The Lost Empire

Director: Jim Wynorski                    
Melanie Vincz, Raven De La Croix, Angela Aames

All of us, at one time or another, have desired to see a beautiful blonde buxom bimbo kick a killer gorilla in the balls, and subsequently see the gorilla collapse to the ground, moaning in pain. I'm pleased to announce that I've found a movie with such a scene - The Lost Empire, which happens to be the film debut of B movie director Jim Wynorski, who is better known for his Roger Corman-produced movies (including Dinosaur Island, Hard To Die, and Body Chemistry 3 and 4.) Now, I'm sure a lot of you out there don't consider Wynorski much better than Albert Pyun, and I understand that very well - I've suffered through a few of his movies myself. Many of his movies are intentionally campy, but intentional camp is a very difficult thing to do, and as a result, these movies falls flat. As you've probably guessed from the opening sentence of this review, The Lost Empire has its share of intentionally campy moments. Surprisingly, though, the movie bucks the odds and ends up being a pleasant and goofy little romp. It's ridiculous, but it's filmed with affection for both the characters and the audience it was made for. And surprisingly, it's ambitious as well.

The lead character of The Lost Empire is "Angel", first seen pulling a Dirty Harry when some criminals take children hostage at a school. Angel, wearing a leather jacket and a helmet with the visor down, races into the school on a motorbike and blows away the creeps with a magnum. Then we have the required scene where Angel takes off the helmet to reveal to our surprise that Angel is a woman!!!!!! (Well, since actress Vincz was given first credit, it didn't come as a surprise to me.) After she leaves the building, she learns that her cop brother was fatally injured during a nighttime antique store robbery by a team of ninjas armed with yo-yo throwing stars. Being a devout Christian, she decides to forgive and forget - just kidding. Of course, she swears revenge.

She gets help from her FBI boyfriend, whose name I don't think is ever mentioned. After we get the old "Is that your gun or..." routine, he and a fellow named Charles Chang (a Hong Kong policeman with a Fu Manchu mustache) blabber some nonsense that's supposed to pose as an explanation. Apparently, a Dr. Sin Do (Angus Scrimm, "The Tall Man" from Phantasm) was searching for something at that antique store that would help him take over the world. Currently, he lives on an island fortress that is off limits to all - but wouldn't you know it, he's having an Enter The Dragon(*) type tournament for women in a few days! Angel recruits two other females to help her - "White Star" (De La Croix), a big breasted Native American with a very low cut top; and Heather (Aames), an inmate at a prison who is first seen in a mud puddle cat fight with another prisoner. Together they head to the island, to find who knows what.

And what they find and encounter is even sillier and more entertaining than what's happened before. Viewers will have fun seeing numerous movie references from this point on in The Lost Empire. There are many James Bond in-jokes (not just Dr. No), but references to a range of movies, from Flash Gordon to Chariots of Fire. The nudity also starts coming around this point in the movie. Although there aren't many nude scenes in this movie, they are all very memorable; each nude scene is not only lengthy, but the means in which the makers of this movie get the women to take and keep off their clothes is very funny (Aames' nude sequence is a real hoot.) There are wonderful ineptly choreographed fight sequences; cheesy lines, like when one woman says, "Ew, gross me out!" when someone nearby is graphically killed; an "ultimate weapon" which will make you howl with laughter when you see it because of its very phallic look; plus there are machine-gun wielding monks, gratuitous use of spaghetti western music, women constantly muttering "asshole" under their breaths, and much more. It's all pretty much played straight (though the last half hour is somewhat more campy), so instead of the movie annoying us with an oh-aren't-we-so-clever attitude, we are tickled by the movie's own acknowledgment of its own silliness.

The Lost Empire is already pretty entertaining with all of this hilarious material, both intentional and unintentional. Strange as it may seem, there is a healthy amount of merit on the serious side as well. Though this was a low budget movie, it is obvious that they had more money to spend here as usual. There are cost-cutting methods here (stock footage, some linking material missing), but many scenes look more lavish than you'd expect them to be. Even the opening credits, inexpensive as they are, look like care was put into them. Scenes that need a lot of people in the background actually do have a lot of people in the background. There always seems to be enough props in every location - some locations (like the isolated part of the airport) that didn't really need any real set dressing got it anyway, and this was a thoughtful touch. Dr. Sin Do's fortress has the most care - we're treated to two matte paintings, some model work that would impress the Japanese, and a few underground sets that aren't bad. Other locations in the movie are numerous and filled with variety. With all this extra effort placed in the locations and the special effects, the movie - and I know this will be hard to believe - builds an almost epic feel to it. I don't know if this is what Wynorski was intending, but his handling of everything almost makes this movie a kind of B grade Lawrence of Arabia. Anyway, this movie (which he also wrote the screenplay for) was an auspicious start, and looking at his subsequent work, one has to ask, "What happened?" (The most plausible answer seems to be "Roger Corman happened by....")

Renters who come across this little lost movie will be both entertained and impressed. There only seem to be three things they might object to: (1) The sound quality is sometimes so bad, they may have to increase the volume at certain points to hear the dialogue,  (2) Though the acting level is generally adequate (sometimes even a bit better than average), the acting starts to fall apart in the last half hour, and (3) Scrimm is hardly seen at all in the movie (you just hear his voice offscreen for the most part.) And when you do see him, his voice seems to have been dubbed. If you can live with those three things, it's pretty much certain that you'll really enjoy The Lost Empire. If not, maybe the chance of seeing the theatrical trailer for the 1978 George Kennedy film Mean Dog Blues, which is right after the end credits, will sweeten the pot for the few dissenters out there.

* The Psychotronic Video Guide erroneously claims The Lost Empire takes its cue from The Game Of Death - one of many such big boo-boos in the book. Has anyone else noticed how much incorrect information is in this guide?

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Also: Warriors Of The Apocalypse, Mistress Of The World, Stryker