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Sunday, October 16, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 11: Konga (1961)


HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.


Original story and screenplay by Aben Kandel and Herman Cohen
Directed by John Lemont

Michael Gough:  Dr. Charles Decker
Margo Johns:  Margaret
Jess Conrad:  Bob Kenton

You don't get many mad botanists in movies, do you? I mean, there's plenty of people Tampering In God's Domain over the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Engineers build death rays for purely peaceful purposes. Technicians build supercomputers that force peace on Earth via the threat of atomic extinction. Herbert West declines to leave a note about a dead cat and also figures out a way to conquer Death. But I think a careless high school shop teacher could still count the number of mad botanist movies on one truncated hand. Perhaps it's because you can fire up a death ray immediately, but a killer plant has to be nurtured along for months or years before it can eat anyone. Plus, in most cases, killer plants are rooted to the ground and people have to be mere inches from the monster before it can threaten them.

Well, thank goodness AIP imported this sucker from Merry Olde England so we could watch Michael Gough devour some scenery and a monkey get big. That's right, it's a mad botanist movie with a giant ape in it! Two great B-movie tastes that taste great together!

After some Saul Bass-influenced credits roll, the first thing on the screen is a light plane stalling out and losing altitude over Any Jungle, Africa (complete with the inevitable kookaburra calls on the soundtrack). The plane glides lower towards a clump of trees and then explodes in a screen-filling fireball. Immediately after that there's a radio newsreader announcing the presumed demise of a famous English botanist, Dr. Charles Decker, whose unexpected death fits neatly between political commentary and sport. A fade out and back in gives a newspaper vendor on a London street two more pieces of exposition to deliver--the first, that Decker is alive and has been discovered, and second, that a year has passed. This movie's getting some shit done. Including the opening credits, we're two minutes and eighteen seconds into the narrative and we've already had a plane crash, a presumed death and now a return from the grave.

At Heathrow airport (or something like it), a small swarm of homo journalisticus mobs around Dr. Decker and asks him how he lived through what seemed to be a certain-death situation and also want to know why it took him a year to get back from Uganda to "civilization". The unfailingly polite Decker explains that he bailed out from the crashing plane (not that we the viewers got to see that happen), was injured in the crash, got taken in by a friendly tribe of African natives and eventually made it back to England at his own pace. By the way--for the duration of his press conference, Decker is snuggling a chimpanzee that he identifies as Konga, and it is adorable.

In a display of equanimity that would have medaled in the When Life Gives You Lemons competition, Decker also says that he decided to view the plane crash, his injuries and year-long recovery from same as a lucky break because the part of Uganda that he happened to land in had a variety of insect-eating plants that he (and the scientific community of the Western world) had never seen before. So if he was in pain, thought dead by the rest of the world and his luggage was scattered over thirty square miles of jungle, at least there was something for his botanical mind to enjoy cataloging and observing. If he wasn't addled by his traumatic experiences, Dr. Decker might well have found an evolutionary link between plants and animals thanks to his study of those new specimens. He also says that the disaster was of little import as far as the travails of one single person (well, two people, if you count the dead pilot) are concerned. He's all about the advancement of science, and the crash means that he might well be able to do just that.

Back at his elegantly appointed house (botany seems to pay rather well), Dr. Decker enjoys a snifter of brandy and tells his housekeeper / assistant / exposition target / not-a-girlfriend Margaret how happy he is to be back in England with all the creature comforts he's been missing for a year. Margaret isn't particularly thrilled to be left off the list of things he's happy to see again and Decker tells her that scientists aren't sentimental. That's as may be, but it's still a dick move not to tell your platonic companion that you're glad to see her after being stranded in Uganda for a year. Especially if she maintained your household and tended all your plants and kept them alive while you were missing and presumed blown up.

When pressed, Decker does begrudge Margaret a little bit of warmth and respect, but mostly just keeps saying that science guys aren't known for lavish displays of emotion. Also, and I'm sure this is going somewhere eventually, his one letter from Africa to London instructed Margaret to have a large cage built in his personal laboratory. The first thing he did when returning to his home was make sure it got constructed to his specifications, and certainly that isn't a warning sign of any kind. The cage is for Konga, and according to Dr. Decker his chimpanzee will be the forefather of a lineage of royalty over the Earth that will allow Decker to dominate his chose territory absolutely. I'm calling it now; Decker's suffering from a case of malign hypercognition syndrome

Konga will be turned into, in Decker's words, "the first link in modern evolution between plant and animal life,". Hell if I know what that means, but perhaps it's just going to be a monkey that learns how to engage in photosynthesis. Think of the savings on food if everybody could just lie outside and turn green when they got hungry. When Margaret expresses confusion about what exactly Decker means, he goes into a mild British version of the "they all laughed at me at the university" speech that you don't get to call yourself a mad scientist until you can deliver one spotlessly. Margaret says she'll keep an open mind about Decker's experiments, but it'd be helpful if he told her exactly what those experiments were going to be. The botanist nods, smiles, and says they'll start on them right that moment (although he still doesn't say what he's going to be doing).

Next stop, the Decker personal greenhouse / laboratory, where he tears up all the flowers that Margaret kept alive for a year while he was missing. It's a bad sign when someone makes references for anything outliving its usefulness, although in this case it is just a bunch of flowers. Decker does at least say that he'll be composting the dead flowers to feed the experiments that he's going to start breeding from his Ugandan insect-eating plants. Then it's time to turn the temperature up to 90 degrees in the greenhouse and get things really humid in there so that a cozy residence in England will mimic the conditions in Africa. The plants (which look to my untutored eye like bundles of scallions) are going to get planted and grow quickly; Decker says they've evolved to grow large very quickly and that he can take that ability from the plants and give it to other organisms.

Some more Implausible Science Gibberish follows, where Dr. Decker explains that the strange and interesting plants he's working with will produce some kind of chemical that will have human properties when injected into a person's bloodstream, which will prove the evolutionary link between plants and animals. I can't even say "Sounds legit," sarcastically without my eye twitching. But Decker hasn't gone full-tilt nutbar at this point, so he decides to go to sleep and continue his science in the morning rather than work on his life-changing work until the wee hours.

The next day, Konga is alone in a steel-barred cage much too large for him and Dr. Decker is juicing jungle plant roots in a press and boiling the resulting liquid in what looks like a bog-standard saucepan over a Bunsen burner. He also praises the heck out of the witch doctor who told him about the jungle plants' particular chemical properties, and that's pretty damned forward-thinking for a movie made in 1961. Lots of scientists would have just taken credit for "discovering" something they were told about by an African shaman rather than saying the tribesman had forgotten more about plants than Dr. Decker had ever learned.

Uh-oh. Among the so-far-unnamed tribal shaman's techniques? Mind control via chemicals that made his patients suggestible to his commands. So we're getting carnivorous plants, growth boosting and mind control. Holy cats, Dr. Decker is branching out into so many different fields of mad science! I can't wait to see how that all works out. Also, Michael Gough is utterly, utterly committed to this ridiculous premise and dialogue. There's something about British horror actors; they never really seem to think the material's too cheap to deserve a fully realized performance. Just after Decker says he's put mind control seeds in the growth serum, it boils over the top of the saucepan and ruins his current batch of Multifunction Plant Elixir. Ah well, better luck next time. The inevitable loose housecat licks up some of the spilled goop, and while I was expecting a big subservient cat as the result what I got was Decker loading a pistol and shooting his pet cat twice (!) after it ingested his experimental formula. Margaret's right there in the room when he does it, though, so he doesn't have to leave a note saying "Cat dead; details later" for her to find.

Michael Gough gives the impression of a man hanging on to sanity by his fingernails when he berates Margaret for asking him what the hell he thinks he's doing, and (sensibly) says that a housecat the size of a leopard would cause comment if it got out and ran around London. He also says that he's making his plant goop growth / mind control serum for Konga, not for the suddenly late Tabby. Point delivered, he throws a cloth over the dead cat and says they'll bury its body in the yard.

Holy cats, the next thing we see are gigantic hissing carnivorous plants in the greenhouse, with two clumps of them looking like the expected Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. The third group were probably meant to be darlingtonia california plants but they look like a bouquet of four-foot-long phalli with tongues. I bet the prop builders got yelled at but there wasn't time to build different puppets, so half a dozen gigantic dark green wangs (with veins painted on them!) will have to appear in the film. Thank you, uncredited special effects creator, whoever you are. Decker says the plants have grown that large in a mere week and clips some leaves from the flytraps after feeding them and the pitcher plants chunks of steak (which is probably richer food than the various plants evolved to eat--at the size they've grown, insects, rodents and birds were probably their staple foods back in Uganda). I'm trying not to imagine the plants getting to a telephone and ordering carryout fish and chips now, and failing.

Decker's got a vial of green Science Liquid and prepares a shot for Konga, which he administers in a scene that has Michael Gough, Margo Johns and a real chimpanzee in it. If that simian felt any real distress, either or both of the actors could have been horribly injured but they faked it with misdirection, thank goodness. Seconds later, Konga is three times his size and Margaret admits that Decker really had something going on with his mad research and that she supports him absolutely now that he's shown tangible and undeniable results.

The next thing we see from Decker is a travelogue film that prefigures Mondo Cane by a year; it's a look at the "Buganda" tribesmen that he lived with for a year in Africa (if the footage was shot by Decker, then it wound appear that at least some of his luggage and equipment survived the bailout / plane explosion / disaster-in-the-making a year ago). Decker also says all the women of the tribe remain clothed in public, which seems to be some kind of reaction to National Geographic and its infamous rule back in the early Sixties that nudity in its photographs was permissible if the unclothed people weren't white. A tribal shaman takes a snake's head into his mouth while mugging for the camera, and Decker confirms (after the film loop is done) that he personally shot that footage with a camera he took with him when he jumped out of a burning airplane. English botanists are hardcore, man. Anyway, Decker promises to teach some actual botany in the next class session and a bell rings (at a university?) to tell all the students that it's time to go to the next class. Sandra, one of his students, remains behind to assist the prof "with the diagrams". Decker creepily praises Sandra for how much she's grown in the year that he'd vanished, and ewwwww. Sandra says she doesn't care about the other students' attentions, but signs up for the "private experiments" that Decker needs an assistant for. I repeat:  ewwwww.

After class (and a brief break for the audience to mentally scrub off the thin coating of slime on their brains from watching Michael Gough sexually harass someone about half his age), the botanist goes to the Dean's office at what I assume is a university but I guess could be a high school. There was no establishing shot, so I don't really know where they're supposed to be. And the ages of the actors playing the students isn't really much of a help; around this point in movie-making history, the actors portraying teens generally looked like they were about ten to fifteen years past their own high school days. At any rate, the Dean isn't thrilled that their famous professor was talking about proving a closer relationship between plants and animals than previously thought. He stresses that it's not a reprimand, just a general note to be cautious when talking to the press. Decker takes it about as well as you'd imagine someone who made a chimp into a really big chimp with a mind control / growth serum would take it (especially after he says that instead of embarrassing the college--it is a college!--he'll loan it some of the glory he's going to have when he paints his masterpiece and the Dean shuts him down).

Also, just as a "Tim listens to the dialogue and the screenwriters apparently didn't" observation, it's not that big a deal to "inject the essence of plants into animals". They needed to put in another clause there about what Decker thought that would actually do. The Dean openly says that he thinks the botanist has gone insane and that he needs a nice quiet period of rest far, far away from the college so he can get his head right. Well, that leads to a British-volume shouting match (intense, but not so much extreme volume) with the two men mere inches from each other. The Dean says as long as he's in charge at that school, Decker will do as he's told. There's a musical sting and a closeup on Decker rather than his boss after that, and I think we all know what's going to happen after the mad scientist storms out of the Dean's office.

I expected a cut to Decker's greenhouse after that, but what I got was the larger-grown Konga bringing a tea service to Margaret in the lab instead Have I mentioned that the chimp scenes veer towards the adorable? Because they do. Margaret happily gives Konga a banana as a reward and Decker shows up to grump around (it's never good for a mad genius' ego to be balked). After confirming that there aren't any side effects to Konga's growth, Margaret notices that Decker's angry about something and they talk over his version of the visit to the Dean's office. "He thinks I'm crazy," is something all good Sons of Ether say to a sympathetic ear at some point in their careers and Decker's ready to try something with a newly prepared vial of plant squeezings and Konga. He shoots the chimp up with another dose of Green Science Liquid and Konga grows larger again. The role was first played by a young chimpanzee and then by an adult one, as far as I can tell. The second dose of Vegetable Growth Hormone means that Konga is now played by a stuntman in a gorilla suit (not a chimpanzee suit, so the injection of plant serum changed the poor chimp's species!).

Dr. Decker is utterly thrilled that his serum worked again, and hypnotizes Konga with a penlight into total obedience. Decker gives a monologue to the simian, telling Konga that he's going to commit a murder to prove his devotion to Dr. Decker. When Decker calls Margaret down to see the results of the second injection I was halfway expecting her to get written out of the movie, but Decker just wanted someone to see what he'd done with the new dose of refined crushed-leaf oil. When the Dean relaxes in his home study after a hard day's bureaucracy the massive and semi-convincing form of Konga lurks outside the French doors, and after a couple seconds of looming ominously the ape smashes his way in and throttles the Dean in a particular manner that my friend Sean and I call "apestrangling". If you've seen enough movies where a gorilla played by a stuntman in a suit kills someone you've seen the particular set of arms and shoulders that defines apestrangling.

That apestrangling incident is front page news the next day, and understandably so. The police are baffled, since they're not used to people in academia dying from neck-snapping animal attacks. There were coarse black hairs found on the Dean's body, but the working hypothesis ("escaped zoo or circus animal") isn't panning out. Nobody's reported any escaped animals anywhere and Konga, under hypnotic compulsion, was quiet and subtle enough to get back to Casa Decker without being seen. Margaret has her suspicions as soon as she reads the headlines, but Decker appears not to be particularly torn up about the man's death. Or surprised, honestly. Margaret makes the morally correct but tactically dubious choice and tells Dr. Decker that she knows exactly what happened with the Dean's murder. Decker coldly asks her what she's going to do about it. She embraces him, despairing at the fact that she's devoted to such a monster (and Decker doesn't move his arms at all while Margaret clings to him).

Decker says sooner or later he was going to command Konga to kill someone as a way to prove his theories were correct (...what?), and that the Dean was as good a victim as any to see if he could do it. He says that lots of animals are killed in laboratory experiments, and he's not wrong, but it's one thing to dissect a lab mouse to see how much riboflavin is safe to consume and another thing to take a hit out on your boss in a fit of pique. Decker says that it's regrettable, but science marches on. Margaret uses her knowledge of her boss's crimes to try and get him to marry her (!), and Decker acquiesces--but he says they won't get married until the end of the school year, which gives them a chance to plan a honeymoon. Also, the smart money would thence be on Margaret getting apestrangled about two weeks before the end of the spring term.

Well, sending a hypnotized gorilla out to kill people is a little like eating potato chips--it's just so hard to stop with just one. And the Dean's personal secretary makes a statement to the police about what she heard when Decker and the Dean were having their disagreement; she leaves just as Dr. Decker comes in to give his own statement to the police investigating the Dean's death. Decker's polite and tries to throw Scotland Yard off the trail as best he can, remaining polite with them and not letting the mad scientist rants out while he's talking to them. He also plays the "dispassionate scientist" card with the police, claiming that scientists often have occasionally stormy debates but that they forget all about them as soon as the issue at hand is resolved. Somehow he manages to get through the interview without saying "I THINK THEY BOUGHT IT," and is clear of suspicion.

Which means it's time to hold a party at the Decker place to celebrate his engagement to Margaret. As you do. Among the various academics at the shindig there's a Professor Tagore, who I think is supposed to be from India (he's played by a white guy named George Pastell in tan makeup wearing a turban). Tagore turns out to have been working on directed mutations in insectivorous plants himself, and in transferring the traits of plants into animals. Tagore says he's made great strides forward in growth of animals based on his research into insect-eating plants and Decker picks the other man's brain to see how far he's gone. Decker offers to collaborate with Professor Tagore, but the Indian man shuts him down rather than share the world-changing results he anticipates on having very shortly.

Well, that's Tagore good and doomed, then, isn't it? Decker promises to visit the professor that very night, and hears the great news that Tagore doesn't have a butler or maid living on the premises. I see a bad moon rising for the poor sucker. After the party, Decker drives up to Tagore's swinging bachelor pad in a huge van (Konga can't ride shotgun without alerting everyone around of his presence so he's in the back). Professor Tagore turns out to have a fully equipped laboratory in his own home, and Decker obviously enjoys meeting a kindred soul. It turns out that Tagore hasn't quite gotten as far as Dr. Decker in his own researches, and the English botanist doesn't feel like sharing the credit or risking anyone else publishing results before he does. Which means that Professor Tagore gets himself good and apestrangled from behind--it's quite a cool reveal and jump scare when it happens, because Konga snuck into the professor's house while he and the viewers were distracted by the talk with Dr. Decker. Decker steals a sheaf of notes while Konga wrecks up the place, and pair leaves with Tagore's body on the floor of his lab.

The next morning, Decker leaves to teach class as if nothing has happened, piling his entire class into the back of that van (I hope he aired it out overnight, or it's going to smell like a homicidal primate in there) to go on a field trip to study mosses and ferns. Turns out there's a redheaded glasses-wearing student named Hermione who gets two lines in this scene; it's at least theoretically possible that J. K. Rowling caught this movie on afternoon TV and noted the name. Everyone but Sandra crams into the back of the van (her boyfriend Bob tries to wrangle an invitation to the front of the vehicle but gets shut down). One of the students has brought along a transistor radio and plays the British Invasion version of that slightly energetic jazz that American movies of the period used to stand in for rock & roll in the back while Dr. Decker schmoozes with Sandra up front in the cab. While a saxophone lethargically wails on the student's transistor radio, Decker tells Sandra that he hopes to sneak away for a little alone-together time while out on the foliage census trip. And for a third time, let me just add:  ewwwww.

Dr. Decker stops the van in the middle of the goddamned road and everyone piles out; then it's time to go look at a fern while Decker explains its structures and evolutionary history. Just after Decker explains that everyone's supposed to go gather ferns and fern-like plants while roaming around at random there's a clap of Movie Thunder. Dr. Decker tells his students that the forest ranger who oversees this green and pleasant deciduous forest will let them hang out in his cabin if they caught in a rainstorm. That's very nice of the ranger, don't you think?

There's trouble in Budget-Conscious Paradise, though. Sandra's boyfriend Bob is irritated that he doesn't get to go for a walk in the woods with her while doing coursework, and he lets her know it while Decker's getting his lunch from the truck cab. None of the students appear to have brought anything to eat, which makes me wonder just what kind of college students the UK was turning out in 1961. Bob gets a scene to explain that he's irritated with Dr. Decker for taking up so much of Sandra's time out of the classroom; the guy's got a point, but he's probably also putting himself nice and high on the botanist's Shit List. Sandra says she wants time to study the material and think about science (huzzah!) while Bob just wants to go out on dates. Hooray for this movie giving Sandra a jones for learning about botany. I mean that.

Decker's off lurking in the woods when Bob gives his speech about wanting to see Sandra more often (and how the teacher she's the current pet of is old enough to be her father, which he finds about as wholesome as I do). Yup. Somebody's getting apestrangled in the near future. Sandra says that whatever else they might be going through, the field study work is supposed to be part of the class. She and Bob schedule a conversation that night at eight to discuss their situation like mature adults, and I'm honestly pretty impressed that the movie's making them both so calm and considerate about their relationship and where it's going. Usually the young couple in a monster flick aren't sketched out nearly as well.

Some good-natured chaffing from all the other students leads to Bob telling them that he's just not listening to their insinuations. He's going to gather samples like he's supposed to and trust Sandra and Dr. Decker to be adults about the whole thing. Then the inevitable Movie Downpour Out of Nowhere hits and everyone runs for the ranger's hut to stay dry. The back doors of the van were left open when everyone got out, by the way, which means there's probably going to be two or three inches of water in the back compartment for everyone to sit in during the ride home. Ruined shoes and damp trousers all around!

But before that can happen everyone has to dance to some generic saxophone Synthetic Rock Instrumental Substitute for a matter of seconds; then Dr. Decker and Sandra show up to declare class is dismissed due to the rainstorm. Everyone but Decker goes back to the van, which has been brought as close to the cabin as they could get. Dr. Decker stays back to make sure the ranger hut's in the same condition they found it in and Bob hangs back to harangue his professor about the guy macking on Sandra. He starts out pretty reasonable but winds up shouting at Decker, who backhands him across the face. Which leads to Bob slugging his professor in the stomach before trying to strangle Decker, which probably means at least a C-minus for the semester. Bob gets a hold of himself before he can do any permanent injury to the botanist, but realizes that he's likely to get kicked out of school for the assault. Instead, Decker tells him the importance of controlling one's temper at all times. Yeah, I laughed at that too. At any rate, Bob agrees to never mention anything about this again and they'll call it even.

After another brief "care about the guy who's going to kick the oxygen habit" sequence at Bob's family dinner, he goes to his Vespa scooter, kickstarts it and gets apestrangled before he can even put it in gear. His family finds his body right after his death and the score goes brass-crazy while the poor stuntman in the Konga suit lopes across an empty green yard. Decker waits for his pet Murder Ape to return to his van and drives back home, while the police take a statement from Bob's mother. The police are aware--thanks to the black chimpanzee hairs found on the bodies of the Dean, Professor Tagore and poor Bob--that all three murders are related, but they haven't got any commonalities between the three victims to try and find a suspect. The best they can think of is questioning every employee and student at the college that Bob attended and the Dean ran.

Margaret knows about the third killing, of course, because mystery apestranglings are undoubtedly the talk of the town. She gets the line of the film here, when she wants to know how her fiancee can enjoy breakfast placidly under these circumstances:  "What are you having with your poached egg, murder?" Decker's still icily controlled when Margaret asks him why Bob had to die; I imagine she can quiet her conscience a little bit when it comes to a murder to prove a theory or to ensure the maximum glory for Decker when he publishes his findings, but breaking a college student's neck for no reason (as far as she can tell) is just beyond the pale. Instead of telling Margaret the truth, Decker just says it was another test of Konga's obedience. Decker's a cold son of a gun, all right, because he knows that as long as Margaret thinks she's going to wind up as his wife she'll stifle her conscience as long as it takes to accomplish that.

Margaret's more clued in than Dr. Decker is, though, and realizes that with enough killings, sooner or later there will be enough evidence to attract London's finest, and then instead of winning the Nobel prize for medicine or chemistry (or both, simultaneously) her fiancee is just going to be the center of a tabloid circus and his discoveries will be dismissed as the ravings of a madman. Which gets through Decker's shell when nothing else could, and he decides that perhaps Konga needs to be put down to ensure his own safety. I assume that the dire chimpanzee will wind up getting fed to the plants in Decker's greenhouse before he turns the thermostat down and destroys them as well. His plan is to flee to Uganda with Margaret and carry out more experiments there, with more chimpanzees. In the middle of Deepest Darkest Africa, assisted by the natives who will remember the brilliant scientist who survived an exploding airplane, he'll be able to refine his formulae even further. Decker doesn't specifically say he's going to build an army of hypnotized giant chimpanzees to carry out his orders, but c'mon. We all know that's exactly where this is going.

One warning sign to the audience that sails right over Margaret's head--Decker tells his fiancee that he's planning to attend Bob's funeral in order to keep up appearances, and to further keep them up he'll be inviting the bereaved Sandra to dinner so that he looks like nothing so much as a concerned teacher trying to console a student. After dinner he shows Sandra the whackadoo greenhouse full of gigantic carnivorous plants. He tells Sandra that he wants her to get used to the heat in the greenhouse, because he needs a new assistant; Margaret, Decker says, has outlived her usefulness. Well, it turns out that Margaret was sneaking about outside the greenhouse and overheard everything, including the point where Dr. Decker lays an unwelcome kiss on his pretty young student. And that means it's time for BELATED THIRD-ACT KAIJU MONKEY RAMPAGE!

Margaret shows that she's plenty knowledgeable about Decker's experiments when she goes to his basement lab, shoots Konga up with a super-strength vial of Plant Leaf Health Tonic, and then hypnotizes him so she can get some vengeance. While Decker keeps forcing his unwanted attentions on Sandra, Margaret's experiment in Applied Botanical Alchemy pays off more than she could ever have imagined when a delightfully shitty green screen / wavy lines effect winds up making Konga fifteen or so feet tall. It is the natural tendency of giant animals to wreck up the place, of course, so the lab gets demolished and set on fire. Konga picks Margaret up, but when she tells him to put her down, he throws the doll that we're all supposed to accept is Margaret into the fire. He then busts out of the model standing in for Decker's house / laboratory and goes to find the mad scientist who made this all possible.

Sandra runs away from the lecherous Dr. Decker and gets her arm stuck in a gigantic Venus flytrap as the ape reaches down for his Michael Gough action figure. For the next ten minutes of the film, the effects make up for their rotten low-budget quality with an amazing quantity of them. Konga, carrying Dr. Decker in his hand, wanders off into London to go look at things and startle people. There's quite a lot of crowds staring at the gigantic monkey in disbelief and running (I liked that the firefighters who came to save Decker's house didn't notice Konga at first because they were concentrating on putting out the fire); instead of the Japanese monsters that would wipe cities off the map or American ones that would at least cause a lot of property damage, Konga goes for more of a stroll than a rampage, to be honest. But that gives the movie more of a British flavor to me.

The police leap into action by saying someone has to call the Army and get some troops out to deal with the giant primate. But until then, they're needed to help protect the people who might be in Konga's path. The entire extras budget for the film must have been burned off for the last nine minutes as well, as dozens of soldiers and other dozens of panicking civilians pack the streets. Konga himself gets matted in to some of the running away crowd scenes, and someone forgot to undercrank the camera so he looks more massive. Which is too bad, because it's pretty obviously a stunt man in a gorilla suit walking past the camera each time Konga's legs enter the frame.

It was inevitable that Konga would wind up near Big Ben, of course, but instead of climbing it he just stands by the tower. The police (and then the Army) show up to contain the area. The soldiers all set up their weapon emplacements with quick professionalism and when the order is given they open fire on the gorilla. The blanks budget for the movie gets burned through in about a minute and a half, and I especially liked the one officer firing his sidearm at Konga for lack of any better options. Stung and injured by the bullets, Konga throws his creator down towards the soldiers (exit Dr. Decker) before the cumulative death of ten thousand pinpricks causes the poor beast to succumb to his wounds. And then, for no reason whatsoever, the gigantic primate wavy-line-shrinks down to the tiny chimpanzee that he started out as, lying next to Dr. Decker's body in the street as Big Ben tolls for midnight. Which is, more or less, what was doing to happen to any giant ape in a major urban center.

Man, that was a hoot! Michael Gough is amazingly unhinged as Doctor Decker, and there's an atmosphere of a particularly English kind of madness and evil to everything that he does. And the effects to show Konga getting larger are wonderfully cheap and unconvincing--so are the puppet plants in the greenhouse. If it weren't for Decker forcing his attentions on Sandra near the end there'd be nearly nothing too objectionable for a kid to watch in this one. And every time Michael Gough recites the insane science gibberish dialogue my heart grows three sizes. Not only that, but the movie starts out as a mad botanist story, turns into a Murders in the Rue Morgue ripoff before turning into Ten Pence English King Kong at the end. It's utterly ruthless in paring down its cast (Sandra didn't do anything to deserve losing a limb to the flytrap, while Bob, Professor Tagore and the Dean barely did anything at all to deserve getting apestrangled). It's on a double-disc on the Midnite Movies imprint with Yongary, Monster from the Deep and it's by far the better viewing choice between those two movies. I'd put it up against anything from Tigon and the crummier half of Amicus in a New York second. It's exactly what I wanted from an English monster flick.



"But nobody wore goggles! You can't do proper mad science without goggles."

2 comments:

  1. Sons of Ether?! You always have the best references in your reviews.

    Also, the best mascot, but you knew that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm debating whether or not Joe will continue to make appearances in my post-HubrisWeen reviews. And, as a bad movie watcher, I always had great sympathy for the mad scientists in various games.

    ReplyDelete