Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Indiana Jones Knock Off You May Have Missed

The interwebs are abuzz this week with all things Jonesian. Indiana that is. Harrison Ford is dusting off his bullwhip (so that's what they're calling it now) for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which opens this Friday. This is the first new installment the series has seen in nearly twenty years, and by this time next week an amount equal to the combined gross national product of several European countries will have been forked over to see it.

Like any hugely successful film, Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels have spawned imitators. Tomb Raider added feminine curves and pouty lips to the swashbuckling adventurer, The Mummy used an alleged remake of a Universal monster flick as an excuse to delve into Jones-like territory, and Tales of the Gold Monkey (anybody else remember that one?) briefly brought Jones style adventure to the small screen. This new film has already spawned it's own imitator by way of a public domain literary character, resulting in The Asylum's Allan Quatermain and the Temple of the Skulls.

I've got a Raiders inspired knock-off that I'm betting you've never heard of. The Ark of the Sun God is a 1983 film that was released on DVD a few years ago as part of a double feature called Tales of Voodoo Vol.4 and misleadingly marketed as a horror film. This Italian/Turkish co-production is directed by Anthony M. Dawson, a.k.a. Antonio Margheriti, maker of such films as the excellent and eerie Barbara Steele film Castle of Blood (1964), and the Pasta Land Chunkblower classic Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), among many others.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film stars Italian horror film legend David Warbeck. Not all of his movies are classics--I recently watched Warbeck’s Panic (1976), which totally bites--but his presence in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond has earned him many cool points. Also noteworthy is the appearance of character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who appeared in several other Margheriti flicks, as well as the Mario Bava films Baron Blood and Blood and Black Lace.

Warbeck plays Rick Spear, a cat burglar of some repute who has business in Istanbul. While attempting to steal a rare artifact, Spear is caught and recruited by Lord Dean. The plan is for Spear to locate the Temple of the Sun God, the presumed resting place of Gilgamesh, a king who was half man and half demon. Dean wants Spear to enter the temple using the aforementioned artifact as a key and steal a jeweled scepter. The Brits are concerned about the political implications of the scepter falling into the wrong hands. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, the room is bugged, and the exchange is overheard by an Arab prince and his henchmen, members of the Demons of Gilgamesh who want the scepter for their own purposes.

What follows is kidnapping, murder, gun play, car chases, Indiana Jones-style archeology (particularly in a very Raiders-esque snake pit sequence, and a rather modest tarantula attack), and various other acts of daring do on the part of our hero. The action scenes are fun, though sometimes they seem randomly placed, and their order in the film could probably be rearranged without much trouble. There's even a car chase in which the stunts are achieved using some well done but fairly obvious miniatures.

Little attempt is made to disguise the James Bond connection. While wearing his black cat burglar clothes, Spear very much resembles Sean Connery. He comments to Lord Dean, “Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore?” Even Spear’s girlfriend Carol is more often than not referred to as “Pussycat,” possibly a reference to Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore character from Goldfinger. The entire third act just screams Indiana Jones, right down to the snake pit scene and the Arab sidekick who resembles John Rhys-Davies’ character from Raiders.

Not a masterpiece, but a fun little bit of hokum. The picture is grainy, but watchable, though a few night scenes are hard to make out. The image is letterboxed, but info seems to be lost on the left and right sides of the screen.

Here's the trailer for The Ark of the Sun God:

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