Konga: A somnolent stroll around Big Ben

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsKonga, directed by John Lemont fantasy film reviewsKonga directed by John Lemont

Released in 1961, the U.S./U.K. co-production of Konga marked the first time that theater goers were shown a giant ape going bonkers in the heart of a major city since King Kong itself, 28 years earlier. Of course, fans had been given the 1933 sequel Son of Kong, but in that one, Kong, Jr. is more of a good-natured, oversized pet, and one who never makes it off Skull Island and into civilization, as had the old man. And in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the titular big guy does engage in a mild temper tantrum, he is more fondly remembered today for his heroic efforts at a small-town, burning orphanage. In Konga, however, the ape is huge and the rampage is through the heart of London, and if Konga’s fury is a bit on the somnolent side and his general appearance rendered somewhat tacky by dint of some truly subpar special FX, these two factors do not prevent the film from remaining good, cheezy fun, now 54 years after its initial appearance.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn the film, directed by John Lemont, the viewer meets a maniacally dedicated botanist named Charles Decker (wonderfully well played by British horror icon Michael Gough). When we first encounter the scientist, he is just returning from the jungles of Uganda, where his plane had crash-landed a year earlier. While lost in the wilderness there, Decker had encountered some marvelous new strains of insectivorous plants, and once back in London, he sets about on his new experiments: to extract the essences of these plants and create a breakthrough growth serum. The viewer is first tipped off to Decker’s unhinged mania when he shoots his own house cat, who had lapped up a few drops of the serum. Even Decker’s infatuated, middle-aged assistant, Margaret (Margo Johns), begins to look at him a bit askance after that action! But Margaret has an even greater surprise in store, when Decker’s serum is used on his cute little African chimp, Konga, doubling its size, and later, when another injection causes Konga to grow to the size of a formidable-looking gorilla! Unfortunately, Decker soon begins to use his powerful ape to exterminate all his perceived enemies: the college dean, who had been threatening to halt Decker’s work; an Indian botanist whose experiments rival his own; and the boyfriend of one of his students, Sandra (Claire Gordon), on whom Decker has a rather icky crush. And talk about hell having no fury like a woman scorned! When Margaret finds out about this infatuation of Decker’s, she gives the Konga gorilla a superinjection, causing the big galoot to grow exponentially, and leading to that above-mentioned stroll around the area of Big Ben…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWriting about the film in the indispensable Time Out Film Guide, Geoff Andrew calls Konga an “inept, silly, and ludicrously enjoyable monster movie,” and it is difficult to rebut any one of those three points. Yes, the FX ARE inept — especially the sight of Konga holding a doll that is supposed to be Margaret, and those almost embarrassingly bad transformation scenes (the screen turns all wavery as Konga grows in size) — but, somehow, they are endearingly, cheezily inept. And yes, the film can be a mite silly at times (a hypnotized gorilla doing its master’s bidding?!?!), but never to the point where the viewer’s intelligence is insulted. And, of course, the movie is most certainly enjoyable, with a juicy script and a Gough role that the beloved actor digs into with zest. Indeed, Gough is easily the single best component of this movie, and when he is not on screen — which only happens during the last 15 minutes of the film, during Konga’s nighttime London boogie — the picture suffers.

Strangely enough, that climactic ending, which the sadly soon-to-be-defunct Maltin Movie Guide correctly deems an “exceptionally dull rampage,” may be the single weakest segment of the picture, with Gough’s role limited to close-ups of his face as he grunts “Konga … put me down!” This rampage, sadly, does NOT fulfill the picture’s poster claim: “Not since King Kong has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!” Otherwise, though, Gough is a pleasure to watch … and listen to; I love his exquisite British enunciation, especially on the repeated word “plants.” And, oh … those carnivorous plants in Decker’s greenhouse! How much fun are they to watch? (One of them almost looks like a possible pint-size inspiration for the Audrey II man-eater in 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors.) Such a shame, then, that the viewer never learns the final fate of Sandra, who, when we last see her, is screaming her pretty blonde head off, her arm caught in the grip of one of the acid-secreting nasties!

All told, then, Konga is still another fun entertainment from producer Herman Cohen, who also gave us such wonders as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Target Earth, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Blood of Dracula, How to Make a Monster, Horrors of the Black Museum (also with Gough), The Headless Ghost, Black Zoo (also with Gough), Berserk (also with Gough) AND Trog! And if “beauty killed the beast” in King Kong, then, in poor, addled, narcotized, somnolent Konga’s case, the cause of death must be ascribed to around 10 quadrillion bullets. (Amusingly, half of these tracer bullets, fired at point-blank range, seem to go very wide of the mark, as they sail over Konga’s head; a very poor reflection on British marksmanship!) As Big Ben tolls Konga’s death knell at the film’s tail end, the viewer can only wonder how much more damage London might have incurred, had Konga possessed 1/10 of King Kong’s fury and spunk…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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