Hey, folks, it’s the first of five–collect ’em all–Massive Monkey Monday reviews!
Plot: Mad Medico manufactures massive monkey.
Of numerous giant ape movies over the years, not all of them have sucked. For instance, you might have heard of a little picture called…Son of Kong (1933). It featured a really cute little giant albino ape who fought a large bear. Oh, and that film itself was a sequel to a movie called King Kong (1933), which itself remains popular in some circles. As well, there’s the cult classic Mighty Joe Young (1949). The real one, not the recent Charlize Theron remake.
Still, it says something about the Giant Ape subgenre that a cheesy number like Konga is easily better than four other examples I’ll (hopefully) be examining this month. This doesn’t even count the bulk of desultory King Kong movies. Aside from the previously reviewed animated musical The Mighty Kong (1998), these include Kong’s two Toho appearances: 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla — OK, OK, that one’s a pretty bitchin’ movie — and the somewhat less successful King Kong Escapes (1967). The latter was a tie-in with a typically uninspired Saturday morning cartoon series. In this Kong become more or less Gentle Ben. Unfortunately (?), rights issues for the character kept him from appearing in Toho’s classic monsterthon Destroy All Monsters (1968).
I’m not sure I remember what it was King Kong escaped from, but unfortunately it wasn’t producer Dino De Laurentiis. Dueling versions of the story were announced in the mid ’70s, after the rights to the original became free. The De Laurentiis King Kong (1976) went forward while the other was bought out in the pre-production stage. After the film came out to nearly universal grumblings, much debate ensued about whether the other version would have been more successful. This remains one of the great “What if?” questions in cinema history.
Figuring that a lame Kong picture wasn’t good enough, De Laurentiis decided to make an outright terrible one. The result was King Kong Lives (1986). More on that in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the late ’50s and early ’60s saw the giant monster vogue hit Europe. 1957 witnessed a giant Ymir running rampant through the streets of Rome. That same year saw bugs in England mutating to huge sizes due to the influence of cosmic rays. In 1959 a space yeti ran amok in Sweden. The Giant Behemoth rampaged through London in 1959, a city plagued by similar incidents two years later involving our current subject and Gorgo and his mum. 1961 was a busy year, in fact, as it also marked the appearance of Reptilicus in Copenhagen. After this frenzied burst of activity, giant beasties mostly stayed where they belonged, which was over in Japan.
Konga starts well. The opening credit sequence was obviously ‘inspired’ by those of master designer Saul Bass and reminiscent of his work on Anatomy of a Murder or Man With the Golden Arm. The insistent score is also pretty good.
The film proper opens on a small plane flying over a jungle. It crashes, exploding into a strangely huge fireball. Radio BBC reports the crash. Assumed dead is passenger Dr. Charles Decker, “famous English botanist.” (Quick, name three others.)
We jump forward a year. Reports of Decker’s survival and return to England dominate the news headlines. (!!) “Famous scientist returns!” screams a newshawker as citizens run up to buy his papers. Decker is assailed by a mob of reporters–well, OK, three of them–as he appears at Heathrow airport. He consents to give an interview. During this, Decker is holding a small monkey, which he incessantly pets and strokes. (Perhaps this was the only way to keep the animal quiet while it was on camera.) Decker is played by urbane genre vet Michael Gough, which is one reason the film works as well as it does.
Decker explains that he bailed from the airplane directly before it crashed. Injured, he crawled off and somehow managed to find a native village. The inhabitants nursed him back to health. After a while he was fit enough to return home, but fantastical forms of life in the region compelled him to stay. “I discovered species of animal growth that I’d never seen before,” he reveals. “It made me think of the crash as a lucky accident. Where else would I get the chance to study such fine specimens of insectivorous plants?”
Asked what he means, he explains that these are “plants with animal properties.” (Well, not really, but anyway.) “They live on insects and small birds,” he continues. “They devour them completely. They need more than air, sun and water. And if I can prove conclusively what I learned from them, we may have to tear up a lot of textbooks.” This pronouncement prompts further inquiries. “I’m on the verge of a revolutionary link between what grows in the earth and animal life,” he boasts.
Asked if he made any other “startling discoveries” in Africa–apparently rewriting all theories on evolution not being enough–he balks at answering. “Perhaps,” he admits. “But at this time, I’d rather not say anything more about it.” Before leaving, he’s asked about the monkey. His name is Konga and Decker adopted him after the animal helped him find the village following the crash.
We next see Decker ensconced back in his rather posh accommodations at Essex College. Drawing a snifter of brandy — what else? — he sits opposite his handsome (if severe), middle-aged housekeeper and lab assistant Margaret. They banter a bit, and it becomes apparent that Margaret was once Decker’s lover. She apparently wishes to resume this relationship, he doesn’t. Since the movie was made in the ’60s, this is all implied rather than overtly stated. That’s OK. No reason us viewers shouldn’t work a bit. Plus it gets the point across for the adults in the audience while sailing it over the heads of the kiddies.
The conversation lobs back and forth. “Now, Margaret, you know there’s very little room for sentiment in the life of a scientist,” Decker wryly avers. (Has any real life scientist ever said anything remotely like this?) She responds that he can turn on the charm when he wishes. He in turn drolly dismisses this ability as “protective adaptation.”
Their discussion is actually an interesting examination of British conversational gambits. Margaret must talk around the subject rather than raising it outright. This is due both to English reserve and because she’s too emotionally invested to risk a direct blow off. Which gives Decker the upper hand, since all he need do is deflect her oblique probes with studied light chat. The best she can do is employ the occasional coolly sarcastic barb, in hopes of breaching his shield of avuncular but impersonal goodwill. He refuses to rise to the bait, though, and she’s stymied.
Margaret’s particularly put off by the fact that Decker’s attention has been mostly directed at Konga. He’s even had an inordinately large cage built for the animal, constructed to the most rigorous specifications. Her sniffs in this matter finally rouse some passion in him. “Through Konga I shall not only dominate a corner of the Earth, but blaze a new trail in Science,” he asserts. “That little chimp will become the first link in modern evolution between plant and animal life.”
Margaret is naturally taken aback by this outburst, even if it is a reserved British outburst. At the same time, she’s clearly pleased to have pierced his reserve. Especially since he implies that her faith is of paramount importance to him. “I can expect skepticism, even mockery, from the outside world,” he pleads. “But from you?” Our suspicion, however, is that he’s tossing her a bone to keep her in his corner. Margaret’s neediness makes her susceptible to manipulation, a fact Decker obviously appreciates. Better, none of this is overplayed. Decker doesn’t turn towards the camera with a secret smirk or anything. It’s assumed we’ll get what he’s up to without having our faces rubbed in it.
Decker then escorts her out to his backyard greenhouse. There, to her dismay, he begins tearing up the plants she’s slavishly tended over the last year. “Charles, you’re being ruthless,” she accuses, a tendency she’d do well to consider in more depth. He has exotic seedlings to put in their place, predicting that they’ll grow quickly once planted. There’s some gobbledygook about the plants having ‘human’ characteristics, whatever that means. This gets back to that plant/animal thing. As you might have gathered, rigorous observance of basic scientific principles won’t be one of the film’s strengths.
Down in his Obligatory Basement Laboratory, Decker puts into practice knowledge given him by the village witch doctor. This involves brewing an Embiggening Formula from the Human Characteristics Plant. Moreover, he tosses in a mind control additive. Boy, those witch doctors know all sort of crap, don’t they? Now if Decker can just assure that the formula gives you minty fresh breath, he’ll really have something.
Margaret still isn’t grokking the new Decker. She lets his pet cat in the lab, whereupon it gets into the formula. (A situation that has “’60s Disney Film” written all over it.) Decker, perhaps fearing hairballs the size of tumbleweeds, fetches the Laboratory Revolver and dispatches the kontaminated kitty. Margaret, naturally, is shocked. “We’re not ready to have a cat the size of a leopard running through the streets,” Decker sneers. Gough, by the way, is one of the screens’ all time great sneerers.
In the greenhouse that night we espy huge meat-eating plants. Some look sort of like big snakes, others seem to be serving platter-shaped Venus flytraps. Decker exalts over their acid-like digestive juices. The leaves of these plants are what make the Embiggening Formula. Then it’s back to the lab. Little Konga is brought from his cage and given a shot of the stuff. This strangely triggers a lap dissolve, and after about two seconds Little Konga has turned into Chimpanzee Konga. I guess I could be snarky and ask what the formula is converting into all that additional mass, but why bother? Margaret is suitably impressed. “What you have done will startle the world,” she predicts. Yeah, you’d think.
Back in the those day, of course, college professors had to actually teach classes, mad or not. (Luckily, once they’ve attained tenure, today’s Mad Scientists can push these duties off on Mad Teaching Assistants.) So we cut to Decker showing home movies of the village he stayed in. I’m not sure where he got the camera for this, but anyway. Oh, wait. “It was a stroke of luck,” he explains, “I could rescue my camera and part of my equipment when I bailed out [of the plane].” Yeah, you’d think.
Class ends, but not before we meet two students. Bob is a hunky but somewhat dim guy in the ’50s Tab Hunter mold. He’s sweet on Sondra, a well-endowed blonde with a big bouffant. She stays behind to assist Decker, who himself apparently (to us anyway) has more than a scientific interest in her. Sondra, for her part, stands by her instructor’s previously stated philosophy. “I expect to go into chemistry and physic after your course,” she informs him. “My studies will come first.” So much for Bob.
Decker goes to meet with Dean–title, not first name — Foster. One thing Decker’s noticeably lacked up to now is Someone Standing In His Way. Dean Foster looks to be assuming that role. Their discussion inevitably leads to the following exchange:
Decker, ranting: “I shall prove conclusively that I can inject the essence of plant cells into the animal bloodstream! Ultimately, I shall be able to change the shape of human beings!!”
Dean Foster: “Stop it, Charles! You’re mad!!”
Dean Foster reveals his intention to recommend that Decker be forced to take an extended academic leave until he regains his senses. Decker responds with the obligatory ‘great men have always been hounded by their inferiors’ speech. “No one,” he warns, “no one, will prevent me giving [my discovery] to the world!” The Dean responds by basically saying, ‘I am so the boss of you,” which garners a blaring trumpet noise. I suspect Dean Foster’s days are numbered.
Back to the Basement Lab. Chimpanzee Konga is shown carrying a tea tray down the stairs. Can no one halt Decker’s mad schemes to create a super-race of chimpanzee domestics? Oh, wait, the music’s telling me that the monkey carrying the tea set is ‘funny.’ OK. Whatever. Margaret is so impressed she gives him a banana. Those exploitative Brits! It’s the Raj, all over again.
Decker sends Margaret off and prepares another shot of the Formula. Another lap dissolve and Chimpanzee Konga has become Ape Suit Guy Konga. As ape suits go it’s about par for the course, given the time period. For what it’s worth, it’s better than the threadbare costumes used in Kong Island or King Kong vs. Godzilla. Not that that says much. You’re never in danger of forgetting that Konga’s a man in a suit, that’s for sure.
As you’ll recall, the Embiggening Formula was leavened with a mind-control additive. This allows Decker to use a penlight to hypnotize Ape Suit Guy Konga. Basically, he says ‘I’m so the boss of you.’ By the way, my hat’s off to Gough. Here he has a completely ridiculous speech wherein he’s supposed to be mesmerizing a fellow in a cheesy gorilla costume with a flashlight. Despite this, he enacts the scene with complete and utter conviction. He doesn’t even afford himself the loincloth of winkingly overplaying it, as a Vincent Price or Bela Lugosi surely would have. If anything, he underplays the scene. I’m not sure how he kept such a straight face throughout all this stuff, but the guy deserves an Oscar or something.
Cut to Dean Foster’s house. (Hmm, I wonder where this is going?) Ape Suit Guy Konga appears outside his study window. He smashes his way in and…exit, Dean Foster. In a country where returning botanists get big play, this event naturally draws a lot of newspaper coverage. By the way, I’m assuming the paper’s other headline, ASTONISHING FUR RAIDS, was meant as a bit of a larff.
Cut to Scotland Yard. (By the way, Scotland “Yard” is actually a regular building, not a lawn as you’d expect.) Detectives are mulling the evidence, which indicates the killer was a powerful animal of some sort. Next Decker is seen in the greenhouse, feeding meat to the Carnivorous Plants. Margaret enters with the newspaper, demanding an explanation for the Dean’s murder. In the end, she loves him too much to turn him in. There’s a book in there somewhere: When Good Women Love Mad Scientists.
Decker, meanwhile, proves a bit nuttier than even we in the audience had suspected. “I’d have had to [commit murder] sooner or later,” he confesses. “I would have been forced to kill someone through Konga. Just to prove I was right, just to make my experiment a success.”
Margaret, at that, isn’t really a good woman. Her biggest regret seems to be that Decker killed a pillar of the community rather than some nobody. “It could have been a charwoman or a streetwalker,” Decker admits. “But Foster threatened my life’s work. Thus, for a double reason he had to be liquidated. Regrettable. But in science, a human being is only a cipher.”
He points out that she’s an accomplice in his work and daren’t go to the police. (I’m not really buying that, but it’s possible he’s only providing her with a straw she’s looking for.) Still, he confides, he’ll give her anything she wishes. Margaret decides to demand that he marry her. She is, she says, tired of people “whispering” about them. (!!) He agrees and she practically swoons. They’ll marry after the term’s over, but until then their engagement must be kept in strict secrecy. She agrees. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, our Mags.
Decker is called in for a conference with Scotland Yard. Part of his strategy for throwing them off is to point out that he is, after all, a Scientist, as too was Dean Foster. “I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with Scientists,” he says, “but they rarely quarrel. They have a way of expunging the personal and the emotional in the interests of Truth.” Man, I love this sort of stuff. Let’s see, according to movies, I’ve learned that Scientists:
Don’t care about money, fame, love or sex. Only The Truth.
Only believe in what they can see, feel or touch.
Will forget to eat if they’re not nagged.
Are pacifists, because violence results from emotion, ignorance and illogic.
Don’t like weapons or people in the military, due to the above. (If violence stems from ignorance and illogic, then violent people must be ignorant and illogical.) Try to hand one a gun, even if a monster is running around, and they’ll invariably react with a look of loathing and by saying, “I’m a scientist.”
Believe that any highly technological race must therefore also be pacifistic.
Decker holds a faculty cocktail party. He pauses to converse with a visiting fellow botanist, Professor Tagore. Tagore, an East Indian, is played by actor George Pastell. Horror movie buffs will remember Pastell and his turban from Hammer’s 1959 version of The Mummy. He played Mehemet Bey, the Egyptian priest of Karnack who seeks Peter Cushing’s life after the latter desecrates a tomb.
Decker is worried to learn that Tagore’s research duplicates his own. Even worse, Tagore is on the verge of making his experiments public. Needless to say, the Professor isn’t long for the world. Helpfully, he invites Decker over for a looksee later than night, even writing out his address for him. “Please knock hard on the door,” he adds, “as I have no servants.” (!!) Boy, this guy’s positively asking to be killed. Still, they’re missing a great bet here. What if Tagore had his own Konga, if not another gorilla then maybe a tiger or something? The two scientists could have set them upon each other, to vast audience edification and amusement.
As you may have noticed, this segment of the movie has nothing to do with anything else. It could be excised without affecting the rest of the film in the least. Still, they needed an hour and a half’s worth of material. Besides, what sort of mad scientist only kills one guy?
By the way, does Decker have a van or something? How exactly is he getting Konga to all these places without drawing attention? Meanwhile, he has evidently instilled in Konga a sense of dramatic timing. Watch how the automaton ape waits for the most theatrical moment to off his master’s erstwhile competitor. Taking the weirdly small sheath of papers that apparently represent all of Tagore’s scientific notes, the two flee.
Actually, Decker does have a large van. He uses it to take his class on a fieldtrip. (I kept hoping someone would protest the back of the van smells like gorilla, but no one did.) He warns everyone that they’ll have to sit on the floor. If a teacher did they today there’d be lawsuits flying all over the place. Konga would be busy killing people for months.
Decker has Sondra sit up front with him as Bob sulks in the back. For good reason, we learn, since Decker takes the opportunity to imply his extracurricular interest in her. Soon they arrive in the woods. Decker sends the students out to collect specimens. Bob and Sondra quarrel, then agree to meet that night to patch things up. Following this, a sudden downpour sends all the kids (save Sondra, who’s still with Decker) running to a nearby cabin. One fellow starts playing some generic twist music on his pocket radio, resulting in a time-wasting dance sequence. OK, we’ve hit a slow spot here, but I assume things will pick up soon.
To Bob’s displeasure, Sondra and Decker run in together, his arm draping his coat over her shoulder. Sondra leads the kids back to the truck. Decker remains behind to shut up the cabin. This gives Bob an opportunity to confront him. The two get into a brawl, in which the brawny lad quickly gets the upper hand. In fact, he nearly strangles Decker to death in his rage. He comes to his senses, but it’s too late. Bob’s sure to join the Konga line now. Hahahahahaha!! The ‘Konga line’!! I made a funny!!
That night we see Bob at dinner with his family. This domestic scene ends when Bob leaves to keep his date with Sondra. He gets no further than the backyard, however, before Konga makes his inevitable appearance and Bob makes his inevitable exit. In a charming scene, his mother and father run outside to find their dead son sprawled on the ground. In a funny scene, we see Konga shambling across a field to where Decker waits. Two bobbies are nearby, which is meant to generate ‘suspense.’ However, since there’s nearly half an hour of movie left they unsurprisingly don’t notice the humungous gorilla running around.
Margaret, for her part, is starting to get concerned over all the dead bodies stacking up. She and Decker yak for a while, while we wait for the inevitable burst of actual stuff to happen as the climax approaches. By the end of this scene we’re down to about twenty minutes, so it can’t be that much farther off.
Margaret’s point that he’s been pushing his luck, however, hits home. Decker reveals his plan to bump off Konga. Now that he knows his formula works, both the growth and the mind control aspects, Konga’s usefulness has ended. As well, the ape is all that ties Decker with the murders. And having the formula means that another Konga can be whipped up in short order, should it be required.
Moreover, now that the bugs are worked out he plans to return to Africa. There we can continue his experiments without having to worry about any authorities peering over his shoulder. (One assumes that his plan involves creating an army of Kongas, given some of his earlier statements. In other words, he’ll be pursuing the same goals as Dr. Muller of Kong Island.)
Under the guise of offering his condolences, Decker invites Sondra over for dinner. (Actually, she doesn’t seem very broken up over Bob’s death. Of course, she took the relationship a lot less seriously than he did.) Afterwards, Decker offers her a tour of the greenhouse. Margaret stays behind to clean up, but her suspicions are aroused. Once there, Decker rants a bit about his own incredible genius. Which is, of course, Mad Scientist foreplay. Suitably aroused, he invites Sondra to go to Africa with him. Following this, his attentions become rather more forceful. This scene is quite unsavory, especially since Decker’s been such a cool customer up to now. Watching him brutishly maul this hysterically crying girl is pretty unpleasant.
Margaret, meanwhile, has been spying on them. She finally understands that, like Konga, she has outlived her usefulness to Decker. (Another facet of the situation is that she can live with Decker’s murdering people, but not his wooing a younger woman.) In a rage–admittedly, a cold British rage — she flees to the laboratory. She enters Konga’s cage with the flashlight and begins programming him.
Margaret finishes, and it’s here the movie moves into a whole other realm. At this point she could have just sent the gorilla up the stairs and into the greenhouse after Decker. The confused beast could kill Margaret first and Decker afterwards. At this point the police arrive and shoot him down or else the greenhouse goes up in flames and takes Konga with it. Had this occurred, this would have been just another killer ape picture.
Instead, Margaret gives Konga another growth shot. Why? Because a giant ape is what they sold the movie with. Cue our last lap dissolve, and Konga grows to maybe fifteen feet in height. Probably due to his getting orders from two people, he now goes a little ape. (Sorry.) He grabs up Margaret, who briefly is transformed into a hilariously obvious rag doll. Ah, magic moments. He then flings her to her death. Exit Margaret.
Cut to outside a miniature model of Decker’s house. Another growth spurt sends Konga, now about thirty feet tall, smashing through the roof. Knocking down the walls, he stealthfully (!!) makes his way over to the adjacent greenhouse. I know Decker’s kind of occupied at the moment, but yeesh. Inside, Sonda is still trying to fend off her lecherous attacker. She almost escapes, but is startled when Konga smashes his hand through the ceiling. She ends up with her arm trapped in one of the giant flytraps, whereupon she presumably dies a horrible death via the formerly established acid-like digestive juices.
Ever since I was a kid this bothered me. This is an older horror movie, and in such people generally die because they’re being ‘punished’ for something. What exactly is Sondra being punished for? Nearly getting raped? Looking at it as an adult, perhaps it’s because she put her career before her man. Even for horror movies that would be pretty harsh, though. More likely the producers just thought they needed a pretty girl to get killed at some point or other. As well, they also had these carnivorous plants, and probably figured they should do something with them. Even so, I’ve always been a little freaked up by this scene and remain so.
Konga grabs Decker, who himself turns into a really crappy doll. Here firefighters arrive, and are a little surprised to see a giant gorilla in the vicinity. Konga then goes on a rather desultory and financially limited rampage through London. It pretty much consists, in fact, of him just walking around with crowds fleeing before him. No buildings are knocked down. Not even the stray car kicked aside. Even with these limitations, the various effects here — mostly bad projection work — probably didn’t convince many viewers over the age of five.
Still, hey, giant ape. Am I right?
The cops start mobilizing and also request that troops be sent in. Meanwhile, Konga keeps growing larger. I think. Inevitably, this being London, Konga ends up standing before Big Ben. Hey, Konga, why not just wear a gigantic T-Shirt that reads, “I’m a Tourist!” To my vast amusement, the background music here goes into a blatant rip-off of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla Theme.
The troops arrive, and despite the fact that Konga’s not really doing anything, they open fire. We see tracer bullets from a .50 caliber heavy machine gun etch the sky. I wondered why the gunners couldn’t hit a sixty-foot ape when you’re firing from down by its feet. (Also, and maybe it’s reverse sexism, but nobody says, “Don’t shoot! It’s holding a man!”) “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” one coppers notes of the sixty-foot simian standing in front of Big Ben. Dude, you should get out more.
Dozens of soldiers open up with a variety of weapons, including numerous heavy and light machine guns and bazookas. At this rate Konga should be chopped to bits in tens of seconds, even if the majority of the bullets somehow seem to be going astray. (Amazingly, the soldiers manage to miss both Konga and Big Ben, despite the fact that the ape is standing right in front of it.)
In retaliation, Konga flings his doll at his tormentors, which in death reverts to Decker. Then the Antisocial Ape himself finally falls, after absorbing sustained, pointblank fire for almost two straight minutes. In death, Giant Guy In an Ape Suit Konga reverts to Little Monkey Konga, his body sprawled next to that of his creator. The End.
Still, I wish I knew where all this mass was coming from and going to. Oh, and don’t start gloating, Big Ben. Sure, you somehow escaped injury in this incident. Later this year, though, you’ll be demolished by Gorgo’s mom.
First of all, Konga is not a good movie. As the above description indicates, the plot is literally farcical. Still, in the valley of the starving gorillas, the one with a single banana is king (Kong?).
Compared to its simian siblings, Konga‘s pretty good. The ape suit, as patently phony as it is, is better than those featured in three of the four other movies I’ll examine this month. And it has by far has the best acting and dialog, even if the subject matter is the most obviously absurd of the (banana?) bunch.
Michael Gough is perfect for the role of Decker. An actor with a long career and numerous genre appearances, Gough was able to project an urbane sadism that made him a natural for this sort of picture.
Following his rare heroic turn in Horror of Dracula (1957), he went on to mostly villainous parts in many of England’s subsequent genre films: Horrors of the Black Museum, Phantom of the Opera, The Skull, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Black Zoo, Berzerk!, Curse of the Crimson Altar and the Joan Crawford laughfest Trog. Gough remains known today through the works of director Tim Burton, who cast him as Alfred the butler in the Batman series and gave him a juicy role in Sleepy Hollow.
Gough worked in the genre most steadily in the ’60s, when most of the previously cited titles were produced. That he was in demand is indicated by the fact that he worked for different studios while doing so. These, naturally, include Hammer and Amicus. He also made a number of films, including Konga, for producer Herman Cohen. Other such projects include Black Zoo and Horrors of the Black Museum.
Cohen remains more famous amongst buffs for the classic ’50s drive-in fare he made in America. These include such familiar titles as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Blood of Dracula (aka; I Was a Teenage Vampire) and How to Make a Monster.
Humorously, Konga was at one point during production titled ‘I Was a Teenage Gorilla.’ (!!) Actually, you can sort of see this. If you made Bob and Sondra’s story more of the central one, then Decker becomes an exact English analog to the evil scientists played by Whit Bissell in Werewolf and Frankenstein. (Now that I think about it, Gough is a direct English analog to Bissell, too. Both play their scientists in pretty much the exact same fashion.)
Once you start considering all this, you can see how it might have worked. One wonders if Bob, with his episode of manic violence, was originally meant to be ‘deevolved’ into the gorilla, ala the impulse control-deprived Michael Landon in Werewolf. This would more readily explain the hypnosis element in Konga, as Bissell used a combination of drugs and mesmerism to trigger Landon’s transformations.
If this is true, then it may be that the connections to Werewolf were deemed too obvious. Or, perhaps, giant monsters might have been considered more profitable, and so they rewrote the script to shoehorn in Konga’s climatic antics. In any case, and quite wisely, the film as it exists revolved around Decker rather than the callow youths.
Cohen, for the record, also produced another sorry ape suit movie, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.
Once in England, Cohen adapted to the times by making his films in color. More important, his films became much, much nastier. In this he found his perfect leading man in Gough, who ably played characters whose seemingly classic English reserve masks outright sociopathic tendencies. Gough is an archetypal example of the way British actors, by underplaying in these things, manage to make the most ludicrous scenes comparatively believable.
As noted, the collaborations between the producer and actor were marked by their exaggeratedly lurid qualities. In Konga the best example is the fate meted out to Sondra, who easily dies the most unpleasant death in the picture.
In Black Zoo (1963), a remake of Murders in the Zoo, a 1933 Lionel Atwill flick, Gough plays a zookeeper who ruthlessly disposes of those in his way via the animals he watches over. This has obvious echoes of his character here, who similarly employs a beast to do his dirty work. (Indeed, Whit Bissell’s character in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein keeps a pit of alligators in his lab to dispose of unused body parts. Not to mention troublesome people.)
Decker is also akin to Edmund Bancroft, Gough’s character in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959). In Konga, Decker has a reason for killing all his victims. Even if he didn’t, however, the murders would have occurred. As he repeatedly states, he’d find somebody to have killed because his experiments required it. Again, Decker is clearly a sociopath, who pursues his goals without a shred of empathy towards. Humans to him are exactly as guinea pigs or rats, animals to be exploited in pursuit of his aims.
Bancroft is similarly bereft of qualms about murdering others. If anything, he’s even colder than Decker. A crime writer whose best days are behind him, Bancroft ekes out a living as the proprietor of the Black Museum. This being a collection of paraphernalia from Scotland Yard’s most infamous murder cases. In order to create material for a true crime book that will return him to the top, Bancroft starts employing these ghastly implements in a series of horrible murders.
Significantly, Bancroft keeps his hands clean by hypnotizing a simple-minded young employee to carry out his dirty work. As with Konga, his tool seeks him out in the end, and both pictures finish with tableaus featuring Gough’s dead body along side that of his unfortunate lackey.
Of course, this brings us back to our connections between Konga and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Bancroft again is a paternal figure, like Bissell in Teenage Werewolf, who improperly uses a combination of drugs and hypnosis to transform a troubled lad into a programmable killing machine. I never really considered how much Cohen fell back on certain tropes, but it’s pretty obviously when you start looking at it.
Horrors of the Black Museum features the scene that sums up the sadistic nature of Cohen’s English movies. We open the film with a young lady receiving a pair of binoculars in the mail. Trying them out, she adjusts the focus, whereupon steel spikes shoot out and fatally pierce through her eyes.
As you’d imagine from ’59, this isn’t as blatantly portrayed as it might be now, but it’s still pretty gruesome stuff. Notably, the film was directed by Arthur Crabtree, the man behind the 1958 similarly gory Fiend Without a Face.
The other notable performance in Konga is provided by Margo Johns, who plays Margaret. Her performance is wisely austere, and like Gough she adds credibility to her character by underplaying the part. Another actress might easily have given a more florid aspect to Margaret, who after all is a woman driven by her passion for Decker.
Johns suggests instead a middle-aged woman desperate for respectability, one who’s invested so many years (and cast off so much of her self-respect) in Decker that she can’t afford to turn away from him now. That she’s more concerned about the social stigma attached to being a man’s mistress than with the fact that the man is a callous murderer works surprisingly well.
Margaret remains a consistent character to the bitter end. This woman simply doesn’t understand the low regard with which she’s held by others. Decker, of course, effortlessly manipulates her throughout the entire movie, waiting until she’s no longer of use and then planning to do away with her.
However, even when she finally allows herself to believe this, she also overestimates her relationship with Konga. Because she’s come to hold great affection for Konga, because she’s been caring for the animal while Decker attends to his business elsewhere, she believes that her hold on the gorilla is as great as his. It isn’t, and Konga’s first act upon being freed is to kill her.
Which brings us to the interesting ways that Konga is different from nearly every other giant ape movie. The template for these, of course, was the original King Kong. As in that film, the later ones generally featured a pre-exiting giant simian. The underlying themes involved the way that a primitive ruler of a savage land was made fatally vulnerable by his passion for a blonde woman. “‘Twas Beauty killed the Beast,” Denham notes over Kong’s dead body, and that summed up most of the movies that followed.
Konga isn’t looking for a woman, however. He’s instead in the Frankenstein Monster mold. Created by a scientist father figure who then rejects him (and in Cohen’s oevre callously uses him as a murderous implement), the ‘son’ acts out in a fashion that ends in death for both himself and his creator.
Thus Konga is the only giant gorilla movie in which the monster goes on a rampage whilst holding a man in his mitt instead of a beautiful woman. (Actually, there is a hopelessly obscure feature called Queen Kong, but it’s a parody and thus doesn’t count.)
Because of the above factors, Konga is also the only giant ape movie in the bunch to feature a mad scientist character. (Well, OK, there’s the evil Japanese “Dr. Who” (!!) in King Kong Escapes, but he’s the villain to King Kong’s hero in the film.) As noted, the giant apes in these pictures generally are naturally extant. Only in this film is one artificially created.
Konga had a fairly impressive life following his movie. Like fellow Eurobeastie Reptilicus and Gorgo, Konga became the subject of a comic book series put out by Charlton Publishing. Original Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko did some work on these.
Konga was the longest running of the Charlton monster line, lasting over twenty issues. For some reason, Konga seemed to spend a lot of his time fighting spacemen. Another weird cover has him being assailed by tanks and advanced jet craft bearing swastikas. (!!) Issues of this series can generally be hunted up on Ebay.
Oddly, the three films cited above were also the subject of paperback novelizations from Monarch, books beefed up with the addition of soft core porn sequences. (!) These books also occasionally pop up on Ebay, where they often sell for thirty or forty dollars. If anyone could establish who owns the rights to these, I imagine you could republish them as an omnibus edition through IUniverse.com or some such publisher and make an easy buck.
I know what you’re thinking: “Ken, is this the Konga that was photographed in SpectaMation?” Yes. Yes, it is.
Things I Learned (Concept Courtesy of Andrew Borntreger):
Summary: Not great by any means, but watchable and occasionally amusing.