‘Not since “King Kong” has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!’
Konga is a 1961 British-American science fiction horror feature film directed by John Lemont (The Frightened City) from a screenplay written by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel. The movie 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 I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), AIP used “I Was a Teenage Gorilla” (!) as the working title.
Cohen paid RKO Pictures $25,000 for the rights to the name of Kong and has recalled that the special effects for the film that was one of the first giant monster movies shot in colour (Eastmancolor) took eighteen 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.
Blu-ray and DVD releases:
Konga was released on Blu-ray and DVD, newly remastered in 2K, by Kino Lorber Studio Classics on December 3rd 2019. Buy via Amazon.com
Promotional and stills gallery
Ahh yes, Konga. From Herman Cohen, 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 hormones 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.
Konga tells the story of Doctor 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.
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 aplenty 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.
But when his wife Margaret (Margo Johns) sees him putting the make on attractive student Sandra (Claire Gordon) – and by that, I mean attempting to molest 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.
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 testosterone-fuelled 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 Doctor 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 really care.
Wasting no time on plot or character development, Konga just gets on with it. Beyond the fake fur, there is some astonishing dialogue (“What are you having with your poached egg… Murder!?”), hysterical acting and general nonsense; this is remarkably entertaining stuff.
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, MOVIES and MANIA
“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
Buy DVD: Amazon.com
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]
Merton Park Studios, South Wimbledon, London, England
Croydon, South London, England
- The movie was novelised by Dean Owen.
- A Konga comic book was issued by Charlton Comics, drawn by Steve Ditko, shortly before he co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee.
- The Konga gorilla outfit was recycled in Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).