Some days I feel a little old. Like when I tell my kids I am going into the garage to listen to some ‘records’ and they look at me like I am speaking Swahili! (And before you ask its Electric Wizard NOT Electric Light Orchestra that pummels my eardrums ok?!). But at least I am not from an era when serials used to play at the local cinema. Back in the 1950’s, Republic pictures were one of the leading purveyors of the ‘movie serial’. Seventy odd years later, Cheezy Flicks are now proud to serve up an archetypical yarn riddled with cliff hangers and lunacy with their DVD, THE JUNGLE DRUMS OF AFRICA!

The serialization is centred on Alan King (Clayton Moore) and Burt Hadley (Jonny Spencer), two speculators who are in Africa prospecting for Uranium. It doesn’t take them long however to find some rather nefarious competition in the form of Kurgan (Henry Rowland) and the local witchdoctor Neganto (Roy Glenn). It is during one of these ambushes that they duo team up with Carol Bryant (Phyllis Coates), the daughter of a recently deceased medical missionary.

Together they trawl the African outback with the objective of securing the rights to the potentially lucrative Uranium mines. But their undertaking is riddled with danger. If the local wildlife, plotting thieves and a jealous, if truth be told downright paranoid, witchdoctor to contend with is not enough, there is still the odd bit of heinous voodoo to evade as well. Will good triumph over evil?? Without watching the series I think we know the answer to that but the questions is not ‘will’ but ‘how’? And I wonder if a certain Mr Argento drew any inspiration from the mischievous unsung hero from this chaotic tale…

I actually watched the entire disc in one sitting (toilet and ‘munchie’ breaks don’t count!). Surprisingly, the 167 minute runtime was nowhere near the feat of endurance I imagined it to be due to the ludicrous amount of fun on show.

I think a big reason for this was the way it was divided up into a dozen palatable chunks of mayhem. The initial episode is around 20 minutes, with the subsequent ones weighing in at about 13 minutes. Bear in mind that each instalment was obliged to end on a crisis ridden predicament, so there was no shortage of action (or laughs) to retain interest. These cliff hangers were obviously settled with consummate ease within the opening seconds of the next episode, usually by a lurking helping hand that was cunningly not included when the dilemma’s construction was initially presented to the viewer!

Of course some resolutions went a step further. For example; what do you do when you are faced with a ravenous tiger eager to rip you limb from limb with its razor sharp claws? Why you simply shoulder barge the overgrown moggy into the trap you made earlier! Simple eh?

Star of the show had to be the black magic charlatan and rather disgruntled witchdoctor Neganto. To be honest, when the leader of your own tribe, in this case Chief Douanga, refers to your rituals as "voodoo mumbo jumbo" you know it’s time to hang up the ole dolls so to speak! Unlike his boss, who although African born and bred spoke in a wonderfully eloquent English accent, Neganto was limited to such dialogue as "2 white men…. two guns…. truck stop arrows…. no good!" But his real peach of a moment came when he thought that his magic had actually worked and he had conjured up a "Devil Beast". Oh how he threatened our protagonists with ‘Devil Beast’ this and ‘Devil Beast’ that, but then alluded to the fact it was actually ‘a big leopard with stripes’. Apparently no one had the heart to tell him it was a fucking tiger!

Over the near 3 hours entertainment, that vintage B-Movie attitude was patently evident throughout. The battle scenes when bow and arrows are employed are hardly convincing when arrows are limply thrown by someone behind the camera! Watching the series in such quick succession it became a little obvious that most of the shoot outs involving arrows and bullets were simply going to be resolved by the ‘baddies’ just running away for some explicable reason.

But when things get really nasty, such as when King and Hadley are fending off a lion: rather than lacerate their faces; the beast actually aims a punch at one of them to the tune of an exaggerated "Pshh" fist fight sound effect!

Even with all this pandemonium occurring there was still time for a little padding here and there. Stock footage of some antiquated wildlife clips was liberally sprinkled throughout. I didn’t mind that so much (I mean who can’t appreciate a good honest ruck between a male Lion and a big leopard with stripes) but I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the tenth instalment. Episode 10 was simply made up of clips from the earlier episodes as the trio recollect what has happened so far. I think that would have had me demanding my hard earned shillings back had I have moseyed on down to the local multiplex on week 10.

The disc itself is not exactly remastered. It appears to have been sourced from the previously available VHS compilation of the series judging by the blurring and interference at the bottom of the screen that is evident in the earlier episodes. These instances literally only occur a couple of times and don’t hamper the viewing to any large extent in truth. The Mono audio also comes across as a little muffled but considering the age and rarity of the footage (not to mention the fact the plot is hardly loaded with complexities!) this is understandable and forgivable.

All in all I found watching the series to be surprisingly addictive. I can’t decide whether it was the plethora of fist fights (with a seemingly endless supplies of chairs made from Balsa wood) or the fact that point blank knife attacks always ended in failure. But I do know this, if I am ever faced with a ferocious tiger baying for my blood, all I need to do is cover my face and someone is bound to appear and shoo the blighter away!

Last word though has to explain the Dario Argento reference from my opening gambit. After watching the JUNGLE DRUMS OF AFRICA and revelling in the heroics of Nicky the fearless yet mischievous chimpanzee, watching PHENOMENA will never be the same again…

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by CHEEZY
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review