Judge David Johnson is preparing for his adventure to the Amazon—leather chaps, whip, fedora, machete. Actually, that's Club Amazon in Greenwich Village.
Their greed and lust for diamonds was more deadly than the perils of the jungle!
Two parts jungle adventure, one part exploitation, Treasure of the Amazon boasts all the necessary ingredients to make a tasty cult stew: cannibals, bare breasts, piranha attacks, an ex-Nazi treasure hunter, man-eating crabs, big-boned Amazonian mud wrestlers, and beheadings galore.
Facts of the Case
The movie begins with huge, sweeping shots of the Amazon jungle, or so we think; an opening block of text explicitly states that the setting for the film is a fictitious place, so as not, I would assume, to disrupt Amazon tourism. A steamship chugs down the river; on board is the resident jungle stud, Gringo (Stuart Whitman), a grizzled bastard with a short temper.
How short? When a native tries to steal something from him, Gringo promptly chops off his finger and tosses him overboard, where the hapless would-be thief is devoured by piranhas. Gringo is accompanied by a couple of other goons; the trio's intent is to track down some Amazonian wealth.
Two stories run parallel to Gringo's quest. An oil surveyor, his best friend, and the beautiful if idiotic Barbara (Ann Sidney) stumble upon an amazing diamond find, but must contend with the advances of a bloodthirsty tribe of natives with a hard-on for decapitation. And Gringo's nemesis, former Nazi Klaus (genre film legend Donald Pleasance, Halloween), and his voluptuous, topless native lover Morimba brave the dangerous jungles to beat Gringo to the treasure.
There is loot to be had, but if the dangers of the jungle don't kill the adventurers, their comrades will. And crabs. Crabs might kill a few of them too.
Treasure of the Amazon is brought to us by Rene Cardona, Jr., the celebrated Mexican director who churned out some copious exploitation trash. Though this film is trumpeted as an adventure flick in the vein of Indiana Jones, the bountiful gore, nudity, and cannibals ground it firmly in Cardona's pulp exploitation roots. If you're a fan all of the aforementioned elements, you should enjoy Treasure of the Amazon.
The story isn't particularly involving: A bunch of jerks wander around the jungle looking for diamonds. This threadbare narrative is the weakest part of the movie, and the plot serves primarily as a conduit to get the viewer to the next outrageous scene. And the big hook of our intrepid explorers turning on each other over the treasure? Well, since it's obvious from the get-go that Gringo's associates are scumbags, it doesn't come as a big shocker that they turn out to be dishonest.
What makes Treasure of the Amazon memorable is the over-the-top gore moments and Stuart Whitman. From the opening finger mutilation/piranha feast it's all downhill. The rampaging natives slit throats and chop off heads with gleeful abandon. Some poor schmuck is shot and devoured by an alligator. Klaus is killed and strung up by his tongue. Multiple natives are mowed down by automatic gunfire. And then there's the money scene—the attacking crabs.
As outlandish and implausible as this sounds, it really is a fun, ridiculously gory sequence. The victim is betrayed by his colleague and tied up in a cave ("Just shoot me!" he pleads for some reason). Then, to his horror, and no doubt incredulity, a dozen or so crabs appear and march toward him. Incapacitated by his bindings, he succumbs to the vile little creatures and their skin-tearing pincers. The crabs rip out swaths of flesh, chew on his face, and carve out his eyeballs, all in explicit close-up. The scene makes zero sense and is designed simply to shock, but hey, that's why it's exploitation.
And then you've got Stuart Whitman. As the badass Gringo he's pretty great, constantly ripping on his week-kneed cronies, smacking around the natives, even seducing the younger, attractive Barbara. Though Barbara is an absolute moron—she has a habit of wildly opening fire with a rifle if she thinks her friends are approaching—she's beautiful, and the two competing oil-surveying friends both long for her. Of course, these two clowns don't have a chance when Gringo arrives on the scene with his Grizzly Adams beard, charcoal voice, and sure-handed machete maneuvering.
VCI has revitalized this movie beautifully. Though the film is peppered with occasional print flaws, the overall transfer is sharp and clean. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD video really brings the rich colors of the jungle to life. Cardona's shots of the river and its surroundings are rich and sometimes grand, and the transfer does the cinematography justice. Unfortunately, the audio leaves much to be desired. The tinny Dolby Digital stereo track does little to push the sound beyond a mono mix. And, similar to the video, the audio suffers from a few hiccups.
Sadly, the bonus features are lame: just the original trailer and few VCI previews.
A sometimes fun, sometimes tedious pulpy adventure yarn, Treasure of the Amazon earns its place in '80s exploitation trash with some notable performances and a slew of outrageous moments. Cult fans may want to explore this.
The accused is released back into the Amazon. Just stay away from the crabs this time, okay?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
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