Though he's not quite sure the amount of "boogie" or "fever" they will cause, Judge Bill Gibron is convinced that these wacky jungle epics from Something Weird will definitely deliver some manner of terrific tropical treats.
The intimate secrets of harem women revealed!
At the only adventurer's club in the world that doesn't practice child molestation, a special gathering of big-time bwanas is about to see some lost footage from a pre-World War I expedition to Angkor. Seems the scientist/explorers involved have a theory about the kingdom's mysterious demise and they figure a perilous expedition into relatively uncharted territory is the best way to soothe their curiosity. Forgetting what they say about the cat, these bearded men of action aren't about to let inquisitiveness do them in. Along the way, they kill a bunch of animals (some snakes, a few panthers, and a couple of monitor lizards) while befriending several horrified monkeys. Before long, their male guides get the heebie-jeebies, and the explorers must hire semi-naked jungle girls to carry their cargo. It's not long before they reach the magnificent city and discover the reason for its downfall. Seems the local indigenous ape population—or it could just be some pissed-off slaves in stinky gorilla skins—wooed Angkor's women into some unfathomable Forbidden Adventure. Additionally, our heroes may have also discovered where the phrase "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle" came from.
Over in a remote South Seas Shangri-La, the son of the well-meaning Sultan has just returned, and someone has filled his Princely head with some radical socio-political views. He wants to create a kind of tropical utopia where all people own land and everything is shared. Naturally this makes the royal court a little nervous, especially the Sultan's sister-in-law and his equally angry brother/cousin/relative. They plot to overthrow the ruler and murder his high-minded offspring. In the meantime, the sovereign-in-waiting discovers the Island of the Golden Chamber, where the kingdom's house of carnal delights is located. Though he's only about seven, our royal brat demands immediate access to the harem. After one of his typical journeys to the Polynesian palace of prurience, the Prince is captured and taken away to be fed to the sea. In addition, his redolent relatives are slowly poisoning his dad. It will take an act of courage by one of the assassins and some stock footage of native guys fighting with spears and shields to make sense of this perplexing power struggle. Sadly, there are no Forbidden Women around when the major mayhem occurs.
Buried somewhere between the goona-goona film and the Mondo movie is Forbidden Adventure. Originally created to con filmgoers into believing that the events they were seeing onscreen were true (think a pre-modern Blair Witch Project, or a non-nasty Cannibal Holocaust), this haphazardly-created travelogue is like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with tits. Substitute Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler for the no-name actors in fuzzy fake beards here, and you'd have a craven carbon copy of that nature-loving nonsense. Using lots of topless gals, a series of white hunter safari slaughter scenes, and a healthy dose of noticeable rear projection, this scientific expedition to the lost city of Angkor is just an excuse to see semi-clad gals getting down with dudes in ape suits. Indeed, the main premise of the movie has a pair of scholars searching for the legendary locale in order to prove out their theory that a once-great civilization was horribly undermined by an unnatural desire for monkey lovin'. Using a series of frescoes and some incredibly crappy reenactments, our narrating guide concludes that the women of Angkor, under the sway of a slave in a gorilla disguise, were taught the forbidden ways of simian sensuality. You know what they say—once you go ape, there's really no escape.
All of this must have seemed shocking and shameful back during the movie's initial depression-era run. But if the audience had known the lengths to which the producers went to secure said scandal, they'd be demanding their money back, retroactively. The native girls here were rumored to be prostitutes from a regional brothel who got angry when filmmakers demanded they work past their allotted $10 time limit. When people started questioning the film's authenticity, roadshow regular Dwayne Esper (who had acquired the film) made sure that the narrative indicated that there were some factual recreations and truth-twisting involved. The sense of seriousness is further muffled by the random insertion of superimposed foliage over the naked naughty bits. In order to avoid censorship complaints, big black silhouettes of ferns and grass were created to cover-up our jungle gal's corporeal coconuts. Unfortunately, all this faked fauna did was turn Forbidden Adventure into a perverted peek-a-boo game. One can just imagine the members of the raincoat crowd squinting and shifting to get a good glimpse of what is barely blocked out to begin with. It turns an otherwise nominal exploitation entry into something stunningly surreal.
At least Forbidden Women doesn't deny its jerry-rigged joys. When producer Lloyd Friedgen traveled to a post-World War II Philippines looking for films to release, he struck Polynesian paydirt with this tropical island melodrama. Beginning with a sufficiently strange musical number (that's right, our proto-political potboiler is also a saccharine songfest) about life as a "merry hunter" and ending with a free-for-all battle that's more action-packed than a post-millennial summer blockbuster, all Friedgen had to do was import some erotic eye candy and he believed he had a horny hit on his hands. Yet instead of hiring exotic-looking dancers who could cinematically mingle with the rest of the decidedly ethnic cast, our flawed filmmaker hired girls from some skid-row burlesque house and forced them to flop around in their decidedly Caucasian accoutrements. The result is immediately obvious. One moment, we are watching a wise old Asian woman speak in a clipped Confucius-like manner concerning laws and tradition. The next, a barmaid from Queens is shaking her fans and exposing her cellulite. The fact that all of this is happening in front of a whisper-thin pre-teen prince who is visiting the Golden Chamber (read: Bali brothel) as part of his "continuing education in preparation for becoming Sultan" says more for the original film's perverted premise than Friedgen's post-production pandering.
Indeed, a lot of Forbidden Women plays like an overripe cautionary tale about the ability of power to corrupt and the inability of island people to settle their differences without poisonings and armed fisticuffs. The rather sedate Sultan may be one heck of a leader, but his son with big ideas wants to cause all kinds of trouble (he's been off being schooled by the colonialist white men, don't you know). He believes in concepts like equality, freedom, humanity, and justice. Naturally this puts him at odds with relatives that would rather kill than share with the impoverished. The complicated coup d'etat, which requires slowly filling the leader with homemade toxins while feeding his snot-nosed offspring to the sharks (!!!), begins without a hitch, but our adolescent agitator throws a big fat monarchal monkey wrench into things when one of his assassins turns spineless. He can't kill a kid, no matter how much wealth, security, and political power it means for him. No, the assassin vows loyalty to the future sovereign, takes him to his uncharted home island, and even hooks him up with his own prepubescent daughter. After favoring us with a powerful love ballad about the "magical moonlight," his tiny highness prepares to kick some backstabber butt. Yet while his armies are fighting, all he does is "haunt" his evil aunt (she thinks he's dead, remember?) and warns his pop against any more toxic treats. Having long since forgotten its strip-show sequences, Forbidden Women ends just as oddly as it began.
For their part, Something Weird Video tries their best to deliver acceptable DVD transfers for both titles. Sadly, Forbidden Adventure looks like it was actually made at the turn of the century. The image is overly bright, with very little definition or detail in the visuals. Women looks a little better, if only because it was made a decade and a half later. Both films feature a 1.33:1 full-frame picture. On the sound side, the farther back one goes in cinema's history, the worse the recording technology is. That's why Adventures is so aggravatingly atonal, while Women is substantially better. Frankly, to blame SWV is foolish. There isn't much they can do with the way Dolby Digital Mono translates shoddy stock elements. As for extras, the company steps up to deliver the "edited" U.K. version of Forbidden Adventure (with a different opening, narration, and, surprisingly, more obvious nudity and less animal slaughter), a "hot version" insert for Forbidden Women (read: another skanky strip scene), a series of ridiculously fun trailers, and the standard gallery of exploitation goodness.
Certainly there are stumbling blocks involved in attempting to enjoy these juicy jungle jumbles. Forbidden Adventure wants to be a regular documentary, but those optical obstructions keep getting in the way. Forbidden Women, on the other hand, is half tropic treat, half aboriginal version of Anna and the King of Siam. Put them together and you've got a severe case of mind-blowing motion picture malaria that not even the most fabled witch doctor could cure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• British Version of Forbidden Adventure
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