In 1945 a band of Japanese soldiers are attacked by cannibals whilst hiding a fortune in gold somewhere in the Filipino jungle. Thirty-six years later, dastardly treasure hunter Rex Larson (Edmund Purdom) tracks down the survivors, hoping to persuade one of them to hand him the map in return for a half-share. After the first man tries to kill him and the second takes his own life, Larson eventually convinces Tobachi (Harold Sakata) to join the search, but his financier, Douglas Jefferson (David De Martyn) insists on coming along together with his relentlessly cheery daughter Janice (Glynis Barber) and bodyguard Cal (Woody Strode). Jefferson also requests that temperamental alcoholic Mark Forrest (Stuart Whitman) serve as their guide, since it is always a good idea to bring along a belligerent drunk to negotiate those tricky jungle climbs.
Also known as Invaders of the Lost Gold (how can you invade gold?), this cheap and cheerful jungle romp was produced by the infamous, globe-hopping trash movie mogul Dick Randall, who cameos as a dirty old man in the strip joint where we first meet Mark. Compared to nasty, misogynistic Italian cannibal thrillers, Horror Safari is a curiously old fashioned, borderline good natured adventure quickie laced with lurid sex and gore. Alongside down-on-their-luck matinee idols Stuart Whitman and Edmund Purdom (looking genuinely angry to be here), Randall roped in a juicy exploitation cast of has-beens and never weres. Look kids, there’s Harold Sakata who was Bond villain Odd-Job in Goldfinger (1964), playing a karate expert who doesn’t do any. Woody Strode, veteran of John Ford westerns, wearing a ridiculous hat. Glynis Barber, future star of Eighties cop show Dempsey & Makepeace, rates an “and introducing” credit, though she would probably rather forget about this movie.
Another star (of a sort) on the wane and along for the ride is onetime Emmanuelle and Euro sex siren Laura Gemser. Quite why Mark chose to bring her character along is never entirely clear, unless he saw Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and figured history might repeat itself with a chance to get laid. Mark has no such luck since Gemser goes skinny-dipping near a waterfall and dies under mysterious circumstances. Nevertheless, every woman around seems irresistibly drawn to Mark in spite of him being beer bloated and bleary-eyed, as well as unable to decide whether his accent is British or American. New Zealand born director Alan Birkinshaw dawdles through the set-up with bar brawls and corny dialogue delaying the descent into jungle madness, although the film still proves low on thrills and high on soap opera subplots. The sound recording is especially poor and quite often vanishes from the film entirely. At least twenty percent of Whitman's dialogue appears to have been dubbed by another performer while Woody Strode's voice was replaced entirely, and inexplicably for that matter.
Birkinshaw was a former rodeo rider whose career vacillated between trashy horrors like Killer’s Moon (1978) and classical music documentaries including The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan (1983) and An Orchestral Tribute to the Beatles (1983). He wound up working for another sultan of schlock: Harry Allan Towers, on remakes of Ten Little Indians (1989) and Masque of the Red Death (1991), the former of which is especially apt given this film is more or less Ten Little Indians on safari. Rex Larson vanishes soon after a suspected crocodile attack and a mysterious killer begins bumping off the treasure hunters, one by one. Sakata gets his throat slit. Strode falls off rope-bridge that must be all of four feet off the ground. Whenever a killing occurs, Birkinshaw opts for a super slow-motion, frame-by-frame technique that only adds to the absurdity. Mucho macho Stuart Whitman stays alive but often looks like he wishes he were dead. Remarkably, he went through the whole ordeal again three years later in the livelier remake Treasure of the Amazon (1985).