Back before nudity was a publishing commodity, in the days when anything potentially pornographic was reserved for stag loops and big city peep shows, many a lad discovered their manhood at the hands of a little yellow magazine known as National Geographic. There, among its in-depth articles on the world and its many wonders were pictures of natives, naked as the day they evolved. Captured in positions to promote their natural way of life, these topless temptresses of the tribal set would often be shown cooking, or carry oversized baskets on their head, pendulous breasts sagging and spreading over their well worked torsos. In truth, such scenes were about as sexy as a lecture in anthropology, but for many a pubescent boy (and some sadly desperate adults) the jugs of these jungle goddesses were like an apprentice Playboy. In fact, if you found these au natural knockers exciting, Hugh Hefner's hooterfest would guarantee a groinal growth spurt.
Now, as part of their July release schedule, Something Weird Video has unearthed a pair of these peculiar offerings. First up is the faux fact film Forbidden Adventure. Purporting to be the last known footage filmed by an expedition to the "lost city" of Angkor, what we end up with is the cinematic equivalent of a shell game. Nothing here is completely real, or totally fake for that matter. Instead, it's a weird amalgamation of adventure footage and flesh. The other slice of jungle boogie is a perplexing political parable about an unnamed island experiencing a creaky coup de tat. Though it's title – Forbidden Women – promises a great deal of lewd lady lumps, the actual production had little or no skin to show. So American producer Lloyd Friedgen gathered up a few bland Bulry-Q queens and inserted shots of them shaking their shortribs. The result is rather disconcerting. One moment we are enjoying a oddball offering of Indonesian intrigue. The next we are seeing barmaids bare their box lunch.
And it all starts with our first Forbidden venture. At the only adventurer's club in the world that doesn't practice child molestation, a special gathering of big time buanas is about to see some lost footage from a pre-WWI 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.
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 Marlon 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 frescos 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. And 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..
Over in a remote South Sea's 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.
At least Forbidden Women doesn't deny its jerryrigged joys. When producer Lloyd Friedgen traveled to a post-WWII 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 big idea-ed son wants to cause all kinds of trouble (he's been off being schooled by the colonialist white man, 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 de tat, 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, he 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, and there's 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" UK 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 right regular documentary, but those optical obstructions - not to mention the drunken stuntmen in ape suits - 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. If it weren't for the occasional visits to the gangly gals at the Golden Chamber, we'd never know there was anything naughty in this island entertainment. Yet both movies manage to sully the sciences so effectively that we soon forget there was ever an anthropological basis for their narratives in the first place. Put them together and you've got a severe case of mindblowing motion picture malaria that not even the most fabled witch doctor could cure.
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