A Trap Escapes
Alamo Drafthouse’s Video Vortex unleashes jungle trap
There are lost films, and then there is madcap 1990 sleaze-supernatural-shocker Jungle Trap. When the Alamo Drafthouse screens the exploitation oddity this Sunday, it will be a magical moment for Joseph Ziemba, who has shepherded its restoration. He said, "It was a dream come true that I didn't know I'd ever dreamed about."
It's a sad truth that a massive percentage of movies released on VHS have never been re-released on DVD or Blu-ray, and little beyond their salacious box art remains. Yet no one, except director James Bryan and his crew, had even heard of Jungle Trap. Not even Ziemba, and he'd founded his Bleeding Skull! video distribution and the Drafthouse's Video Vortex series to celebrate exactly this kind of under-the-radar title.
Yet he knew who Bryan was. Most famous to horror fans for his 1981 gonzo slasher Don't Go in the Woods, for Ziemba he sits in the outsider filmmaker pantheon alongside Ed Wood and Doris Wishman. In 1990, Bryan and longtime collaborator Renee Harmon reunited for a crazed mix of tribal curses and OTT delivery, shot on weekends at the house Harmon inherited from her mother, using tree trimmings for jungle foliage, and the landscapers that delivered them as extras. After filming, Bryan said, "Renee and I worked individually on it for a long time, and finally I gave it over to her and said, 'I didn't have a clue where to put it or who to send it to.'"
That's where the trail goes cold for 27 years.
Ziemba could reasonably think he'd struck the Bryan mother lode in 2014, when a friend found a VHS copy of the director's unreleased 1987 Run Coyote Run in the trunk of an abandoned car in California. But he was in for an even bigger surprise when his Skull kill crew visited Bryan's home in Lufkin, Texas, to pick up the original Run Coyote Run masters. Ziemba said, "We were looking through his film barn, and checking out all his posters and negatives ..."
Hold up. Film barn?
"It's like an airplane hangar," Ziemba said, filled with giant blue plastic bins that Bryan hauled back from L.A., and at the bottom of one was Bryan's incomplete edit of Jungle Trap. Ziemba and fellow Skullers Zack Carlson and Annie Choi took it home and popped the tape in the machine. "We were all looking at each other and asking, 'This is actually a good movie, right?' So we asked Jim if he would be interested in having us help him work on it and finish it after 27 years, and he was down to do it."
So, after nearly three decades boxed in an East Texas barn, Jungle Trap sees the screen, with a finalized edit by Austin filmmaker Don Swaynos, and a new synthesizer soundtrack by Choi and Ziemba, all approved by Bryan. "That's what's exciting about Bleeding Skull!," the director said. "There's this growing band of people who are interested in films like that, from the VHS days, that never got finished. Jungle Trap wasn't the only one. There are lots of films out there that are just left hanging."
– Richard Whittaker
Video Vortex presents Jungle Trap with James Bryan and star Heidi Ahn in attendance, at Alamo South Lamar, July 23, 7pm.