Jungle Bogey: Eight-Hundred Leagues Down the Amazon (1993)

Dave mounts a raft and grabs an oar and heads deep into the Amazon Jungle to survey a Roger Corman misfire.

In Beverly Gray’s unauthorised biography of Roger Corman [1], screenwriter Fred Bailey (Equalizer 2000 (1987)) recounted how the mogul was on his way to Argentina during the mid-’80s to supervise a film, when his plane had to land in Lima due to the inclement weather:

“He got off the plane and took a taxi into town. There, he opened the Yellow Pages and got somebody to find motion picture production listings. He made a few calls asking who the best filmmaker in Lima was, and the responses were all the same – Luis Llosa. He called him up, struck a deal, and was back on the aircraft to Argentina in a couple of hours.”

The Corman-Llosa Peruvian partnership lasted for eleven films, beginning with Llosa’s debut feature, the Erik Estrada starring Hour of the Assassin (1987), and petering out seven years later with Watchers III (1994). It was a successful run of films for Corman, which included delights like Carl Franklin’s submarine thriller Full Fathom Five (1990) and Louis Morneau’s drug-bust doozy Crackdown (1991). By late ’91, though, Llosa was gravitating towards Hollywood, and found himself in Queensland, Australia, shooting the excellent Sniper (1993). Soon he’d be handed $45 million of Warner Brothers’ money to shoot The Specialist (1994). But between the two came a genuine curio in the form of EIGHT-HUNDRED LEAGUES DOWN THE AMAZON.

Although his Fire on the Amazon (1993) was released after it [2], this adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1881 novel was Llosa’s last directorial gig for Corman. The second film based on the Frenchman’s tale [3], it introduces us to the loved-up pairing of Minha (Daphne Zuniga) and Manoel (Tom Verica) who, with their wedding days away, feel duty bound to marry in Manaus, at the home of Manoel’s family. As they board the floating palace belonging to Minha’s father, Garral (Barry Bostwick), they embark on a perilous trek along the notorious river, facing alligators, piranhas (with stock footage from that movie), and a bounty hunter called Roja (Adam Baldwin).

Eight-Hundred Leagues Down the Amazon doesn’t really succeed. It appears to be stuck in no man’s land between being a faithful spin on Verne’s tome, awash with cut-price spectacle and majesty, and an R-rated journey of savagery that merely uses the author’s work as a template. The script from Full Moon alum Jack Canson (writing under his pen name ‘Jackson Barr’) and casting wiz Laura Schiff [4] feels uneven and one-paced for the first half of the movie. When it does gain a little momentum, it falls away again so quickly, devoid of energy and stamina.

The picture does look appealing, with Pili Flores-Guerra capturing the Peruvian landscape in the only way a native could, while Baldwin delivers the sole eye-catching performance of the lead ensemble, with Verica in particular coming over as sleepily beige. Filmed in the summer of ’92 in Iquitos, known as the gateway to the Northern Amazon, Eight-Hundred Leagues Down the Amazon had its premiere in Cannes the following May, before settling on VHS on 21st July, then latterly on DVD in 2001.

USA/Peru ● 1993 ● Action ● 88mins

Barry Bostwick, Daphne Zuniga, Adam Baldwin, Tom Verica ● Dir. Luis Llosa ● Wri. Jack Canson (as ‘Jackson Barr’), Laura Schiff

[1] Roger Corman: An Unauthorised Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking by Beverly Gray, 2000, Renaissance Books.
[2] Fire on the Amazon was shot in August 1990 but remained unreleased until October ’93. It did, though, use the same specific location – Iquitos.
[3] The first was the Mexican film 800 Leguas Por El Amazonas O (1959).
[4] Her sole produced script, Schiff began a successful career as a casting director the same year. Her first hiring job was on Carnosaur (1993) and by 2010 she’d won an Emmy for her casting work on TV hit Mad Men.

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