Color, 1982, 87 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Alan Birkinshaw
Starring Stuart Whitman, Edmund Purdom, Woody Strode, Harold Sakata, Laura Gemser, Glynis Barber, David De Martyn
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Crash Cinema (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
After melting the brains of more than a few viewers with his outlandish horror film Killer's Moon in 1978, New Zealand-born director Alan Birkinshaw finally struck again in 1982 with Invaders of the Lost Gold, an all-star-ish jungle adventure film shot in the Philippines for colorful exploitation producer Dick Randall (Pieces, Don't Open Till Christmas). Birkinshaw would eventually go on to direct a trio of crazy Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe "adaptations" for Cannon Films later in the decade, but at this point he was still a mostly unknown quantity when an encounter with Randall brought him aboard this mishmash of genre elements, originally entitled Greed and then Horror Safari but best known under its somewhat misleading, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style current title.
In 1945, a platoon of Japanese soldiers went trudging through a jungle in the Philippines with two big wooden boxes full of gold only to fall afoul of a violent native tribe who wipe most of them out. Thirty-six years later in Tokyo, Rex Larson (Randall regular Purdom) tracks down the Japanese colonel in charge of the doomed mission who still has a coded map leading to the gold. After murderously seizing the map, he consults wealthy Douglas Jefferson (the awkwardly dubbed De Martyn) about putting together a team to recover the gold; unfortunately Jefferson insists on bringing aboard Rex's nemesis, Mark Forrest (Whitman), along with trusted adventurer Cal (Strode). Also along for the ride are Jefferson's daughter, Janice (Barber), and tough guy Tobachi (Sakata). Upon arrival they end up bringing on Rex's former flame Maria (Gemser), which ignites a low-wattage romantic triangle when Janice expresses interest in him as well. As they head deep in the heart of the uncharted jungle, various members of the expedition start to die off one by one. Will they ever make it to the gold, and if so, who will be left?
Though the packaging and title promise a high-voltage adventure, Invaders of the Lost Gold is a much more ambling and shaggy production than viewers probably expected. By any kind of cinematic standard it's fairly inept, including some of the most confusing death scenes in cinema history (good luck figuring out the finale of Gemser's skinny-dipping sequence). Presumably due to substandard shooting conditions, the film features some of the most haphazard dubbing you've ever seen with Whitman's voice changing from scene to scene and Strode dubbed for no clear reason. Of course, that absurdity is also part of the charm since you get to see a genuinely wild cast all thrown together in one place, including a baffling but very entertaining fight scene between Sakata (still riding his Goldfinger fame) and Strode. Exactly who the target audience might be for this film is something of a mystery as it feels like an old-fashioned jungle treasure hunt movie for the most part, except for a couple of prolonged nude scenes and a few random splashes of gore. The hodgepodge of countries involved also gives the film a very strange vibe, such as the percussive score by Francesco De Masi (New York Ripper) who, along with the always welcome Gemser, came along as part of the Italian co-financing. For better or worse, there's definitely nothing else out there quite like it.
Presumably due to its cast, this one received what seemed like a hundred VHS releases around the world back in the day despite only very minimal theatrical play. In the U.S. it hit tape from All-American Video, as both Invaders of the Lost Gold and then as Greed-- the latter title being on the actual scan for Severin's Blu-ray and DVD editions in 2021. (You can see an assortment of international VHS art here.) The Severin release is a pretty massive step in terms of quality all around with excellent color and detail throughout apart from the main titles, which were obviously pulled from a lesser source. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track (with optional English SDH subs) also sounds very good given what a sloppy patchwork the original mix is in the first place. In the new featurette "Rumble in the Jungle" (16m33s), Birkinshaw covers the many production challenges of the film caused by having to haul two hours outside of Manila each days, the genesis with Randall, the initial casting of Britt Ekland who ended up being replaced by Barber, and his impressions of the final result. As always, his memory is crystal clear and he's quite enjoyable to hear as a storyteller. Then you get a 22m25s assortment of outtakes from the Machete Maidens Unleashed documentary about Filipino exploitation cinema with Birkinshaw and Corliss Randall (the late producer's wife), which overlaps a fair bit with the other interview but has some nice exclusive bits here about Randall's work methods, the (very loose) real-life inspiration for the story, and the "write it as we go along" approach to the shoot.
Reviewed on July 28, 2021