early anaglyph 3D, and it shows. In the opening 20 minutes alone, at least 50 airborne objects fly directly at you-- darts, spears, swords, snakes, skeletons, dogs, bats, vultures, pterodactyls(?). Treasure even tries to one-up the Raiders rolling boulder chase by setting the boulder on fire. The key that unlocks the crowns tends to make inanimate objects (and the person who holds it) occasionally go berserk. The extended cult compound break-in scene is surprisingly suspenseful, though heavily indebted to Topkapi (lots of rock climbing gear and abseiling). I have to wonder if De Palma took a peek at this before directing Mission: Impossible. The movie goes completely bonkers at the end when the other two crowns are recovered with flame thrower fingertips and face melts to match that of Raiders' Toht. At one point, J.T.'s head begins to spin on its neck ala Reagan in The Exorcist. Just take a look at this manic trailer. Then track down a copy of this extremely watchable Raiders rip. Did I mention that Ennio Morricone did the music?
RELIC RATING: 


ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1984) - Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: A bejeweled scepter once belonging to demigod Gilgamesh. Now hidden in a tomb inside a golden ark somewhere in the desert of Istanbul.

THE INDY: Rick Spear (David Warbeck, again), a modern day '80s American cat burglar vacationing in the Middle East. He's hired by a Brit in a wheelchair to find the scepter.

THE MARION: Spear's girlfriend Carol (Susie Sudlow). Also responds to "Pussycat." Her primary function is to lounge around in hotel beds, look striking and occasionally be kidnapped. Needless to say, she's no Marion Ravenwood.

THE BELLOQ: A greedy sheikh who wants the scepter but allows Spear to do all the legwork.

SHORT ROUNDS: Two overweight men named Beetle and Mohammed (Luciano Pigozzi and Ricardo Palacios). One drinks too much. The other sweats too much and sports a very ridiculous combover.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Ark sticks to Turkey and Italy primarily.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Less than impressive. A few serviceable car chases, fistfights and swashbuckles. Your basic Italian exploitation movie fare. Though the sets look more expensive than those in Margheriti's first Raiders rip, Golden Cobra, the modern day timeline nixes much of the fun.
RELIC RATING: 


JUNGLE RAIDERS (1985) - Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: The "Ruby of Doom," a red hunk of mineral hidden inside a cave in 1930s Malaysia.

THE INDY: Captain Duke Yankee (Christopher Connelly), a tour guide/con artist who takes wealthy rubes on fake jungle treasure hunting adventures and dresses like the Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island. He's about to stumble onto his first IRL adventure.

THE MARION: Maria Janez, a socialite Colombian researcher who wants the ruby for her museum.

THE SHORT ROUNDS: Gin Fizz (Luciano Pigozzi, a third time), Duke's old lush of an assistant. Warren (Lee Van Cleef in a glorified cameo), an American operative who blackmails Duke into his next big job. Later in the film, there's also a young Malaysian boy with a pet cobra who becomes the team's more literal "Short Round."

THE BELLOQ: Tiger, a Borneo pirate and smuggler, who's after the ruby and all the "fortune and glory" it entails.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Jungle generally sticks to the caves, rivers, oil refineries and, of course, jungles of Malaysia.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Respectable. The opening cave break-in where Duke leads a wealthy American to a false idol while pursued by "cannibals" in on the hoax plays like a fun parody of Raiders opening scene. There's a spirited truck chase, a nice torch fight, lots of machine gun play and oil refinery explosions. The infusion of Cannon Films coin into this, Margheriti's third and final Raiders rip-off, certainly helps. It's the best of the bunch.
RELIC RATING: 


TREASURE OF THE AMAZON (1985) 
Rene Cardona, Jr.

THE TREASURE: A river full of diamonds "the size of your eyes!" Also, gold "so big it will knock your eyes out!" Note: There's a lot optical-related hyperbole in this movie.

THE INDY: Gringo (Stuart Whitman), a crusty old bearded explorer haunted by cheesy flashbacks of expeditions gone wrong. Drinks too much, curses a lot, reluctant to intervene during scenes of sexual assault (though he finally does, grudgingly). A greedy, amoral sonofabitch.

THE MARION: Barbara, a displaced Southern belle seeking fortune and glory in the Amazon. Warning: She's not the faithful type.

THE BELLOQ: Ex-Nazi commander, Klaus von Blantz (Donald Pleasance). He seeks the Amazon's dual treasures in order to fund a 1950s Third Reich resurgence. Rolls with a bare-breasted tribal beauty named Morimba as his jungle guide.

SHORT ROUNDS: Too many to count. Treasure of the Amazon is filled with great characters and Mexican character actors in smaller roles (Hugo Stiglitz and a very inebriated Emilio Fernandez from The Wild Bunch for starters). It's an embarrassment of riches, almost too many faces for the threadbare plot to handle.

GLOBETROTTING: Up and down the jungles, rivers and waterfalls of the Amazon (i.e., Chiapas, Mexico).

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: While Treasure may not be the most action-packed Raiders rip, it is definitely the most grindhouse. By which I mean GORY. Within the first few minutes, our hero machetes someone's fingers off. Soon after, there are several gruesome beheadings, scenes of Amazon women mud wrestling, shots of real live alligators being gutted. The vibe is very Cannibal Holocaust. There's a fantastically extended close-up crab attack on a guy's face and, later, a giant mosquito tornado where Gringo and Barbara are caught in a Zika ground zero. A certain SS someone also gets strung up on a hook by their tongue. Treasure of the Amazon is everything you could ever want out of a proper Raiders rip...if you what you want is a VERY HARD R rating.
RELIC RATING: 


KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985) 
J. Lee Thompson

THE TREASURE: An African mine full of gold and diamonds once belonging to the fabled King Solomon.

THE INDY: Big game hunter Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain), whose beard is seriously too well groomed for his profession.

THE MARION: Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone), a well-to-do professor's daughter who hires Quatermain to help her find her lost father who holds a map with the whereabouts of the mines. In the meantime, she screams and freaks out a lot.

THE BELLOQS: Two baddies for the price of one, and one of them from the real Raiders. You get the pre-Nazi, knackwurst chomping German, Bockner (Herbert Lom), as well a Turkish slave trader named Dogati (John Rhys-Davies).

SHORT ROUND: Umbopo, Quatermain's trusted African tribesman guide (covering face, above).

GLOBETROTTING: Up and down and all around Zimbabwe.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Impressive for a mid-range Cannon film. The pace of King Solomon is relentless, jumping from one action set piece to the next without taking a breath. We don't even get a meet-cute with Chamberlain and Stone. They are already on the run and know each other at the film's start. In this respect, it almost comes closer to being a modern version of one of Lucas/Spielberg's beloved Saturday morning serials than the original Raiders (but does not outdo Temple of Doom in this department). There are marketplace chases, fights UNDERNEATH moving trains, biplane acrobatics, narrow escapes from boiling cannibal cauldrons, alligator pits, upside down rope swinging tribes, giant tarantulas, caves filling rapidly with water, etc. If you can withstand some bad humor, lots of mugging for the camera, and almost zero characterization, Mines is quite a breathless PG-13 thrill ride.
RELIC RATING: 

FIREWALKER (1986) - J. Lee Thompson

THE TREASURE: A golden knife which leads to more gold hidden in a cave in San Miguel and guarded by a mystical Native American.

THE INDY(S): Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and Leo Porter (Louis Gossett, Jr.), doing tag-team bumbling soldier of fortune duties.

THE MARION: Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson), an American woman with a map and disposable income to hire these two dudes.

THE SHORT ROUND/SALLAH: The actual Sallah from Raiders (John Rhys-Davies again), playing an old hick friend of Donigan's named Corky.

THE BELLOQ: El Coyote (Sonny Landham, aka "Billy Bear" in 48 Hours), the mystical firewalker who guards the treasure.

GLOBETROTTING: Minimal. The American Southwest, followed by a trip to San Miguel.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Dismal. For a Chuck Norris/Cannon Films effort, it's one of the most inert I've ever seen. Other than a huge a barroom brawl near the beginning where Chuck gets to show off his martial arts prowess, there is very little memorable action. Instead, Firewalker opts for the Hope/Crosby road movie approach, a grave mistake in that Chuck Norris is where comedy goes to die. Gossett, Jr. does his best with the script he's given, which was probably written on one side of a drinking straw wrapper. The only reason to watch this movie is Melody Anderson ("Dale Arden" from Flash Gordon). She's magnetic and brings some charm to the otherwise deathly dull proceedings.
RELIC RATING: 


ALLAN QUATERMAIN & 
THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1987) - Gary Nelson

THE TREASURE: It's right there in the title...a lost city of gold.

THE INDY: Also there in the title. He's played by an impeccably bearded Richard Chamberlain again.

THE MARION: Sharon Stone back for more screaming and Golden Raspberry nominations.

SHORT ROUNDS: Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), an African warrior with a name so nice you have to say it twice. Swarma, a white dude in brownface (Robert Donner) doing a pretty offensive take on a perpetually stumbling, mugging Indian guru.

THE BELLOQ: Agon, the evil high priest of the Lost City of Gold (Henry Silva, collecting mad paychecks).

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Since this was filmed back to back with King Solomon (presumably for budgetary savings), we're back in Zimbabwe for the duration.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Regrettable. Everything that Solomon got right with light-speed pacing, Quatermain gets wrong. Why would we care about the troubled state of Allan and Jesse's relationship (much less his relationship with his brother) when we barely got to know them in the first movie? I saw this movie only a few days ago, and I can't remember a single memorable action scene. That said, I had knocked back a few Thirsty Goat amber ales.
RELIC RATING: 


THE FURTHER ADVENTURES 
OF TENNESSEE BUCK (1988) - David Keith

THE INDY: Buck Malone (David Keith), a hard-drinking explorer in modern day Borneo hired by a wealthy American couple as a jungle tour guide.

THE MARION: Barbara Manchester (Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower), the bored wife whose husband can't stop playing with his new VHS camcorder long enough to play with her.

THE TREASURE: An amulet Buck wears around his neck and already possesses at the beginning of the film (i.e., not much of a treasure hunt). Given to him by a tribe of cannibals as good luck.

THE BELLOQ: Hard to say. Probably the cannibals, though the jungle taxman Wolfgang (Sydney Lassick from Cuckoo's Nest) is pretty sleazy.

THE SHORT ROUND: A native named Sinaga who barely utters a word.

GLOBETROTTING: Sri Lanka subbing for Borneo.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Minimal. Tennessee Buck is more a weak parody of the Indiana Jones franchise than an honest-to-goodness Raiders rip. More than that, a David Keith vanity project that plays like a cross between a WWE audition reel and a Skinamax Late Night offering with most of the sex scenes removed. It's a good-natured affair, like Keith's down-home persona. The jungle wrestling match that introduces us to Buck is fun. There are a few weak machete fights, a beheading that happens offscreen, a Temple of Doom style river chase with one puny rapid. There's a jungle rape that totally does not belong in this otherwise light-hearted spoof and an extended scene of Kathy Shower getting a nude oil rub down by cannibals that probably got the whole film funded.
RELIC RATING: 


RIVER OF DEATH (1989) - Steve Carver

THE TREASURE: A lost city in the Amazon that possibly houses a cache of gold, possibly a cure to a strange jungle-borne illness but, without a doubt, a bunch of old scheming Nazis.

THE INDY: Hamilton (Michael Dudikoff), a 1960s adventurer/jungle guide given to soul-searching voiceovers interspersed with dialogue such as "I'll blow a hole in you from your butt to your brains."

THE BELLOQS: Nazi scientist Wolfgang (Robert Vaughn), a Mengele inspired doctor who's created a disease that kills everyone but "the pure." Heinrich (Donald Pleasance, yet again), an ex-Nazi in hiding who hires Hamilton to lead him to the lost city. Colonel Diaz (Herbert Lom), an evil South American military commander along for the ride.

THE MARION: Heinrich's blonde Aryan lover Maria (Cynthia Erland) who Hamilton describes as "like a debutante holding her nose under caviar." There's also a lady named Anna who comes down with a bad case of face boils.

THE SHORT ROUNDS: Eddie, the helicopter pilot (L.Q. Jones). Also, a young guy/gal South American combo who, I think, were supposed to be revolutionaries.

GLOBETROTTING: South Africa subbing for South American jungles.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Decent, but mostly in the '80s straight-to-video guns, guns, guns mode. Apart from lots of heavy artillery (some of which I'm pretty sure isn't decade-accurate), there's a decent raid on a jungle camp, an assault on a river boat, heavy fire in an Amazon native settlement. The movie culminates in a cave-like lost city which has been retrofitted into a Nazi man cave. There are some great character actors earning steady paychecks (Pleasance, Vaughn, Jones, Lom) and then there's Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja himself, of the Redondo Beach School of Fine Dramatic Acting. How has this guy not been in an Expendables movie yet? Mr. Stallone, please, correct this terrible oversight.
RELIC RATING: 

No comments: