Konga – UK, 1961 – reviews

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‘Not since “King Kong” has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!’

Konga is a 1961 British/American science fiction horror film directed by John Lemont from a screenplay by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel. It stars Michael Gough, Margo Johns and Austin Trevor.

The Anglo Amalgamated production was distributed in the United States by American International Pictures (AIP) as a double feature with Master of the World. Anglo Amalgamated and AIP each provided half the funding for the US$500,000 film with each studio receiving distribution rights in their respective hemispheres.

As Cohen had long admired King Kong he thought of a giant ape film shot in colour. Due to Cohen’s success with his I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), AIP used “I Was a Teenage Gorilla” as the working title.

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Cohen paid RKO Pictures $25,000 for the rights to the name of Kong for exploitation purposes. Cohen recalled that the special effects for the film that was one of the first giant monster movies shot in colour (Eastmancolor) took 18 months to complete.

The climactic scene in London was possible when the producer was able to convince a local police chief that the scenes could be effectively staged late at night on essentially empty streets. A combination of miniature sets, an actor in a gorilla suit and use of studio mattes also made the technical aspects of the production look better than its meagre budget would allow.

Review:

Ahh yes, Konga. From the man who brought you teenage Frankensteins and Werewolves comes one of the more oddball King Kong rip-offs (and connoisseurs of Kong rip-offs will know just how oddball that makes it), a tale of overgrown apes, flesh-eating plants and teenage lust that sets its stall out right away with shockingly day-glo opening titles and a shot of a plane exploding that has Birdemic-level opticals. In fact, watching Konga again a few days after seeing Birdemic 2, I can’t help thinking that the films would make an extraordinary double-bill.

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Konga tells the story of Dr. Charles Decker, who returns from the jungle after being missing for a year, claiming to have discovered new forms of plant life that will turn evolution on its head. He seems enthusiastically harmless, but as he’s played by Michael Gough, you know he can’t be trusted, and sure enough, his first experiment sees him injecting terrified chimp Konga with a miracle growth serum that sees the ape double in size.

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Before long, Decker has a greenhouse full of rubbery-looking (and oddly phallic) giant carnivorous plants and Konga has somehow transformed from a chimp to a gorilla. You’d think this was evidence a-plenty to prove Decker’s theories, but he holds off on making them public. This lack of proof earns him a severe rebuke from his boss, and Decker isn’t one to take such an insult lying down. He uses hypnotism to turn Konga into a killing machine (because you can apparently hypnotise apes who all have a firm grasp of English) and starts to send him out to bump off anyone who gets in his way.

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But when his wife Margaret (Margo Johns) sees him putting the make on sexy student Sandra (Claire Gordon) – and by that, I mean attempting to rape her – her jealousy makes her inject Konga with more growth serum, turning him into a sixty-foot monster who then goes on a rather lacklustre rampage across London.

Oddly overlooked in the pantheon of great bad films, Konga is a riot from start to finish. Much of the credit must go to Gough, who chews the scenery with glee – rarely has there been such an eye-rolling, sneering, ridiculous villain as Decker, who goes from pumping a couple of bullets into his pet cat to leeringly attacking his busty teenage student in a series of increasingly hysterical moments.

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Gough is matched by the supporting cast – Gordon has the looks of a late 50’s glamour girl and was clearly not hired for her acting ability, delivering her lines like someone who has learned them phonetically and rarely understanding things like timing or hitting your mark. Jess Conrad, as her would-be boyfriend, certainly bubbles with horny teenage jealousy (getting into a fight with Decker at one point), yet his character is such an unappealing mix of possessiveness and self-pity that you can’t wonder that Sandra chooses to hang out with sleazy old Dr. Decker instead.

It should go without saying that the gorilla costume is one of the worst ever seen. But what’s remarkable is just how slapdash the special effects in general are. The final scenes, when giant Konga scoops up Margaret and Decker in his mighty paws, are legendary for their awfulness, as the gorilla-suited actor holds on to what are clearly dolls – there’s no attempt to even articulate the figures or make them vaguely human looking. It’s at this point that you realise that producer Herman Cohen and director John Lemont genuinely didn’t give a solitary single toss.

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Wasting no time on plot or character development, Konga just gets on with it. Packed to the gills with astonishing dialogue (“what are you having with your poached egg? Murder?”), hysterical acting and general nonsense, this is remarkably entertaining.

For generations who have known nothing but cynical CGI monster mashes, Konga will seem like a breath of fresh air and this cheerfully camp film deserves to become a late night party favourite nationwide.

David Flint, Horrorpedia

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Other reviews:

“Inept, silly, and ludicrously enjoyable monster movie, with Gough as the mad boffin who injects a chimp with a growth serum, only to see it turn into an uncredited actor in a gorilla suit. Thereafter the ape grabs a Michael Gough doll and heads for Big Ben. Deeply political.” Time Out

Cast and characters:

  • Michael Gough as Dr. Charles Decker
  • Margo Johns as Margaret
  • Jess Conrad as Bob Kenton
  • Claire Gordon as Sandra Banks
  • Austin Trevor as Dean Foster
  • Jack Watson as Superintendent Brown
  • George Pastell as Professor Tagore
  • Vanda Godsell as Bob’s Mother
  • Stanley Morgan as Inspector Lawson
  • Grace Arnold as Miss Barnesdell
  • Leonard Sachs as Bob’s Father – Taste of Fear
  • Nicholas Bennett as Daniel
  • Kim Tracy as Mary
  • Rupert Osborne as Eric Kenton
  • Waveney Lee as Janet Kenton
  • John Welsh as Commissioner Garland
  • Paul Stockman as Konga [uncredited]
  • Steven Berkoff as Student on field trip [uncredited]

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Cast and characters:

  • Michael Gough as Dr. Charles Decker
  • Margo Johns as Margaret
  • Jess Conrad as Bob Kenton
  • Claire Gordon as Sandra Banks
  • Austin Trevor as Dean Foster
  • Jack Watson as Superintendent Brown
  • George Pastell as Professor Tagore
  • Vanda Godsell as Bob’s Mother
  • Stanley Morgan as Inspector Lawson
  • Grace Arnold as Miss Barnesdell
  • Leonard Sachs as Bob’s Father
  • Nicholas Bennett as Daniel
  • Kim Tracy as Mary
  • Rupert Osborne as Eric Kenton
  • Waveney Lee as Janet Kenton
  • John Welsh as Commissioner Garland
  • Paul Stockman as Konga (uncredited)

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Filming locations:

Merton Park Studios, South Wimbledon, London, England
Croydon, South London, England

Trivia:

The Konga gorilla outfit was recycled in Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)

Wikipedia | IMDb

Related: The Bloody Ape | King KongQueen Kong

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