In the Amazon, natives are dying of a mysterious disease. Could it have anything to do with a German war criminal named Wolfgang (played by Robert Vaughn) who is living in a cave that is decorated with a Nazi flag? A scientist (Victor Melleney) and his daughter, Anna (Sarah Maur Thorp), are determined to find out. They hire a tough explorer, John Hamilton (Michael Dudikoff), to lead them up the river but John does not do a very good job because the scientist ends up dead and Anna ends up kidnapped.
Everyone tells John to forget about Anna. Colonel Diaz (Herbert Lom) says that she is dead. John’s best friend, an arms dealer named Eddie (L.Q. Jones), says that she’s dead. John refuses to accept that and he organizes an expedition to help track them down. A strange man (Donald Pleasence) and his assistant (Cynthia Erland) approach John and offer to help. What John does not know is that the man is actually Heinrich Spaatz, yet another Nazi war criminal.
River of Death is a ridiculous movie but it is entertaining in a way that only a late 80s Michael Dudikoff movie can be. Though River of Death was a Cannon film, it was produced by the legendary Harry Alan Towers, which is probably why the production standards are higher than the average Menahem Golan quickie. Dudikoff does a passable imitation of Indiana Jones (and he even gets to do some Apocalypse Now-style narrating) but the real reason to watch the film is to watch veteran actors like Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, and L.Q. Jones ham it up. Vaughn doesn’t even attempt to sound German while Pleasence gives a performance that is strange even by his own considerable standards.
One final note: River of Death was the second-to-last film directed by Steve Carver, who also did Capone, and Big Bad Mama, along with helping to make Chuck Norris a star by directing Lone Wolf McQuade and An Eye For An Eye.