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Friday, November 5, 2010

Reel Bad Cinema: Konga (1961) review

KONGA 1961

Michael Gough (Dr. Charles Decker), Margo Johns (Margaret), Jess Conrad (Bob Kenton), Claire Gordon (Sandra Banks), Austin Trevor (Dean Foster), George Pastell (Professor Tagore)

Directed by John Lemont

The Short Version: This monumentally awful British science fiction horror flick is likewise incredibly entertaining; it's a hodgepodge of elements from far better movies. It's all held together by an insanely manic performance from Michael Gough, without whom this movie would not possess near enough chintzy charm.

After his plane goes down in Africa, doctor Charles Decker returns to civilization a year later bringing a chimp and a scientific discovery with him. Wishing to establish an evolutionary link between plant life and humans, Decker quickly loses his sanity in his exploits to bridge the gap between plant and man. Working on a growth serum, he turns his small, but intelligent chimp, Konga, into a lumbering gorilla whom he commands to kill those who would get in his way. Eventually Konga becomes a gigantic gorilla who stomps its way through the streets of London.

Photographed in the "state of the art" process that is 'Specta-mation', this horrible, hilariously nonsensical monster mishmash from the UK borrow elements from numerous gorilla thrilla's of the 40's and 50's, the original KING KONG and the narrative structure of Hammer's CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). With Herman Cohen as a producer and AIP as distributor, that would be pedigree enough for an exploitation celebration. Despite getting down to some MUMMY style monkey business, the films real star isn't the title great ape.

Doctor Decker strokes his monkey during the opening minutes of KONGA

"Ultimately I shall be able to change the shape of human beings!"--Michael Gough gives Vincent Price a run for his money in the art of scenery munching in KONGA; Insert: Even Big Ben is impervious to bazookas and machine gun fire

Michael Gough is hysterically over the top as the homicidal scientist who brings back secrets of the African jungle and a little chimpanzee he has christened Konga. He plans to conduct genetic experiments by mixing plant and human DNA and also create a serum that will increase the size of whatever thing ingests it. Modeled on Dr. Frankenstein and a walking, talking ham and cheese sandwich, Gough is magnificently ghoulish as Dr. Decker. Gorging himself on as much scenery as humanly possible, his performance is the nucleus by which this riotously awful movie orbits.

"You fool! Do you think I want the biggest experiment of my life menaced by a cat?! Even those few drops might have made Tabby swell up to huge proportions! We're not ready to have a cat the size of a leopard running through the streets!! Besides...Konga is the subject of my experiment!"--Decker shoots a cat, twice no less.

The sexual undercurrents in this one scene, both in the fore and background threaten to explode all over the screen.

Not only does Gough get to play a demented, yet dedicatedly murderous mad scientist, but he also displays sexual proclivity towards an attractive blonde student named Sandra. Enough cannot be said of Gough's performance. His role explores the gamut of villainy while being firmly entrenched in the most campy characterization imaginable. The sequence where Decker hypnotizes Konga to go out and kill those who have wronged him is a doozy, not to mention his growth serum taking effect in a matter of seconds. It's movies like this why Gough doesn't like discussing his career in the horror genre. He has nothing to be ashamed of as he elevates such meandering and moribund material to being a watchable exercise in camp excess. His role here would seem to have inspired another similar movie....

Doctor Decker hypnotizes Konga and speaks to it reminiscing about its younger days in the jungle (seriously) before sending the great ape out to kill...kill...kill!

Look at what's growing in doctor Decker's garden!

The mad scientist creating carnivorous plant life mixed with man is also detailed in the enjoyably sleazy British horror picture, THE FREAKMAKER (1974). In KONGA, Gough grows a variety of voracious vegetation some of which resemble a gigantic penis complete with veins and all. The customary fly-traps make up the other meat eating greenery. Probably more than a few monster movie fans will recognize the gorilla costume created by frequent monkey movie performer, George Barrows on loan to this production.

KONGA gets a grip on George Pastell. He commanded Chris Lee's THE MUMMY to put a stranglehold on tomb raiders. Now, George, how do you like it?

Amongst the cast, fans of Hammer's THE MUMMY (1959) will spy George Pastell. In that film, he played the vengeful Egyptian who used the Mummy as a vassal for his retribution. For KONGA, the tables are turned with Pastell as professor Tagore, the victim. Once it's revealed he is working on similar experiments to Decker, it doesn't take a genius to figure out he's next on the menu. This is amplified when Tagore tells Decker to "knock hard...I don't have any servants", upon Decker's arrival at midnight to discuss their scientific progress.

One of many love scenes from KONGA (1961)

While it teeters dangerously close to the slapdash excess of TROG (1970), another cinematic train wreck, this one spearheaded by Joan Crawford, KONGA bears the distinction of never being boring, nor becoming entangled in long drawn out scientific gobbledy gook. It wears its badge of dishonor proudly amidst its trashy amalgamation of ideas lifted from far better movies, but would be a much less entertaining enterprise without them and the deliciously unrestrained performance of Michael Gough.

This review is representative of the MGM double feature DVD


Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

'Konga' is a masterpiece! Your assessment of Michael Gough is eloquent and apt. His slimy villainy has lit up a number of woeful productions. My personal favourite is the masterful portrait of hyprocisy and perversity he brings to the role of Lord Ambrose d'Arcy in Hammer's excellent version of 'The Phantom of the Opera'.

P.S. 'Konga' isnt really a masterpiece! - it is in fact a work of unbridled genius worthy of Orson Welles.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Shaun. Gough is great in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, too. I don't think it's one of their best movies, I included it in my 'Worst of Hammer' article, but Gough definitely made that one interesting for me. A shame you never see the fate of his character.

KONGA I never liked as a kid, but upon finally revisiting it, I see it in a different light. Gough is a true class act even if he appeared in a lot of classless movies that easily benefited from his participation.

Jack Veasey said...

Thanks for picking out some great shots of Gough chewing scenery. Seeing them made my day. Gough is really a scream in this film. He gives a performance worthy of Tod Slaughter.

Nick Cato said...

KONGA is such great cheese---probably my favorite ape-goes-ape flick next to THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (a.k.a. GOLIATHON).

venoms5 said...

@ Jack: Your welcome, Jack! Gough is quite an extraordinary actor. It would be nice to see him held in such esteem as other greats like Cushing, Lee, Price and the old Universal greats of Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney.

@ Nick: Nothing trumps MIGHTY PEKING MAN for me. What if Michael Gough had been in that one? Wow. Michael Gough AND Evelyn Kraft.

Carl Manes said...

I had Gorgo in mind the entire review, had to laugh when I found it in the links at the bottom! I am all in V, I have overlooked the title for years since I figured it would just be some silly goof on King Kong, but knowing that it actually IS some silly goof on King Kong is somehow more satisfying. Love Gough, and will be sure to let you know what I think when I pick it up!

venoms5 said...

lol, yeah I only put the GORGO link there cause it was right beside the KONGA one and figured why not. I like KONGA much better than I used to. I used to not like the movie at all. Guess I can appreciate its awfulness more now than before.

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