Films from the Void: JUNGLE TRAP

FILMS FROM THE VOID is a journey through junk bins, late night revivals, under seen recesses, and reject piles as we try to find forgotten gems and lesser known classics. Join us as we lose our minds sorting through the strange, the sleazy, the sincere, and the slop from the past and try to make sense of it all.

In February of 2015, the cult archivists and enthusiasts at Bleeding Skull launched a unique Kickstarter. As part of a project they were working on with director James Bryan (Don’t Go in the the Woods, The Executioner Part II), they discovered “that he had an entirely unseen feature just waiting to be pieced together.”

It was a film called Jungle Trap, which Bryan had filmed in 1990 with actress Renee Harmon (Frozen Scream, Lady Street Fighter). And thanks to the rapid decline of the home video market, no distributor was interested, and the film was shelved without ever having been edited or scored.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter, the film was able to be edited, have the sound mix fixed, and a score composed and recorded by Austin duo Taken By Savages. It’s now been released by Bleeding Skull and Mondo, and you can see for yourself what this bit of SOV insanity looks like. It’s described as “a decapitation-fueled, shot-on-video horror masterpiece about a jungle hotel haunted by kill-crazy ghosts in loin cloths.” However, is it as mad as Don’t Go in the Woods or as absurd as The Executioner Part II?

Yes, and yes, and more. Jungle Trap is everything one could want of a shot-on-video horror film from the late ’80s. The acting is either wooden or overly enthusiastic, with only Harmon managing to seem like she’s done this before, and she takes it somewhat seriously. And, you know — kudos to her for playing it straight, even with an accent. Throw in ghostly natives which are quite obviously white dudes in masks, and sets that I think were made in and around someone’s house, and, honestly, the very fact that none of the actors are visibly rolling their eyes on-screen is a testament to their professionalism. Even if the acting seems like it’s being read from a steno pad somewhere just off-screen, it’s still delivered without a huffy sigh, which is more than I could possibly promise.

Speaking of the sets: my god. When I say that they look like they were made in and around someone’s house, I am not kidding. Likely there are neighborhood haunted houses which are more terrifying. The “museum” sets are obviously someone’s guest room, the hotel lobby is probably in someone’s garage, and the jungle is someone’s overgrown side yard. It’s cheap, unconvincing, and absolutely charming.

Everything about Jungle Trap is, essentially, cheap and charming. The plot’s paper-thin, and simply exists as a reason for strange things to happen with little-to-no warning. Ghostly spirits wreaking vengeance on those who wronged them is a popular horror theme with a lengthy track record and plenty of tropes, but Bryan’s film manages to subvert those tropes through sheer dint of budget.

The plot is, essentially, that the staff of this museum are travelling to the Amazon to collect an idol from the last cannibal tribe. They were formerly the last surviving cannibal tribe, but the tribe died, as did several members of the previous expedition. It’s all supposedly due to over-forestation, et al, but obviously, there’s more at hand here than just the superficial explanations, and that’s where the plot gets all wonky and mysterious: why did some members die? Why are some so eager to return? What’s to be found in the jungle?

When you don’t have the funds for big setpieces, you’re forced to make do, and that results in some clever solutions. Case in point: there’s obviously no marauding tribe of angry spirits, nor is there an actual jungle. So, when the spirits attack, they’re forced do it two or three at a go, and the museum crew is rarely in the same shot. Thus, there’s a series of back-and-forth cuts, but it actually works out to make everything supremely tense. The same goes for those questions posed above: while Bryan can’t necessarily show, his ability to write quick and concise expository dialogue is to be commended.

While by no means actually scary, per se, Jungle Trap is at times really uncomfortable. The character interactions are awkward in a way where it’s difficult to tell whether or not the cast is attempting to be creepy, or if that’s just how they are. There’s a bus ride from the airport to the heart of the jungle, once the museum staff has reach the jungle, which will leave you wondering who’s more off-kilter: you for watching this, or the people playing the roles?

It all culminates in a strange series of plot points which get more and more ridiculous — as these things obviously go — until it’s a guess as to who might survive. The characters all have revelations, either with one another or solo, but they make damn sure there’s plenty of expository dialogue to explain what’s going on. It’s a weird end to a weird story, but it does ensure that by the end of Bryan’s Jungle Trap, you’ll be unsettled and amused — but definitely entertained.

Jungle Trap is currently available on DVD, VHS, and via digital download from Bleeding Skull Video.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek

Latest posts by Nick Spacek (see all)