TREASURE OF THE AMAZON
Color, 1985, 105 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Stuart Whitman, Donald Pleasence, Bradford Dillman, John Ireland
, Sonia Infante, Emilio Fernández, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Ann Sidney, Jorge Luke, Clark Jarrett
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Italian Shock (DVD) (Holland R0 PAL), VCI (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
Color, 1978, 111 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring John Huston, Andrés García, Claudine Auger, Gloria Guida, Hugo Stiglitz
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Synapse Films (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1978, 119 mins. 39 secs. (Spanish version) / 118 mins. 48 secs. (English version)
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Carroll Baker, Arthur Kennedy, Lionel Stander, Andrés García, Hugo Stiglitz, Olga Karlatos
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Synapse Films (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), CMV Laservision (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9),
No other name in Mexican exploitation cinema can complete with René Cardona, which applies to both the director of such drive-in staples as Night of the Bloody Apes and Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy, and his son, René Cardona Jr., who managed to surpass him with a string of internationally released bad taste stunners like Tintorera, and Night of a Thousand Cats (though both dad and son worked together on the notorious Survive!). Out of the twenty-plus features over the course of his career, Cardona was very rarely boring and knew how to maximize his budget, often bringing in a reasonably big American or British star or two (or three) to make sure his films could be sold outside Mexico. Many of his titles have been around on home video for ages, but the first really stacked tribute to his work came in 2021 with Vinegar Syndrome's The Cardona Collection: Vol. 1, a collection of three very different adventure films demonstrating how he helped Mexican cinema keep reaching a truly worldwide audience.
First up in the set but the last made chronologically is Treasure of the Amazon, a belated cash-in on the cannibal movie craze around the same time Italy itself was pumping out stragglers like Cut and Run and Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. This one is a tad more genteel and star-studded than usual (though Cardona can't resist indulging in a scene of trademark animal cruelty, this time a really unpleasant bit involving an alligator), mainly putting a rather large cast through its jungle paces as everyone looks around for a legendary treasure in the Amazon. The person who's most likely to know its whereabouts its crusty, bearded Gringo (Whitman), who's putting down the river with a priest (Ireland) prone to telling new arrivals about his captain's status as the sole survivor of an expedition who nearly found it. Meanwhile Klaus (Pleasence), a Nazi in hiding in South America, is embarking on his own treasure hunt, which is complicated by the arrival of more diamond-seeking tourists including Clark (Dillman), Barbara (Sidney), and Dick (Jarrett). Reminding you that this is still a Cardona film, you also get them all mixed up with Pedro Armendáriz Jr., a constantly topless Sonia Infante, and even a bit part for Cardona's thespian lucky charm, Hugo Stiglitz. In the process everyone wades through lots of jungle foliage and water while combating bugs, a cannibal tribe, itty bitty killer crabs, and the treacherous nature of humanity itself.
Cheap, pulpy, and trashy, Treasure of the Amazon is definitely worth a look just to see that crazy cast rubbing shoulders in a Mexican Deodato knock-off, complete with Donald Pleasence waxing rhapsodic about the Third Reich to naked women. There is some gore to be found here and there (including a fun gator attack scene), though it's far more restrained than its Italian brethren with a focus instead on easy cheap thrills like natives eating spiders and people running around with machine guns. This one's been around on home video for a long time every since its American VHS debut for Vestron Video back in the '80s, with VCI porting over a really cruddy-looking master for a 2007 DVD pairing this up with Island of Lost Souls (the Mexican prison movie, not the Charles Laughton one). The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray is the first time this has ever looked really good on home video thanks to a new 4K scan of the original camera negative; it's a real stunner, especially compared to the dire versions we've had before this (one of which was used for a Rifftrax version). The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono audio (with a Dolby Digital option tucked away if you hit the audio button) sounds great when it comes to the dialogue and sound effects; as always, the music sounds pretty rough and warbly with some audio dropouts, which is apparently the condition of how it was originally tracked into the film. The sole extra is a gallery (2m40s) of international poster art and stills.
Next up we jump back to 1978 with The Bermuda Triangle (or as it's credited in the main titles, Triangle: The Bermuda Mistery), one of many cinematic attempts to cash in on the one of the biggest supernatural phenomena from a decade obsessed with others like UFOs, Bigfoot, and ESP. This one's more family friendly than most but still quite eerie in spots as it spins the yarn of a ship in the middle of the ocean looking for the former location of Atlantis. The family aboard, the Marvins, include patriarch Edward (Huston), Michelle (Italian exploitation legend Guida), Sybill (Auger), and little Diana (Gretha), who starts acting very strange when she gets attached to a doll plucked from the waves. You also have a much bigger role for Hugo Stiglitz here paired up once again with Tintorera beefcake buddy Andrés García (not for the last time in this set) and a lot of spookiness when li'l Diana proclaims the order in which everyone aboard will die. A disastrous scuba diving exploration, more gratuitous real animal violence (this time involving sharks, whom Cardona really seems to have it out for in general), and a moody ending with a pure Twilight Zone vibe ensure you won't doze off during the nearly two-hour running time. Since this one was co-financed with Italian money, that means that in addition to stars like Guida and Auger, there's a really lush, effective score by the great Stelvio Cipriani, one of no less than three(!) Bermuda-themed films he scored in the '70s along with Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks and Encounter of the Deep (all of which were collected together eventually in one soundtrack release).
As with most Cardona films around this time, this was shot entirely in English but with most of the heavily-accented actors later dubbed in post-production. A few like John Huston (who gets top billing but couldn't have been on the production for more than a couple of days) have their own voices here, but for the most part this is going to be mostly looped no matter how you watch it. The usual English version is what's presented here on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, which is a considerable improvement over the moldy old VCI DVD (not to mention the fuzzy VHS release in the '80s from Vidamerica). Again it's a sparkling new 4K scan from the camera negative, and it's a treat for the eyes all the way with the sunset scenes in particular having a rich, colorful glow that was always mushy before. In "Escaping the Triangle" (18m45s), René Cardona III chats about acting in this film at a young age as Dave (credited as "Al Coster"), doing other production duties during filming, the story behind the creation of the doll to tie the story together, the real identity of "Gretha," and the various cinematic tricks used to make the film look as impressive as possible even if the predominantly nighttime shooting was a big obstacle to overcome. Then in "Triangle of Fear" (22m9s), producer Angelo Iacono addresses the Italian side of the production including a weird coincidence the day it opened there, the other inexplicable incidents surrounding the film, the shooting conditions on the boat (which had a bit of a history itself), the logistics behind that opening multiple plane sequence, and much more. Also included are a reel of international main and end title sequences (5m30s) from Italy and Spain, plus a poster and still gallery (2m16s) with a colossal spoiler at the beginning of the audio, so don't watch it before the film!
Finally we reach another Cardona film from '78, Cyclone, which is essentially a more star-laden version of Survive! except set on the ocean instead of the Andes and not based on a true story this time. A Mexican-Italian co-production again, this one throws an eye-popping cast together along with Stiglitz and Garcia again, of course, with the latter as a guide running the Moby-Dick, a fishing boat for tourists in the Caribbean including priest Arthur Kennedy and dog-toting socialite Carroll Baker. Meanwhile a plane piloted by Stiglitz is cruising nearby with passengers including Lionel Stander, who likes to chomp on his pipe and rail against unions. Three guys are also on a small fishing trawler in the area, too, and get word on the radio of a cyclone approaching. As everyone scrambles to get to the nearest islet, the storm hits suddenly with full force, resulting in a plane crash that sends the survivors scrambling onto the Moby-Dick for survival. However, by this point they're all swept far out into the middle of the ocean with only a tiny reserve of drinkable water. As the days stretch on and the wounded go downhill, things take a turn for the worse with cannibalism and a shark attack waiting in store as the officials back on shore, stuck without working phones or telegraph machines, scramble to find them before it's too late.
In keeping with Cardona's pattern, this is definitely not a film for animal lovers (including even more shark skewering and one outrageously tasteless but thankfully fake plot twist that won't be ruined here). The disaster movie vibe here is a lot of fun including the surprisingly ambitious and well-executed plane crash scene, with the bulk of the film essentially focusing on the international actors deteriorating in front of your eyes as they float around in the middle of nowhere. Another Italian composer chips in with a score this time, the great Riz Ortolani, and the American stars manage to steal all of their scenes with Stander in particular snacking on what little scenery happens to be around. Interestingly, the film was actually shot twice-- once in English and again in Spanish, using entirely different takes with frequently major differences between them. Even Baker and Kennedy performed all of their lines in Spanish, too, though everyone ended up being looped in post-production for both versions anyway.
Weirdly obscure despite its cast, Cyclone barely played in the U.S. (by which point Cardona had already cranked out the speedy cash-in Guyana: Cult of the Damned) and mostly sat around ignored until Synapse Films released it on DVD in 2005 with a colorful widescreen transfer of the standard English version. Extras on that disc include an alternate credit sequence as Terror Storm and bonus trailers including Tintorera, Danger Girls, The Deadly Spawn, and Olga's Girls, all of which should be programmed together for a film festival someday in that exact order. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray marks the first time both the English and Spanish versions have been collected together, the former from a good theatrical print that's brighter and much more detailed than the earlier DVD with more image info visible on the edges. There's some visible element damage on the right side during one reel (see the fifth frame grab comparison below), but otherwise it's in pretty good shape. The Spanish version is another fresh 4K scan from the negative and looks about as good as it could; interestingly, the color processing between the versions is a bit different with reds in particular looking more subdued and natural in the Spanish but more hot and orange-leaning in the English one. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is fine for both. In "Surviving the Cyclone" (18m29s), Cardona III returns for another exploration of the making of the film (he acted again in this one, too), explaining how this was made in quick succession after Tintorera and The Bermuda Triangle with an eye on global distribution all the way. He also notes that some different takes were done for the Italian version as well, though that version isn't included here and was reportedly very heavily cut. Then in "The Eye of the Cyclone" (32m36s), Iacono talks some more about being a producer in Mexico after some disastrous releases in Italy, the Lando Buzzanca comedy in Italy that changed the course of his career, the local logistics necessary to pull off the plane sequence, and even working with the Mexican Navy. Finally in "Beware of Sharks" (16m27s), Baker chats over Zoom with Brad Henderson about meeting Cardona, loving the experience in Cozumel, the iffy nature of Mexican stunt work, and her refusal to jump in the water with a shark even if it was "tired!" A gallery (2m39s) of stills and a pressbook is also included.
Vinegar Syndrome (Spanish version) (Blu-ray)
Vinegar Syndrome (English version) (Blu-ray)
Synapse Films (DVD)
Reviewed on May 27, 2021