Jungle Captive/The Jungle Captive/Wild Jungle Captive (1944) **
So far, the saga of Paula the Ape-Woman has been full of surprises. Actually, no... that’s not quite right. Better to say that it has proven heavily laden with examples of one particular surprise. To wit: both Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Woman startlingly failed to suck without mercy. But when I slipped that borrowed copy of Jungle Captive— episode three in the series— into my VCR, I still had my hopes set awfully low, for I had already had a look at the movie’s copyright date, and I knew that it had been released later the same year as the preceding film. As I’ve discussed at length in previous reviews, this is pretty much the kiss of death for any sequel. And thus it was that Jungle Captive confronted me with the biggest surprise of all: although it is the worst of the bunch by a comfortable margin, the levels of suckage to be found in this movie are far below what one would ordinarily expect from a sequel made less than a year after its immediate predecessor.
When we last left ape-woman Paula Dupree (who will be played by Vicki Lane this time around— is it really possible that Acquanetta had something better to do?!), she had been killed a second time with an overdose of tranquilizers. Soon thereafter, the morgue to which she was sent receives a late-night visit from a strikingly ugly man in a black trench coat (Rondo Hatton, from House of Horrors and The Brute Man— the Michael Berryman of the 1940’s). He tells the attendant that he has come to collect Paula’s body for the local university, which has already secured permission to perform a special autopsy on her, and the attendant obligingly shows him to Paula’s locker. But when he hears that it will be necessary to inform the police of the pickup, the man from the university becomes extremely agitated; he creeps up behind the morgue attendant and strangles him to death. Then, when the real pickup men from the university arrive, the killer herds them at gunpoint into a closet, and locks them inside. He then loads Paula into their ambulance, and drives off in it; the vehicle winds up a burning hulk at the bottom of a ravine after the body snatcher drops Paula off at a secluded mansion guarded by a number of big, ferocious dogs.
Elsewhere in the city, we are introduced to endocrinologist Dr. Stendahl (Otto Kruger, from Dracula’s Daughter and The Colossus of New York) and his assistants, Ann Forrester (Amelita Ward) and Don Young (Weird Woman’s Phil Brown, who would play Luke’s uncle Owen in Star Wars three decades later). Stendahl’s big research project has to do with using blood transfusions and the direct electrical stimulation of the heart to restore life to dead bodies (‘cause, you know, that’s what endocrinology is all about...), and when we first see him, he is in the midst of enjoying his first real success. Using his Amazing Electric Needletm, he brings the biggest fucking rabbit you’ve ever seen (the ones from Night of the Lepus excepted, of course) back to somewhat lethargic life. Then he packs up some stuff and runs off, telling Don and Ann that he needs to meet with another doctor about something or other.
Stendahl thus isn’t around when the disturbingly oily Detective Harrigan (Jerome Cowan, from Black Zoo and Fog Island) drops by with a torn-up surgical smock. Harrigan is handling the case of Paula’s corpse-napping; the smock was found near the burned-out wreck of the university meat-wagon. He has Don try on the smock— to “get an idea how big the man who wore it would have been,” or so he claims— and then asks the two lab assistants some questions about who they are, where they live, and what they were up to the night before. You see, though Harrigan says nothing about this at the time, he has noticed that Don’s smock bears the same laundry mark as the torn one from the ambulance. Do you get the feeling Don and Ann may soon find that Don’s medical residency is the least of the obstacles standing between them and their planned marriage?
In fact, it turns out they’ve got a bigger problem even than Harrigan’s investigation. Later that day, Stendahl returns from his errand, and asks Ann to accompany him on another one. Stendahl has apparently arranged to visit yet another colleague, who lives on a remote estate somewhere out in the countryside. He and Ann arrive shortly after nightfall, and the first sign that something isn’t quite kosher comes in the form of the pack of vicious guard-dogs that surround the other doctor’s house. But the real clincher is the man who answers the door when Stendahl knocks. That’s right— it’s the deformed body-snatcher from the opening scene. It turns out his name is Moloch, and he’s an assistant to Stendahl’s colleague. Stendahl’s non-existent colleague, who’s really just a cover story for a line of experiments even more threatening to the medical/scientific status quo than raising bunnies from the dead. Yeah. “Uh-oh” is right. Stendahl wants to try out his Amazing Electric Needletm on Paula the Ape-Woman, but to do that, he’s going to have to give her a complete change of blood first; if Ann doesn’t want to donate, well that’s just too fucking bad.
The rest of the movie’s meager running time has Don searching for his vanished fiancee, while Harrigan closes in on the murderous corpse-napper he correctly believes is operating out of Stendahl’s offices. But will the detective assemble the clues so that the finger of blame points in the right direction? Meanwhile, Stendahl’s ultimately successful efforts to revive Paula put Ann in ever-increasing jeopardy— especially after the resurrected ape-woman starts acting like she could use a new brain! And just to make life that much more complicated for everybody, Moloch develops the usual movie-monster hard-on for the pretty girl in the mad scientist’s captivity, becoming ever less willing to cooperate with Stendahl at Ann’s expense. The climax ends up looking an awful lot like those of the mummy movies Universal was making at the same time.
Jungle Captive lacks much of the entertainment value of the preceding films, but it has two major points in its favor. First, it is unexpectedly free of footage lifted from other movies. The implication here is that more time, work, and forethought went into producing the film than had been devoted to its two predecessors, an implication that is borne out by the relatively high apparent quality of the script and the drastically improved ape-woman makeup. None of that saves this movie from coming across as a rather tired retread to someone who’s already seen the preceding two films, mind you, but were it not for certain obvious details of the story, you’d almost think the series order went: Jungle Captive, Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman. Which leads me to the second big selling point of Jungle Captive, and indeed of the whole trilogy. In marked contrast to the other Universal horror franchises, the tale of Paula the Ape-Woman remains internally consistent from one movie to the next. While the Frankenstein films were plagued by name-changes for characters and locations, magically mobile mad labs, and a series timeline that was really more of a time-pretzel, the ape-woman flicks keep their story straight all the way through. The only inconsistency of the sort that characterized all of the other Universal horror sagas is the replacement of Acquanetta with the even more somnambulant Vicki Lane in the final installment’s title role. And considering how little time Paula spends alive this time around, that’s something I can live with.