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

The Werewolf (1956) review


Steven Rich (Duncan Marsh), Don Megowan (Sheriff Jack Haines), Joyce Holden (Amy Standish), George Lynn (Dr. Morgan Chambers), Eleanore Tanin (Mrs. Helen Marsh)

Directed by Fred F. Sears

The Short Version: Fascinating B/W werewolf flick is quite possibly the single most original of the form. While nothing spectacular, the plot and lead performance make this well worth seeking out for monster fans.

Duncan Marsh, suffering from amnesia after a car accident, turns into a werewolf whenever he becomes angry or threatened. He's tracked through the mountains by the sheriff and a group of hunters after a man is found butchered outside a bar. Two scientists are also after Duncan in an attempt to kill him before it's learned they are responsible for his condition after injecting him with a radiation serum made from contaminated wolf blood.

Engrossing little minor footnote in werewolf cinema is of special interest in that it's possibly the most unique of all in that this wolf man doesn't change during the full moon, nor do silver bullets come into play. If you make Duncan Marsh angry, you won't like him when he's angry, because that's when he changes into the HULKing lupine marauder. He is also likely the only werewolf to ever skulk around in broad daylight.

Also, aside from the similar THE MAD MONSTER (1942) and 1993's FULL ECLIPSE (about a secret police force made up of officers injected with a serum turning them into full moon crime fighters with superhuman strength), this is one of relatively few movies to feature 'man-made man into wolf' creatures.

In keeping with the formula of dozens of 50's science fiction films that blame atomic power as the catalyst for the horrors wrought against man, science and radiation prove fatal once again in this, the first and only atomic werewolf flick I am aware of. Like the Chaney Jr. character before him, Duncan is a sympathetic man. Where he differs from Larry Talbot is that Duncan changes when threatened and isn't trying to harm anyone. He is the one being pursued, only striking when pushed into a corner.

Campy at times, the originality of the production is commendable while the lead (his first movie) is successful at imbuing the wolf man with a certain degree of pathos. The scene where he runs frantically through the snow country bare footed shows Rich to have been a real trooper. This lycanthrope is truly a walking essay in tragedy. In an auto accident, two scientists pull him from the wreckage and inject him with this experimental serum. Suffering from amnesia, he kills and doesn't know why. Not only are the towns people of Mountaincrest after him, but the very doctors that made him are out for his blood as well.

The movie is well made for the most part, although it veers dangerously into the kitsch-en when the two crazy scientists unspool their wacky plans regarding the alleged fate of mankind. Director Sears was also behind the hugely entertaining EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and responsible for the colossal turkey (in more ways than one) that is THE GIANT CLAW (1957). With no howling, wolf bane or poem quoting gypsies in sight, this unique sci-fi/horror werewolf movie is recommended for those seeking something completely different.

This review is representative of the Columbia Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman DVD

Voodoo Island (1957) review


Boris Karloff (Phillip Knight), Beverly Tyler (Sarah Adams), Elisha Cook Jr. (Martin Shuyler), Rhodes Reason (Mathew Gunn), Murvyn Vye (Barney Finch)

Directed by Reginald Le Borg

The Short Version: Tedious, but occasionally fun shocker barely makes the grade were it not for Karloff and a gaggle of man-eating vegetation on the title island death trap. Mostly forgettable, it does contain a couple good moments although this cheapie will most likely only be appreciated by the most ardent camp cinema devotees.

Phillip Knight is a fast talking and famous television paranormal hoaxster and a non-believer in the supernatural. A wealthy businessman interested in a mysterious South Pacific island hires him to investigate a missing crew and a lone surveyor returning in a zombie-like state. Knight soon becomes a believer after coming face to face with carnivorous plants, zombies and unfriendly natives.

This mediocre jungle nonsense is one of dozens of throwaway horror programmers from the fabulous 50's. The participation of Boris Karloff (THE RAVEN) as well as Elisha Cook (MESSIAH OF EVIL) and Rhodes Reason (KING KONG ESCAPES) make this production with limited appeal bearable. The storyline is an interesting one, but the voodoo plot device is the least curious aspect of this 76 minute quickie.

Once the crew make it to this alleged island of mysticism and death, the group soon learn the place is inhabited by deadly man eating plant life in addition to voodoo practicing natives. These killer plant scenes are plentiful and would have made for a better movie had the whole enterprise been centered around the ferocious fauna. The voodoo angle is ridiculous and firmly plants (haha) this picture in the camp of kitsch. The voodoo dolls don't even look the work of a native tribe, but as if they were picked up at some department store.

I wouldn't say Le Borg's movie was awful, it's just not a very memorable one. However, it does contain some shocking things for a movie of this vintage. One such scene has a little girl gobbled up by one of the fly-trap type monsters. I can't recall any movies this old where children were put in peril, much less shown being consumed by some nasty beasty. The plant creatures enhance the 'B' movie charm that the rest of the movie would probably lack without them. There's also a hint of lesbianism and the script does manage a bit of a societal clash between the proposed superiority of modern man versus the perceived primitive intelligence of the island natives.

Boris Karloff, a favorite actor of many an elder monster kid, takes on an unusual role for this outing, as opposed to his more familiar trappings as a monster, or unethical and quite mad scientist. He's far more kinetic here as the intrepid and well known myth buster, Phillip Knight. He's one of the most revered actors of horror cinemas heritage.

Rhodes Reason was the younger brother to Rex Reason. Both had careers in Hollywood and both flirted with fantasy/horror films. Both had careers predominantly in television. Rhodes Reason is likely most famous for his role as Commander Carl Nelson who fought against the devious and devilish Dr. Who in the Japan-US co-production, KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).

While it's not a great movie, it does have some endearing qualities about it that won't be lost on dedicated creature feature fans. With elements that can be found in movies from VOODOO BLOOD BATH (1964) all the way to Fulci's ZOMBIE (1979), fright fans may find this a mild diversion of schlocky fun.

This review is representative of the MGM double feature DVD

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