1961 was indeed the year of british giant monster rip-off movies, heck, this was released just 3 days in the UK before Gorgo debutted in US theathers, and both got a comic book tie-in (which eventually pitted them against each other), even if the production companies were different. But again, exploitation cinema is an universal language.
Where Gorgo obviously ripped off Godzilla, Konga went for the giant primate, even going so far as marketing it with this phrase written on the theathrical poster “Not since King Kong has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle”. But in this case there were no troublesome legal litigations on the name (the ownership to the name “King Kong” is an incredibly messy subject deserving its own detailed editorial or video), as producer Herman Cohen just paid RKO 25.000 $ for using the name “Kong” in the posters and marketing material.
Ironically, Gorgo’s plot was more akin to King Kong’s (or to be precise, Murders In The Rue Morge) than the one found in Konga, because there are no natives worshipping the giant ape, no company kidnapping him and all that jazz.
Konga is actually about a british botanist, Dr. Charles Decker (played by Michael “Alfred Pennyworth” Gough), coming back from Africa after a year, surprising everyone as it was presumed to be dead. In that time, the doctor found a way to grow plants and animals to enormous size, and eventually produces a serum, testing it on the baby chimpanzee he brough back, called Konga.
The serum injection makes the baby chimpanzee grow into a ferocious gorilla-like ape…. yeah, i don’t think that’s how it works (and it reminds me of the ape transformation in Metal Slug 4), but regardless, now that Michael Gough has evolved Mankey into a guy in a gorilla suit, he sends Konga all over London to kill his far more famous and credited colleagues, and the student interested in the woman he wants. As the doctor’s assistant-lover-partner in crime hears about him making the moves on the “singled” woman, she decides to relaliate by pumping full of serum his gorilla, making it a giant.
For better or worse the finale is NOT as randomly excruciating as the one in The Mighty Peaking Man, it’s not that cruel, and as he dies, Konga changes back into a baby chimpanzee, Rampage style. This serum really does work by videogame logic, amazing.
Given how the plot reminds me more of Monster Crash The Pajama Party and crap from the 40s or 50s, i was expecting a cheap gorilla suit… and you get exactly that, a cheap rubber gorilla suit, and i feel even at the times this looked kinda cheap. Now it looks even more dated, obvious…. and let’s be blunt, it probably looked really goofy even in 1961, hard to take it seriously when you can see clearly the skin of the actor under the mask, they even couldn’t be bothered to put some make-up near his eyes so you couldn’t the see clear human skin peeking out of what’s supposed to be an ape.
The rest of the effects aren’t that great, truth to be told, but i kinda like the props for the man-eating plants, they obviously look fake as hell, but there’s some charm to them. Less how the “gunfire” effects aimed at Konga don’t even look to come into contact with him, come on. Yeah, this one can’t really play the “age card”, though the miniatures aren’t that bad, but still, it’s kinda stupid how is more impressive seeing Konga as a baby chimp bringing tea to the lab, or the mad doctor killing – almost at random – a cat with a gun. Didn’t see that coming, i can say that much.
Heck, to further cement of how late 40’s the plot sounds, the “good” doctor controls him by hypnosis, making me kinda happy good ol’ Bela Lugosi was already dead (undead undead), it does sound like the kind of crap he begrudgly would have starred in. That said, i’m glad we have Michael Gough as the lead, because he fully committs to the role, a hammy performance but fun to watch, and that’s good, because most of the film is kinda boring, almost dry as gin itself.
Yeah, don’t expect the monster to do anything that graphic, he just strangles people, snaps a neck… off screen, and even at then end, in giant form, he doesn’t really rampage, but just potters around carrying a Michael Gough’s puppet, mostly roaring and looking confused, but polite enough to use the sidewalks. He doesn’t even fight back the army or climbs the Big Ben.
Acting is decent, but the main problem of Konga is that there’s not much action or “stuff happening”, the ape doesn’t become giant and goes on the “rampage” only in the last 15 minutes, and most of the movie is “british people talking”, having fairly polite discussions and even polite menacing mad speeches, almost all of it revolving in some way about the romantic sub-plot.
It’s not that bad as mostly kinda boring, with some laughs provided by the ridiculous ape suit, especially when the actor in it looks confused, and – in case it’s needed to be pointed out – it’s not a good movie, but there’s some mild, campy fun to be had in how fairly inept it is, some of the lines are unintetionally hilarious, and how the actors play it straight despite the goofiness of it all.
You can get both far worse and far funnier, stupider and campier as Kong-xploitation goes, as we’re gonna find out next. This is just sub-par british monster movie goofyness, kinda dull but not without its moments of fun, and it’s almost worth watching for Michael Gough’s committed performance. 🙂
Who knows, maybe in 30 years we’ll see Gorgo VS Konga in theathers. Or not.