With the release of Eli Roth’s Green Inferno, it’s an ideal time to look back on movies dedicated to jungle action with cannibalism thrown in to escalate the blood and guts factor. There are certainly “gold-standard” films such as Cannibal Holocaust and Natura Contro, but nothing comes close to the bizarre antics of the bottom-of-the-barrel production that is 1968’s Terror in the Jungle. Written by Enrique Torrez Tudela with dialogue courtesy of Richard Ogilvie, this movie has three directors, with Andre Janczak tackling the jungle sequence, Alex Graton directing the temple sequence, and Tim DeSimone in charge of the hilarious plane sequence.
The story told in Terror in the Jungle involves various genres, none of which is fully or effectively realized. The story centers on Henry Clayton Jr. (Jimmy Angle), whose father puts him on a plane so that he van visit his mother in Rio de Janeiro. Poor little Clayton then falls in with the most eclectic (nice for “oddball”) group of people ever to board a plane. There is a woman who has killed her husband and is traveling on the plane with a suitcase filled with money, a band trio with bad wigs who have no idea how to play an acoustic guitar; a starlet who wants to channel Marilyn Monroe, and of course the young couple and pair of nuns. Some technical glitch causes the plane to go down along the Amazon River, killing some of the passengers. Those who remain are either blown up in the plane or succumb to ravenous crocodiles. Only little Clayton, aboard a coffin, manages to escape the carnage.
Clayton then finds himself held captive by a cannibalistic tribe who protect the relics of the Incas (yeah, you read that right). One of the natives who captures the boy wants to kill him, but the other believes that the kid is the son of INRI, their god. It’s up to the king to decide, and much festivity and dancing takes place for no apparent reason.
While Clayton cries on and on, his dad learns of the downed plane and desperately effects a rescue, using numerous missions in the United States and South America to make his way to the Amazon jungle, where a priest and airplane rescue pilot agree to help him. More drama about the kid—whose head glows golden whenever a native looks at him—follows, complete with his stuffed toy animal turning into a real-life jaguar to save his life, until dad and son are successfully reunited.
Terror in the Jungle is one of the most—perhaps the most—bizarre films ever put on celluloid. The acting throughout is atrocious, but nowhere is it more sophomoric that during the film’s opening, when Clayton is aboard the airplane. The gaffes continue during this plane sequence, as at one point the co-pilot and stewardess open the plane’s rear door to jettison luggage to lighten the plane. Nothing happens when the plane’s door is opened (no pressure here), but without warning one of the nuns gets sucked out of the plane. There’s also a sequence where a jaguar rips apart a native. In this hilarious scene, the animal is obviously a fake, possibly taxidermy jaguar.
Another key problem with the movie is its overreliance on stock footage. Much of the footage is used to create a sense of menace, levity, or just to expand the movie’s playing time. There are various different dances throughout the movie, all of them cued to modern music.
The movie’s core problem, and it has many ancillary ones, is that it achieves nothing with the plot elements it dolls out. The movie starts off as a weird comedy of some type, switches to jungle adventure, hints at cannibalism, and then throws in fantastical elements with the kid’s golden hair and his magical stuffed animal. Although there are no cannibal scenes, there are some rather grisly knife attacks shown in close up, but otherwise the movie is rather tame and bland. There is hardly any good action, just a lot of running around.
Despite all these flaws, Terror in the Jungle is an ideal movie for those who enjoy terribly bad cinema. Odd does not begin to describe this flick. If anything, the movie will have you humming the song “Soft Lips” long after the movie is over.