Directors: L.C. Cook, George M. Merrick, Eduardo de Castro
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

With mass media overtaking the world and worldwide communication at an all-time high, one sometimes dreams of a simpler time, when a movie like FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE could hit the theaters and patrons would believe it was a sincere documentary. Those were the days of roadshowing, when huckster distributors roamed the nation with beat-up prints of shocking films made outside of Hollywood, covering topics as varied as sexual hygiene, drug use, prostitution, and the dangers of foreign lands. Roadshowing died as the country matured and exploitation films became more readily available at drive-ins and grindhouses, but the spirit of this business lives on with Something Weird Video, as they raid their vaults to unearth two examples of the type of film that filled the seats in the 1930s and 1940s.

Distributed by Dwain Esper, the notorious madman behind MANIAC and MARIHUANA, FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE, better known as ANGKOR, is an incredible hodge-podge of stock footage, National Geographic travelogue scenes, and inserted topless shots of L.A. prostitutes being harassed by a guy in an ape suit. The film’s story begins with a meeting of the Los Angeles Adventurers’ Club, a fictional group if there ever was one, who proceed to screen a film put together with footage shot by two explorers, who later died in the first World War. The men reportedly ventured into Cambodia in 1911 and returned in 1914, and the producers edited all their footage together into a feature film. After spending time in a local village, they hire guides to help them trek into the jungle to find the forbidden city of Angkor, where an ancient treasure resides and its million inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. Along the way they encounter killer crocodiles, playful monkeys, natives performing fire rituals, an insane Buddhist claiming to be the reincarnated king of Angkor (!), giant monitor lizards and pythons, and a vicious tiger fight. Once they reach the lost city, they find the ruins inhabited by bloodthirsty bats, a regal peacock (huh?), a killer cobra, and a giant ape that proceeds to have its way with the explorers’ female guides!

As messy and amateurish as FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE is, it’s never boring! The travelogue scenes are pretty interesting, as they capture Cambodian dance rituals and show the culture of the country at the time, including a floating village, local markets, and of course the wildlife. However most of the stock footage turns out to be the product of an expedition in the Congo, a full continent away. And don’t be fooled by that, either, most of the film was shot in America (Topanga Canyon, to be exact), with two actors playing the explorers and their parade of topless female guides (!) portrayed by a troupe of black hookers recruited from a Los Angeles whorehouse (to play Oriental Cambodians?). It looks like someone rented some of the animals from a local zoo or wrangler, including a python, a tiger, and a few cuddly critters. Many scenes have super-imposed foliage placed over them, as in Deodato’s MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD; most of these sequences feature topless women, but the foliage doesn’t attempt to cover their breasts! The editor of this oddity obviously didn’t care too much about matching the stock footage with the new U.S.-shot sequences (of which there are many), but that’s all part of the fun. What also makes this film such a valuable watch is the fact that audiences in the 1930s were enthralled by it! Where else were small town folk in Missouri or South Carolina going to see foreign wildlife, or native rituals, or killer apes mauling topless women? This film was the reality TV of its day! Sit back and be prepared to have your mind blown.

Unlike its co-feature, FORBIDDEN WOMEN is a Filipino production imported to the U.S. and sold as an exploitation film. Strangely, it was also shot in English, not Tagalog, the Filipino language. Following an education abroad, young Prince Sigore returns to his South Pacific island kingdom to take over the throne. However, he finds that his black widow sister-in-law, an evil schemestress, intends to take the kingdom for herself!

Thankfully FORBIDDEN WOMEN is only 62 minutes, as it’s a very talky attempt at creating a Hollywood epic on a Filipino budget. The lavish sets and costumes, cultural dances, and political script are impressive, but it’s surprising to think that anyone in the U.S. would have purchased this film for distribution! But distributor Lloyd Friedgen shot new sequences of topless women (the FORBIDDEN ones of the title, I assume) to spice up the film and ensure it would sell as a roadshow attraction; the brief torture chamber sequence probably helped, too. In other words, skip this one and watch FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE again.

Of the transfers, FORBIDDEN WOMEN looks gorgeous, almost negative-quality at times, with minimal grain, strong black-and-white contrasts and a sharp, clear image. FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE’s pasted-together nature of course makes the image quality suffer. Both have decent mono audio tracks.

Continuing with the madcap enjoyment of FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE, Something Weird includes a great supplement to compliment the feature film: the shortened 54-minute British version of the film, under the title BEYOND SHANGHAI! The print opens with a British Board of Film Censors seal of approval, and is a very different, but just as entertaining, animal from the original version. There are new credits, a completely new musical score, a stuffier British narrator, and brand-new scenes. Instead of the Los Angeles Adventurers’ Club meeting opening the film, an editor’s hands are seen gathering cans of film and explorers’ journals and pointing to a map where the footage was shot, which then has a hole burnt into it. The primary difference between the U.S. and British versions is the nudity, which is semi-censored by fake foliage superimpositions in America, but is shown completely uncovered in Britain. Where the nudity isn’t censored, a few scenes have been excised, namely any contact between the women and the apes. In a strange addition to FORBIDDEN WOMEN, a “hot version” insert appears of an exotic dancer on-stage, and it probably kept most audiences from rioting during the boring political turmoil of that film.

A collection of trailers keeps with the jungle mayhem. WHITE GORILLA is one of two popular roadshow flicks (the other is WHITE PONGO) telling the story of a mythical white gorilla terrorizing the jungle. You also get killer hippos and a rampage of lions! I have to wonder why MAU MAU isn’t on DVD yet; it’s one of the most recognizable roadshow titles, in color, but may be too political to shock most people. It’s reminiscent of the later AFRICA ADDIO, and features one of the most glaringly obvious insert sequences ever (topless black women being mauled by revolutionaries). FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE’s preview does a grand job of selling the film as a must-see motion picture event. THE GORILLA WOMAN is another retitling of ANGKOR/FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE, or it may have just stolen footage from that film. There are different scenes of topless native women dancing around a fire and what looks like a genuine tribe performing rituals. A gallery of jungle exploitation ad art with random cult audio clips caps off the disc. This particular gallery is filled with wonderful photos of actual newspaper articles, four-walled theaters, and promotional stills of FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE. (Casey Scott)