Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Konga (1961)

Even for someone like me, who is a sucker for giant ape movies, Konga pretty much represents the bottom of the barrel.  Which isn't to say that it is not entertaining.  But perhaps not quite in way intended by the producers.  One of a number of low budget horror movies produced for Anglo-Amalgamated by notorious US schlockmeister Herman Cohen, Konga's biggest asset is the great Michael Gough in the lead role.  It's a typical Gough performance of magisterial lunacy - his utterly insane activities almost seem to make sense when expounded in his characteristic authoritative style.  As ever, Gough somehow manages to keep a straight face despite ludicrous dialogue, cardboard sets and an obvious lack of budget.

In the end, of course, it is this lack of budget which thwarts Cohen's attempt to restage King Kong - one of his favourite movies - in London and in colour.  Cohen once claimed that the film's special effects took eighteen months to complete.  It is hard to see why, as they consist of some unconvincing miniatures mixed with poor back projections and matte work.  The plot is also pretty rudimentary, with presumed dead crazy scientist Gough returning from darkest Africa with a chimp named Konga and a mysterious serum which can induce plants and animals to grow to enormous sizes.  Inevitably, he injects Konga with the serum, causing the (real) chimp to transform into man in a (bad) gorilla suit.  Gough hyponitises the gorilla and uses it to kill first his academic rivals, then one of his students, played by singer Jess Conrad, who is Gough's rival for the love of a young female student.

There are some extraordinary scenes of middle aged Gough trying first to seduce, then assault the female student in a greenhouse full of carnivorous plants he has been breeding.  Their tryst is rudely interrupted by a now giant Konga - Gough's long-suffering lady assistant, jealous of his infatuation with the student, had given the ape an overdose of the serum as some kind of revenge - who carries Gough off.  The ape then goes on a very small scale rampage around a parade of shops which were located round the corner from Merton Park Studios where the film was shot (although a Big Ben appears in the background of the shots of Konga to try and give the impression that this is all happening in Central London).  The army finally turn up and gun the ape down - which, when dead, transforms back into a chimp.

The whole thing is, without doubt, a shoddily made farrago which fails to deliver any of the promised thrills.  Director John Lemont, who was more at home directing noir-ish crime B-movies - does what he can with the material, but he really doesn't have much to work with.  Damn it, the giant ape doesn't even climb the tower of Big Ben!  Even Queen Kong - in a far cheaper and shoddier 1976 movie - managed to do that!  But it isn't spectacle which provides the film's pleasures, but rather its all-pervading air of delirium.  Like all good schlock movies, it feels like a fever dream.  Bizarre developments, such as Gough's infatuation with a student young enough to be his daughter, are compounded by the truly insane dialogue frequently uttered by the characters.  Even the gorilla comes over as a raving lunatic, thanks to the literally eye rolling performance of the 'actor' in the monkey suit.  In the final analysis, Konga might be laughably bad, but it is entertaining, especially when seen late at night after a few beers.



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