Thursday, May 11, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: THE SECRET OF THE INCA'S EMPIRE (1987)

In the annals of the INDY rip-off, there have been some bastardizations of classic literature. Well, two, anyway. That would be Cannon's 1985 epic KING SOLOMON'S MINES and its sequel, which take broad liberties with H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel and its 1887 sequel. Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan were visionaries after all (yeah, I said it), but at the time few other films had the genius to use a highly respected book as an inspiration for their faux Indy efforts. Case in point, Gianfranco Parolini's THE SECRET OF THE INCA'S EMPIRE. Based on a novel titled THE SEARCH FOR THE BURIED CITY, author Gualberto Sanchez Alvino also helped pen the script, although that seems to be the bulk of his work at the time and while I admit I've never read the book, I seriously doubt you could call it "classic literature". In recent years Akvino has written a few books about writers, but I'm guessing his foray into adventure fiction was not very successful. Much like this movie.

Opening in a professor's classroom, Professor Alexis Xristopoulos (played by Parolini himself) is teaching a very appreciative class about a pre-Incan civilization that was founded by red-haired, fair skinned humanoids from space who came from "the cortadeiras" and have co-mingled with humans for centuries. He uses a drawing on a chalkboard showing what appears to be a submarine in an ocean trench to make his point about as clear as a blind man's glasses. His very brief speech is said to be the theories of two professors, one La Fuente and one Rivera, aaaand class dismissed! I know I learned a lot, how about you? If I was one of the poor saps in this guy's class, I'd be demanding my tuition back.

In the jungles of Columbia, which are strangely populated almost entirely by Filipinos, a rugged, fedora wearing "ethnologist" (why not just an anthropologist?) improbably named Professor Clifton Bradbury III (Bruno Minniti) is being stalked by what appears to be a member of a Doobie Brother's cover band in a loincloth (Kenneth Peerless). Why is he being stalked? Why does this guy want to kill him? This is never made clear in the entirety of the film's running time. Apparently someone realized this and in one of a few attempts to explain many inscrutable things in this film via a voice-over track, we get somebody presumably saying something in the "native's" mind: "Don't kill, Inca, don't kill. The man must get there before us, it is the will of Inty, the will of your god". Thank goodness for that voice-over. That explains everything!

Suddenly out of the jungles and back in civilization, a reporter asks Clifton at a news conference what he thinks of a book by fellow ethnologist Linda Logan (Kelly London). Without hesitation, he brutally slams the book and Linda personally, who as luck would have it was sitting by the radio preparing to eat what appears to be the world's largest hot dog when she hears this. Unfortunately we never get to see the hot dog being eaten. What are the chances that these two are going to meat, I mean meet? That's a sucker bet for sure.

Suddenly back in the jungle (although the plaque on the hacienda says "Los Angeles"!), Linda stops a man from trying to get in the door to speak to her boss, professor La Fuente, causing him to be shot by the men that are chasing him. The dying man instructs her to give his hat to the professor immediately, to which the professor exclaims "Straw hat! Call the police!" I understand that some head-wear can be alarming, but this is ridiculous. Of course the hat contained a map to the secret, buried city to which everyone is looking for. The killers get inside the house and with his dying breath La Fuente charges Linda with getting the map to professor Rivera, who apparently is also somewhere in this very jungle... or Los Angeles... I don't know. Linda finds the RLF (Rivera La Fuente) camp, but is cornered by the thugs who killed her boss. Clifton just happens to be there driving a giant drill into a large stone artifact (wtf?!) and fights off the killers. Since Rivera is not at the camp, the pair set out to find the professor or plunder the alien treasure. Which ever comes first. I mean, what's the point of being an ethnologist if you can't score some sweet loots, amiright?

As it turns out professor Evans was responsible for professor La Fuente's execution and has an army of thugs looking for that map and killing everyone in their way, including professor Rivera. Professor Evans (who is also Professor Xristopoulos!) has an encampment filled with people wearing ERS logos (not to be confused with RLF) and has made it his priority to loot the buried city by fair means or foul. Mostly foul. Although we only see Evans once or twice, we hear his voice from a loudspeaker on a helicopter as he tells his thugs not to harm Clifton and Linda and that he just wants to be partners! This doesn't stop main henchman, Angel (Vassili Karis), from shooting bullets and grenades at them and at least twice threatening to rape Linda! I guess you can't get good help these days.

If you are thinking that there are an awful lot of professors in this movie, brother, you are not wrong. The professors are rarely on screen and are sometimes referred to as "professor", which turns following what should be a fairly simple plot into a labyrinthine nightmare of Who's on First. Not that all of the characters being clearly identified in the movie or even in the credits would make the script completely straight forward. The film jumps around without warning or explanation and has characters pop in and out of the film with even less. Quite honestly, I have no idea what Kenneth Peerless' character is supposed to be doing. He pops up every now and then to glower meaningfully into the distance or put an arrow in someone who is trying to harm our romantically stoned duo.

The bulk of the film has Clifton and Linda on the run from Angel and his gang, leading them into pitfalls with piranha (which are not shown other than a small fish that seems to be glued to one of Clifton's pant legs), papier-mache crocodiles, inclement weather, indigenous primitives who cannot throw a spear, and a bunch of head hunter cultists who worship a fertility idol that's perched on top of a rock by decapitating woman and hauling their heads on a rope up to said rock. Yeah, I have no idea what that's all about. Probably my favorite bit involves a scene where an arrow grazes Linda's lovely backside. Clifton is one smooth dude, as he tells her that the wound could get infected and there is only one thing to do! Yep, gotta suck out the poison. I have to remember that one for the next time I'm stuck out in the jungles of Columbia/Philippines/Los Angeles with a hot British ethnologist girl.

As it turns out the much ballyhooed buried city is merely a couple of water-logged caves that look like left-over sets from one of Parolini's 1960s sword and sandal flicks. Well, except for one room that has a church organ installed next to an alter so that The Golden Condor, a cat pawed, gossamer winged, laser-eye shooting deity can play ominous music. No, really, I'm not making this up. Why someone would want to hang out in a small, wet cave playing the organ until someone finally shows up a this secret location is beyond me. There is a twist ending here that not only clears up nothing that came before, but doesn't make any fucking sense whatsoever! Highlight for spoilers: The Golden Condor is actually professor Rivera in the Inty god outfit. So he is not dead, was at the city all along and told the Inca not to kill Clifton so that Clifton could find him playing the organ and - WHAT?! I am so confused.

I guess it's not surprising that some of the people involved never did anything after this. London clearly had so much fun being rained on, sliding down muddy hills and falling into pools of water every day of the shoot, that she must have reconsidered her career options. I don't know how she would have fared in other films, but she's easy on the eyes and is far less annoying than the usual Kate Capshaw wannabe. Hell, she's far less annoying than Kate Capshaw and could have easily gone on to make other low-rent genre films. Bruno Minniti's rather short film career dried up after this, but he made most of his career on soap operas and as a singer. Kenneth Peerless, on the other hand, had a nice little career following this film working in a few Cirio H. Santiago films (he started with the 1986 classic FUTURE HUNTERS) and a few Italian efforts. He may be best remembered as Hal in the original BLOODFIST (1989).

Gianfranco Parolini (aka Frank Kramer) is an interesting director as his work is very hit and miss, particularly in his later days. Most folks would probably say miss, but I think IF YOU MEET SARTANA PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968), SABATA (1969) and ADIOS SABATA (1970) are damn fine spaghetti westerns that, while they may not be the cream of the crop, are a long way from scraping the bottom. Parolini also directed the first four films in the very popular German/Italian James Bond knock-offs, the KOMMISSAR X films, that started off with KISS KISS KILL KILL (1965). Then came THE RETURN OF SABATA (1971) and everything goes to hell. Well, with the exception of the Michael Colby, Paul L. Smith Hill and Spencer knock-off WE'RE NO ANGELS (1975) and the stunningly inept, but hugely entertaining, King Kong knock-off YETI - GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1977), which is really required viewing for fans of Italian schlock.

SECRET was Parolini's last film and it came after a ten year gap following YETI, though he was only 57 when SECRET was made. While many of his films are ramshackle, inscrutable messes, that's hardly stopped people like Ulli Lommel from continuing to pummel unsuspecting audiences into submission with gawd-awful movies for decades. I think if Parolini had been a little less conservative and indulged in some gore effects and nudity, as was demanded of Italian genre films at the time, he would be fondly remembered today. Err, by degenerates who like that sort of thing, I mean.

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. DB Media, the film's sales agent sold the film to Astral, then made Chance to... series of shorts by DR Pedraza who also worked on Dallas movie chat show Slate Me! with Michael Guerra and Simon Rumley's RedWhite and Blue's Nicole Holt.

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