Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS (1987)

With the Jack Hunter trilogy scratched off our scroll, we are now in what they would call uncharted waters. This is where I allow my muse to take over and lead me to whatever suits me best. Sometimes it can be something like a title. Sometimes it can be an actor. And sometimes it can be a poster that catches my eye. In this case it was a little bit of all three of those. Seriously, how could not love something called TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS? And it reunites Don Calfa and Linnea Quigley after RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)! Plus, look at that gorgeous poster on the side there. How could this movie not rule? How? Let me show you.

In an ominous sign, TREASURE opens with a voice over in the very first shot as Don Calfa says, “Okay, so here’s the picture…” We then see a treasure hunter (co-writer Eric Weston) running across a muddy field while being attacked by some natives. After some fisticuffs and the guy getting blown away in a hotel room, we get bad sign number two as we cut to “real time” as Harold Grand (Calfa), Hollywood agent to the non-stars, is explaining to his bikini clad secretary all about his adventures down in Central America with his top client, Lu De Belle (Quigley). Harold is apparently a really bad agent because as we jump back to the story proper he has Lu singing in a Central American dive where pigs and chickens are roaming freely. Man, I can’t wait until Jon Taffer gets to this place. To make matters worse, Harold is beaten up by some henchmen of Mr. Diaz (Danny Addis). Seems Diaz wants Harold to deliver Lu to a place called Cantana with the vague instructions of “you must get her there.”

The right thing to do would be to split, but then we wouldn’t have a movie so some threatening knuckle-cracking, neck-grabbing and angry-stancing has Harold chartering the boat of Brandy (Jo Ann Ayers) and Sam Kidd (Asher Brauner) to the required location. Things don’t initially go well as Sam, our Indiana Jones-clone, throws Harold off his boat into the water. What could convince Sam to help them out? Money and booze, of course! After Harold offers to buy him a drink later that night at a bar, Sam gladly accepts the job of taking them down river to Cantana. The power of alcohol. Well, that and Brandy reminding him they are flat broke a few minutes earlier. They are about to be broker as some thugs catch up to them on their own boat the next day and their leader screams, “You give us the blonde woman and I give you your life.” Jeez, these dudes really liked Quigley’s nude scenes in ROTLD and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984), didn’t they? Sam ain’t about to hand over the ‘80s top scream queen, so naturally his boat is blown up. The foursome escape though and keep heading down toward Cantana. Why? Because some random baddie said so.

It is all soon explained but not soon enough. As they slog through the jungle, we get “funny” dialogue like this -

Harold: “Hey, look at that lizard.”
Lu: “That’s an alligator, Harold!”

Naturally, this dialogue is laid over some random shot of an alligator (more on that later) We also get hijinxs like Calfa riding in a bus with a cow and being bitten on on the ass by a tarantula (more on that later too). Our mysterious plot is finally unveiled when our group reaches a tribe and finds Mr. Diaz impersonating the leader. His reason for desiring Lu is the age old W.T.W.W.A. (“Where the white women at?”) conundrum. Seems Lu is the spitting image of the Moon Goddess and Diaz wants her to impersonate the deity in order to claim some treasure. Sam and crew out Diaz to the tribe, but they say that to prove themselves they must enter the Temple of Imak in the Cave of the Moon and bring back some treasure after a series of challenges. Wait, isn’t that the basis of the kids' game show LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE? Finally, at the 70 minute mark we start getting our Indiana Jones on.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS is a mess. Jumping back-and-forth between the Mexico footage and Don Calfa’s narration, it was also apparently a mess of a production. The film was originally mentioned in Variety at the MIFED 1984 market as a product of Hemdale with the title DREAMS OF GOLD (“Two newies that Hemdale will dangle as presales for potential buyers are DREAMS OF GOLD, described as a $ 5,000,000 action-drama with Gerald Green producing, Eric Weston directing and Asher Brauner starring.”) By the time production began in November 1984 (meaning Calfa and Quigley pretty much went from ROTLD straight to this) in Central America locations, Weston was listed as a co-director alongside Joseph Louis Agraz. Something strange then happened as the film shutdown and then resumed production two years later in November 1986 in the Philippines. Those cut aways to Calfa and the narration are suddenly starting to make sense. I’d theorize Agraz shot the Mexican footage and Weston directed the later narration footage, but that would appear to be wrong as Weston was on the film before Agraz. But something happened on this film as displayed by its choppy nature and moments of dubbing. Need more evidence? As Tom told me, watch how often Don Calfa’s hairstyle changes throughout the film. At one point his hair is even blonde (it is black throughout most of the film).

Not that there was going to be much hope for either side of the production. Remember that spider bite I mentioned earlier? The natives tell Harold they have a cure for it called Yaksuk. As any fifth grade joke teller will know well in advance, Yaksuk ends up being a gay guy played in over-the-top fashion. Wah, wah, wah. Of course, I’ll accept bad comedy if we get some good Indiana Jones-esque action. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until the last few minutes and, while somewhat impressive, doesn’t forgive the rest of the film. And then there is Asher Brauner as Sam Kidd. At this point an industry vet for over a decade, Brauner adopts a completely flat delivery on every line. There is no emotion, no humor, no anything. As Tom said to me in an email, it is like he tried to sound tough but comes off sounding deeply medicated. Maybe he was pissed at the dialogue by Weston and his co-writer? Who was his co-writer? Oh, just some guy named Asher Brauner! Dude, you co-wrote a part for yourself and screwed it up? I’d blame the language barrier, but I’m pretty sure Brauner speaks English.

Regardless of the production woes, I guess we should applaud them for getting the darn thing finished after so many years. According to Variety, the film opened at San Francisco’s Embassy Theater on December 19, 1987 and later in the New York market on January 15, 1988. Oh, yeah, it also had a new production shingle (Ascot Entertainment) and new distributor (Manson International) during this release. And its very limited theatrical release pump out a poster that actually featured Calfa, essentially the film’s lead, in the poster.

That wasn’t the case when it had an unceremonious debut on video via Vidmark Entertainment a few months later in February 1988. That is when we got the cover that lured me in. My muse is still waiting for that badass “hanging by a rope, attacked by alligator” scene as depicted in the poster.

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