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Konga - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

1½ Stars - Poor

American release: March 22, 1961 (by American International Pictures, a.k.a. AIP)

Direction: John Lemont

Screenplay: Aben Kandel and Herman Cohen

Music: Gerard Schurmann

Executive Producer: Herman Cohen

Konga Still. Trapped in Konga’s gargantuan gorilla paw, Michael Gough screams, “Help!” This may also be the sentiment of the unwary viewer who has watched the movie this far.

Rumor has it that Konga was originally entitled I Was A Teenage Gorilla, and considering producer Herman Cohen’s track record (I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein among others), it may be true.  Actually, Teenage Werewolf is pretty good, thanks to deft direction and acting, but even the lame Teenage Frankenstein is the Citizen Kane of horror classics compared to Konga.

The plot, such that it is, concerns loony British botanist Charles Decker (Michael Gough) obsessing about combining plants and animals.  Decker stocks his greenhouse full of carnivorous plants and uses the serum from their seeds to turn chimpanzee Konga first into a full-grown chimp, then into a six-foot gorilla.  Becker employs Konga as a kind of “hit ape” to do in his enemies.

As it turns out, Decker is not only a nutcase and a murderer, but also a lecher.  He lusts after Sandra, one of his pretty young college students, and Margaret, Decker’s female assistant, doesn’t like it one bit.  Enraged to hear Decker is dumping her for this collegiate vixen, Margaret injects Konga with more plant serum.  The ape subsequently gets Real Big, and Margaret starts screaming her head off, perhaps just realizing what this movie is likely to do to her career.

Konga then inadvertently sets the lab on fire, grabs Margaret, hurls a doll of her to the floor, and breaks out of the house.  Spying Decker in the greenhouse trying to put the “make” on an understandably repulsed Sandra, Konga smashes through the glass and grabs Decker, then begins walking the London streets – literally.  In fact, that’s all Konga does – walk.  He doesn’t so much as ruffle a roadside mailbox.

Indeed, when I first saw Konga as a ten-year-old in the mid-sixties, I felt cheated that Konga didn’t do anything.  Oh, he does swipe at a few extras once in a while, but that’s the extent of his “London rampage.”  He could obviously learn a thing or two about the high-rise two-step from fellow Brit beasties The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo.

Konga Still.

Anyway, after he gets to Big Ben, Konga stops in this tracks – who knows (or cares) why – while a crowd of onlookers looks on (what else are onlookers to do?).  The unhappy ape tosses an obvious doll of Decker into the streets before heavy artillery fire brings him down; now dead, the giant ape turns back into the diminutive chimpanzee he was at the beginning.  And that’s it.  Really.

As a giant monster movie, Konga is almost a total loss – and no doubt many a burned viewer wish it would get lost.  The main plot is tiresome and ludicrous, if not to say lurid.  Decker’s pawing of Sandra is particularly gross.  And certainly this type of subplot is not for kids – at least, not for 1960’s kids (for millennial kids this is probably tame stuff).  Yet during the sixties, kids always were one of the core audiences of giant monster movies.  So just who was this film made for?  The AIP execs, apparently.

Even worse, Sandra is a total innocent, yet her arm gets caught in the huge jaws of one of Decker’s carnivorous plants, and the clear implication is that the plant eats her.  A little sick, to say the least.  In a Photon #26 interview recounted in Bill Warren’s Keep Watching The Skies!, producer Herman Cohen said he had Sandra fall victim to the flesh-eating plant because he thought “the audience would get a . . . kick out of seeing her killed.”  Well, that might be true for audiences weaned on the largely nihilistic horror of the last thirty years, but I don’t think most audiences get their “kicks” watching total innocents get slaughtered.  And again, this certainly isn’t kid stuff.

Of course, the “giant monster” angle at the end comes almost as an afterthought.  Not everything is dross, however.  The miniature of the house that Konga bursts out of is good, as is the greenhouse model.  When Konga reaches over buildings to swipe at Londoners a couple of times, the effects are nice.  Too often the Michael Gough doll that Konga holds is obvious, but when Gough is held in the great ape’s hand via camera trickery, the results are fair.  And at the end when we see the deceased Konga turn back into the chimp he once was, the effect of seeing the small, dead chimpanzee lying prone in the street invokes a momentary pathos.

Konga Still.

For the most part, though, the movie invokes frustration.  For example, when the soldiers start firing on Konga as he towers next to Big Ben, Konga doesn’t even try to defend himself – he just stands there until he’s shot to death.  He may be a giant ape, but he’s not much of a kaiju.

Also, what’s with the crowds standing around gawking at Konga when it looks as though he’s standing less than a hundred feet away?  Would you stand thirty yards from a giant ape holding a screaming man in its paw? 

Let’s face it -- Konga goes wronga in so many ways, there may be no point in keeping a score card.

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