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River of Death - 88 Films - Blu-ray Print E-mail
User Rating: / 2
Written by Jay Creepy   
Friday, 18 November 2016
Review of River of Death on Blu-ray from 88 Films on Severed Cinema


AKA: Alistair MacLean's River of Death, O Rio da Morte, Dodens flod, El rio de la Muerte, La riviere de la mort, To potami tou thanatou, Halalfolyo, Dodens elv, Il fiume della morte, Reka smrti, River of Death – Flub des Grauens.

Directed by: Steve Carter
Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson, Alister MacLean
Produced by: Harry alan Towers, Avi Lerner, Erwin Hillier, Michael hartman
Cinematography by: Avraham Karpick
Editing by: Ken Bornstein
Music by: Saha Matson
Special Effects by: Joe Quinlivan, Debbie Christiane
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Herbert Lom, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, LQ Jones, Cynthia Erland, Sarah Maur Thorp, Rufus Swart, Gordon Mulholland.
Year: 1989
Country: USA
Color: Color
Language: English
Runtime: 1hr 47mins

Studio: Cannon Films
Distributor: 88 Films

The sheer balls of Cannon were incredible. If anyone who's reading this has watched Electric Boogaloo -- the mind boggling documentary on the company and the owners -- no doubt can remain how they were the Godfather Don's of the VHS and movie market back in the day worldwide. A wild catalogue of low budget action flicks, science fiction and genres which defy description. 

Then there's the casting ideas! Who else would plop legends like Donald Pleasence, Robert Vaughn and Herbert Lom into a hot sweaty jungle setting with robotic action star, Michael (Avenging Force, American Ninja) Dudikoff? Not to mention there's a combination of tribes, Nazi's, gunshots, and boxing midgets. It's a greatest hits album of trash video tapes all chucked into a bin and fished out by Canon... and based on an Alistair MacLean novel.

To begin this mad adrenalin rush, we meet two old school stars, Vaughn and Pleasence (playing Dr. Wolfgang Manteuffel and Heinrich Spaatz, two Nazi colleagues in an experimental camp nearing the end of WW2. Many of the prisoners surrounding the buildings have red raw sores all over their bodies and look pretty miserable all around. These sores are the product of Wolfgang who is experimenting on human guinea pigs. Captain Schuster is against the work of Wolfgang so he confronts him in his office, whilst his young daughter hides and watches. “Unless you end your experiments now, I shall send him my report!” She witnesses her father's death, and soon after the arrival of Heinrich who offers his 'friend' a way out before the conclusion of their war effort -- money and a channel to continue his maniacal experiments. He agrees but betrays Heinrich as the plane to freedom leaves. The scorned German swears to get his revenge. “I'll be the Devil on your back!” he promises.

We fast forward to the sixties (with a few ‘80s haircuts), our fresh faced wet haired hero, Hamilton (Dudikoff) is introduced headlining a doomed and ill-fated trek into the jungle. The mission is to seek out a lost city wherein it's possible the roots of a ghastly flesh eating disease is within. Hamilton is basically leading Doctor Blakesley and his daughter, Anna, with his equipment to discover an answer deep in the Amazon. However, after about 15 minutes, their fate is sealed by unfriendly tribes. The doctor is killed and Anna taken. Outnumbered by natives, plus someone unseen shooting at them, Hamilton runs like hell. His narrated voice-over is shamed by his actions, but “What else could I do?” Finding safety, he vows to return and find Anna.

Back in civilisation -- which is a rundown village filled with alcohol, women and folks betting on boxing midgets -- he speaks to police captain, Colonel Diaz, who isn't very helpful but is a little sinister. He approaches a colleague, Eddie Hiller, a snake like fella, who agrees to help for a price. Hiller states that Anna will probably be dead, but this doesn't deter our hero. Hamilton has no great money to offer the man, “Cost, plus ten percent. Cash. You tell me what you need.” Soon afterwards, other people are becoming interested in this famed lost city. Firstly, he's kicked about my man in 'fancy shoes' who later turns out to be working for Heinrich whom wants in on the return to the jungles. Why this kicking took place is never actually explained. Heinrich has taken his money and become a huge entrepreneur using another name, Burgin. He has a young girlfriend and she wants to come along as well. Then there's a couple of Nazi Hunters from Europe, Dalia and Pare. Both believe a missing Nazi doctor has vanished to this lost city and they want him.

This ragtag group get together -- no one truly trusting anyone -- with a few hired gunmen, and fly so far into the Amazon before needing to randomly crash land. It's downhill as a chugging wobbling boat filled with pirates begin to attack. Hamilton blasts them with a bazooka and the pirates retreat. “They'll be back!” he states, then decides the best way is to take the fight to them. Much sneaking about, explosions and stabbings, they have themselves a pirate steamer. They see so many natives on their way. Some simply watch, others aren't so friendly. Also, certain people are hiding behind lies and will kill before being exposed.

As their journey goes deeper into the jungles, the expedition members become less and less as so many die, before they reach their destination for a showdown between Vaughn, Pleasence and Lom (he kind of followed them all with his own motives (I told you he was sinister!), plus a twist at the end.

The excellence of River of Death is that the sets and the ideas are brilliant. For a low budget throw aside flick, there's a large level of detail. The villages, the characters and the lost city are all well decided. What is unfortunate is how the script forgets so much. Centrally, the whole concept of this flesh eating disease which is infecting tribes, and later revealed, Anna, is kind of tossed to the back burner in favour of Wolfgang and Heinrich's beef. Honestly, the tribes could have been used far better, since they attack constantly and cannibalism is only hinted at.

The movie isn't kind to its cast. Characters are killed almost without apology and reason, which makes it watchable because you do not know who will walk away from this one hour and forty seven minutes. A lot of films then, and more so now, will give star billing to big name stars and use them wastefully or as cameos. River of Death uses them. Vaughn is only really around at the start and finish, however, Pleasence steals a lot of the show, as does Herbert Lom as the corrupt chief of police. In fact, Michael Dudikoff performs well because his hero has a lot of flaws -- he isn't indestructible and shows signs of cowardice near the beginning of his adventures. That's refreshing. Western veteran, L.Q Jones, as Hiller, seems to have the time of his life (so does Lom in fact) but the rest of the cast sort of fade before these personalities. It's one of those films where the women are forgettable aside from Nazi Hunter, Dalia (Foziah Davidson) whom is a serious faced fighter. Her character and Pare are dispatched a little too quietly and pointlessly. As I said earlier, this film isn't kind to those who live inside it.

River of Death is cool and recommended. It has the feel of the classic Italian cannibal movies plus boys own adventure type glossary. To me, it felt like Django Strikes Again (1987) because there were similar structures in the sets and the looks of some characters. I don't just mean that our old pal, Donald Pleasence was also in that one.

The 88 Films Blu-ray release of River of Death comes with a crispy picture and sound quality, and a 51minute interview with director, Steve (Lone Wolfe McQuade, Big Bad Mama) Carver. There's a mandatory trailer, stills and a selection of other film trailers. River of Death, along with so many other Cannon flicks (Runaway Train, Lifeforce , Invasion USA and many others) is just simply great late night entertainment. Let's not forget, Cannon dominated and owned a lot of living rooms and cinemas throughout the 1980s. It was due to films like this.




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 Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16:9 1080p HD MPEG-4 AVC
 Region: B
 Audio: English: LPCM 2.0

 – Steve Carver Interview (51mins)
 – Stills Gallery
 – River of Death Trailer
 – 88 Films Trailer Reel


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