While jungle thrillers weren’t exactly a new premise in the mid ’80s, it wasn’t until a steady stream of low-budget filmmakers began to take advantage of the cheap but exotic locations and even cheaper extras far-off locations such as the Philippines or Brazil had to offer. The main perpetrators behind these adventure pictures were usually of an Italian origin; their premises were usually gory cannibal yarns, Nazisploitation features, James Bond ripoffs, or women in prison flicks. Their completed product usually bordering somewhere between obscenely unwatchable and utterly incompetent, their international box office receipts proved otherwise to investors. This, of course, prompted filmmakers from other countries to try cooking up cinematic delicacies with the same recipes.
In the instance of the 1986 West German adventure Hell Hunters, said recipe is truly that of a disaster, and, even after having had a chance to settle and cool off for the last thirty years, still tastes like it was only half-baked to begin with. No doubt conceived and constructed entirely on a wager in order verify the Germans could make a jungle thriller just as bad as their Italian cousins, Hell Hunters is one of the clumsiest European exports I have ever seen; its ineptitude ranking just above late Filipino exploitation guru Teddy Page’s most determined competitors. The culprit behind this atrocity, Ernst R. von Theumer, was no stranger to the jungle by this point, having produced and directed several jungle-bound women in prison flicks right before this one.
Here, von Theumer leans towards the Nazisploitation angle in a sordid jungle offering which starts out with top-billed marquee star Maud Adams ‒ a frequent flier in the unemployment line ‒ being killed off by the baddies (and I don’t think I have to point out how low a movie’s budget must be if it can’t afford Maud Adams for its entire three-day shooting schedule!). Prior to her dispatchment, however, Maud commands what little grace Hell Hunters embodies as a determined Nazi hunter who has recently married Karl (William Berger), the nephew of wanted war criminal Martin Hoffman (Stewart Granger, who lovingly chews up every scene he’s in as though it were his last), who has been hiding out in the jungles of South America since the end of World War II (à la Joseph Mengele).
Following Maud’s demise, her onscreen daughter, as played by doomed starlet Candice Daly (in her first big role, which she followed-up with After Death, an Italian zombie flick filmed in the jungles of the Philippines), reluctantly teams up with a wisecracking Rômulo Arantes (who died in a plane crash in 2000) to track down the party responsible; it’s a Nazi Party, if you will! And, back at Granger’s remote ranch, he really ishaving a Nazi party ‒ having gathered all of his dear old friends (including a briefly used ex-James Bond, George Lazenby, who phones it in like only post-007 George Lazenby can do) to watch old propaganda footage before he makes his big announcement: he has discovered a spider venom with which he can take over the free will of the whole world with!
Even dumber than it sounds, Hell Hunters seems uncertain as to whether or not it is supposed to take itself seriously. Most of Daly and Arantes’ scenes together have them bickering back and forth via terribly-written snappy dialogue, which Herr von Theumer apparently translated from his native language via Bing. Our director/producer/co-writer also appears to have mixed his medication with alcohol during the editing process: witness the hilariously bad timing and cutaway scenes, all of which you could gently glide an 18-wheeler through ‒ lengthwise, at that. This, naturally, makes for some of the funniest action sequences ever filmed: one poor sod gets blown away by an exploding grenade about three seconds too late after the device goes off directly in front of him (and he’s the only one on-camera!).
Toss in a painfully hammy Russ McCubbin (Sudden Impact) as the redneck mercenary equivalent of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws, who stoops so low as to look directly into the camera when he makes his awful quips; Eduardo Conde as a balding unibrowed assassin with a ponytail; and a heroine (Nelia J. Cozza) who doesn’t even get billing in the film (!) and a music score that sounds like somebody’s iPhone alert is going off every now and then, and you have one of the worst jungle adventures since the last one. Worse still is Film Chest’s North American DVD debut of this seldom-seen atrocity. Claiming to be “Restored in HD from Original 35mm Print,” the transfer here is hardly High-Definition, and the whole “restored” bit seems like a bit of a stretch.
While I cannot say if the video really was sourced from 35mm or not, the audio for Hell Hunters sounds as if it someone ripped it from a VHS and then set the noise filter to 11. The resulting mess is a tinny, often unbearable track which I suspect was actually a fandub (where one takes the audio track from one source, usually videocassette, and syncs it up to a foreign-language video presentation). Personally, it looks like a foreign-language PAL DVD or TV broadcast that had been converted to NTSC and fandubbed (think One 7 Movie’s terrible release of Nosferatu in Venice, only slightly better). But at least the A/V aspects are better than Film Chest’s appallingly generic menu, which looks like it was made with free online DVD manufacturing software.
Yes, Hell Hunters is bad. But it is just bad enough to garner a few solid laughs from anyone who has the misfortune of seeing it. If nothing else, there’s a scene where two topless Brazilian ladies in thongs kick a midget back-and-forth between them, which was most likely accidentally caught on camera (and is better than the actual movie itself in most respects). Ultimately, I’m torn on the final verdict here. On one hand, I am more than moderately offended by the terrible audio and subpar video (to say nothing of the cringeworthy feature film itself). Then again, on the other hand, if this really is the most anyone is willing to commit to preserving this very guilty pleasure picture after 30 years, well then so be it, right?
Of course, that’s all providing you’re just desperate enough for entertainment that you want to check out something like Hell Hunters in the first place.