Now, I am sorry to say that "Konga" nowhere near matches the artistry or the timeless brilliance that was "King Kong". Though I doubt many would be surprised by this fact, since Herman Cohen's previous films were Z-grade filth such as "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein", "I Was a Teenage Werewolf", and - please do sit down before you read this title - "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla". In fact, one of the working titles of "Konga" was "I Was a Teenage Gorilla", which considering the plotline, honestly makes no sense. The poster shows a giant ape holding a lovely blond in his hand, when nothing of the kind actually happens. As a matter of fact, creature Konga only grows to gigantic size in the last ten minutes, when previously he was just a hypnotized chimpanzee assassin.
Similar to "The Giant Behemoth", "Konga" was a joint American-British production, though this one was made by the British studio, Anglo-Amalgamated using real British actors instead of a mostly American cast painfully unable to imitate English accents. "Konga" was directed by John Lemont, a man who only made less than half a dozen films, and considering how artless the effects, cinematography, and sets are in this film, we can be glad that Lemont spent the next forty years of his life doing something other than directing movies. I think "Konga" was trying to imitate Japanese giant monster films by creating the giant ape effects by putting a man in the suit, but where they went wrong was when they bought a cheap Halloween store ape suit and tried to make a movie around it. Its laughably awful. Luckily however, the film was able to get a great leading man in Michael Gough (best known for playing Alfred in the 90s Batman films*), whose energy and intensity saves the film from being just a giant cheeseball of bad special effects and worse sets. The plot is original, focusing on a sleazy mad scientist rather than any would-be heroes, making "Konga" watchable, and often entertaining. Just expect to laugh - a lot - at things that were never supposed to be funny.
I should note that even though "Konga" was the first "King Kong" rip-off, or if you want a witty nickname, you can call it "Kong-spoitation", it was certainly not the last. In 1969 there was "The Mighty Gorga"* - the movie with the worst special effects of any feature film ever, bar none. In the Seventies to match the release of the remake, South Korea made "A*P*E" and Hong Kong made "The Mighty Peking Man", both cheesy comedies. Then there's the gonzo 1976 British film called "Queen Kong" where the giant ape is female and the blond human kidnapped is a possibly-stoned English man. And finally there's "Kong Island", a 1968 exploitation film that features neither a giant ape or even an island. Instead its about women not wearing very much clothing in the jungle. I plan on covering as many of these films as I can found or tolerate, but obviously "Kong Island" is excluded for not actually being a giant monster film.
"Konga" opens with a propeller plane flying over the African jungle with a very badly stuttering engine. It sounds like the machine is about to stall, but it actually does one better: it EXPLODES. A year later, Michael Gough has returned to London, the triumphant survivor of an entire year alone with the savages of Darkest Africa. Gough is playing a botany professor who used his time in Africa to study a previously unknown tribe of bushmen, but he's also brought home a pet: the adorable baby chimpanzee named "Konga". Now its obvious why a botanist would be fascinated in a little furry primate like Konga, because Konga is a lovable little creature and outrageously cute thanks to being play by a real monkey. But actually, Michael Gough has a secondary motive, he's going to make Konga "the king of the new world" with his brand new experiment. Incoming hilarious bastardization of science: he's going to splice Konga's DNA with giant carnivorous plants he found in Africa, and thus make Konga a giant. This will lead to an outrageous new frontier in biological engineering in which Michael Gough will create a master race of plant creatures and take over the world. Obviously Joel Schumacher was mistaken when he picked Uma Thurman to play Poison Ivy, he should have picked the man playing Alfred!
We find out very quickly that Michael Gough is not some eccentric tinkerer merely excited by this great revelation he's found in Darkest Africa. It appears something horrible happened to him down there and he's gone completely Colonel Kurtz on us. Immediately there's something unusual with his relationship with his fiery redhead housekeeper/assistant/secretary/best friend, Margaret, where its obvious these two characters have been sleeping together for years now, yet they are unmarried and their relationship is nothing more than a haughty wink to the audience. But Michael Gough turns out to be even slimier than this, because while teaching his class he loses no time in making moves on a young pointy-breasted girl named Hermione. (Obviously not that Hermione, but this girl is still pretty and obsessed with her grades.) And then when Michael Gough's dean begins to complain that the professor might possibly be losing his mind, Michael Gough turns Konga into this:
Distressingly, this is how Konga looks for the rest of the movie.
It could not more obviously be a man in a rubber suit, I'm afraid. And supposedly Michael Gough evil gigantism plant formula grows you completely proportionally, which we can see clearly in how a baby monkey turns into a chimpanzee and then turns into a man in a Halloween store gorilla suit. Konga sadly does not get much time to enjoy his new size, since Michael Gough also has learn hypnotism and mind-controls the big fella to go out and murder the dean. Now the London Police have the unusual role of hunting down a big furry mind-controlled serial killer.
As I'm sure you know, murder is intoxicating, so Michael Gough uses his monkey man to take care of all of his problems. When a rival Indian scientist has gotten too close to figuring out the plant-animal gene splicing formula, Konga snaps his neck. When Hermione's boyfriend becomes concerned that Michael Gough is being massively creepy and possessive to a girl half his age, Konga murders him too. I imagine if Gough and Margaret were out of milk somehow Konga would be out there strangling the milk man with his huge silly paws. Margaret actually takes all this murdering rather well, I think, since she's become fond of Konga, and she was able to extract from the Professor a promise to marry her... or a promise to humor her for a few more months until he's able to sexually enslave Hermione. Did I mention this movie is really sleazy?
Michael Gough could not be acting more intense during this entire film, he's really what saves this. The entire time, either when falling into deranged mad scientist rants or manipulating a perky co-ed, he is always greatly intense and seemingly right on the edge of just foaming at the mouth with rage. You never know what set him off so badly, where he got all these desperate controlling urges and severe violent reactions to anybody who even mildly stands in his way. I suspect its something that happened in Africa, but maybe he's just always been the impotent nerdy guy who finally found some power lately and is intoxicated by a symbolic revenge to all the bullies who crossed him and all the girls who refused him. Or maybe he's just a flat mad scientist, either way, Michael Gough is awesome in this film. But he did make one mistake: while trying to rape Hermione in his greenhouse full of Audrey IIs, Margaret hears his entire scheme to replace her with somebody younger and perkier.
Margaret isn't pleased. Her whole life she's been suffering under this manipulative professor whose used his screen of disdain for normal human relationships to keep her at arm's length, but still useful as a sex object and servant. And as it turns out, he's just as much of a monster as she though. The solution therefore is to make an even bigger monster. Margaret uses more Plant-Grow-Stuff and turns Konga giant, while trying to hypnotize him. Sadly, Margaret doesn't seem very good at hypnotism, so Konga now runs free and grabs her.
Prepare yourself for this next image. Do not look at it hastily, take a deep breath, sit down, maybe say a few Hail Mary's, and then enjoy it:
He's holding a doll of Margaret... Oh my God...
And unfortunately I can't show without video, but the way Konga kills Margaret? He throws the doll on the ground. You never really appreciate the talents of somebody like Ray Harryhausen or Willis O'Brien until you see a man in a gorilla suit throwing a doll with a huge head that's supposed to be the actress playing Margaret. O'Brien in "King Kong" actually animated Faye Wray while she was being held by the monster, it wasn't very convincing, but it looked a person. This could not look more awful, its awesome. The worst part is that they didn't need to do this. There are a few shots of Margaret's actress screaming while being held in the monster's hands, that's all you needed to convince the audience that she's being held. And it would have been more suspenseful to just hear her scream, you don't even need to show her death, leave it to the audience to imagine what happened. Ironically, Hermione's death actually is left to the audience, since when we last she her, she's getting chewed on by an evil Africanized plant, and presumably she doesn't escape.
Anyway, this leaves only Konga and Michael Gough. Konga grows to roughly fifty-feet tall - noticeably far shorter than the poster - and carries his father across London to Big Ben. There isn't really much Michael Gough can do except impotently plead for the monster to put him down, which does happen... in a fashion.
If you focus on the detailed work on that Big Ben model, you might
not notice how silly the Michael Gough doll is.
The London Police open fire with machine guns and tanks and just about everything they can throw at Konga. The big guy gets mad, and forgets what's in his hand for a moment, so throws his master at the crowd below, killing Michael Gough in horrible and satisfyingly undignified manner. Konga himself really hasn't done any purposeful wrong, he's just a baby monkey that's grown to massive size. But the machine gun bullets don't understand this, and he is killed. That ends the movie.
Its hard to get across in a review the sense of... cheapness behind "Konga". Every single shot looks like a set, aside from some very late moments in the climax where Konga rampages briefly through London and the crowd appears to actually be outside. Even a scene shot in a forest looks like it has about all the depth of ten feet. Everything is a sound stage, and not very convincing sound stages either. It looks like a sitcom or a cheap television show for the most part. Which is odd since this movie had a budget of half a million dollars, far more than what the directors of "20,000 Miles to Earth" or "Attack of the Crab Monsters" were able to work with, and yet those movies actually feel like they're shot in real locations sometimes. Its hard to forget you're a watching a movie with "Konga", since everything is artificial and the effects are bad, and the movie isn't well-shot at all. I suppose black and white helped cover some of the more difficult effects problems in older films, which color does not afford.
The positives are... a positive. Its Michael Gough. He's great here. The plot is wonderfully silly and he is the man for the job of a crazy mad scientist furiously proud of his insanity. He gives an almost triumphal performance in an otherwise rather flat and ugly movie. Margaret's actress is pretty decent too, everybody else is awful. Bur really, the problem is the monkey. Konga looks so silly. You can't help but laugh when you see a man in a gorilla costume trying to sneak around a college's dean's office, its insane. That's entertaining. I wouldn't call "Konga" a masterpiece, but its got its moments.
On the next episode of All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - the only Danish giant monster movie that I know of, "Gorgo".
* AND BOOM! All-Out Giant Monster Attack and the Batman Movie Batdown have finally intersected!
** Which should not be confused with "Gorgo", a 1961 Danish "Godzilla" rip-off which just so happens to be the next film featured here.