The artsy-fartsy title of In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro obscures what is in fact a rampaging animal-fest that should more accurately be called Night of the Primates, or perhaps Red-Assed Terror. The plot boils down to two words: killer baboons. It’s a fictionalized account of a true-life 1984 African drought that so diminished the apes’ food supply that they took to attacking and eating people.
Boldly going where B.J. and the Bear refused to tread, Kilimanjaro delves into the savagery of the animal kingdom and reveals what most of us have long assumed: that monkey-human interaction is way more entertaining than human-human interaction. Too bad that in this movie, the latter outnumbers the former by about 8 to 1.
Since the film is set in Kenya, black characters abound, but they’re treated with an alarmingly dismissive air. Only two of them — ballsy American miner Julius (Don Blakely) and uptight Kenyan officer Tshombe (Carl Vundla) — are deemed worthy of mention in the final credits. Even white character Gagnon gets listed, and he doesn’t even have a line of dialogue! Meanwhile, local schoolteacher Linda and regional government-type Mombuse, who are central to a couple of major scenes, are nowhere to be found. Ditto with at least four other black actors and actresses who each star in a death scene. Anonymous death, thy name is African villager…
As for the action, there’s not a whole lot of it: three or four isolated attacks before the inevitable mass invasion that our intrepid white hero Jack (Timothy Bottoms) has been warning everyone about. Whether or not you find the sight of baboons scary depends on your personal phobias and/or you previous experiences with enraged Mandrills (I hear the bass player has quite a temper), but the filmmakers do manage to craft a few chilling scenes of baboon mobs in full sprint after their human victims. Who knows how they managed to get the animals to run so pointedly; although the film includes a disclaimer vowing no mistreatment, you have to believe it involved some hot pokers to the anus.