Giant Ape Film Guide by Vittorio Carli
Kongmania is spreading throughout the nation and moviegoers are going bananas over the new version. The film is being heavily hyped, and the film is already making monstrous profits. The time is ripe to look at other films featuring monstrous apes and giant gorillas.
Many old Hollywood films such as “Murders in the Rue Morgue (1933),” “The Ape (1948)” “Bride of the Gorilla (1951),” and “Gorilla at Large (1954).” Most of these films are mediocre Z films that would probably bore most modern viewers.
Evil gorillas have also been heavies in countless comedy films including the Three Stooges short “Three Missing Links (1938),” and the full length ‘The Bowery Boys Meets the Monsters (1954).”
There was also a rash of strange films in which mad scientists put human brains into ape’s bodies ands vice versa. The earliest one is “The Monkey Man (1908),” but the best was “The Monster and the Girl (1941).” In “Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942)” an ape is surgically transformed into a man. In “The Ape Man (1943),” Bela Lugosi transforms himself into a stooped over, ape creature, and he steals spinal fluid from his victims in order to turn back.
The low budget trilogy, “Captive Wild Woman (1942),” “Jungle Woman (1944),” and “Jungle Captive (1945)” is about a female ape that is tragically transformed into a beautiful human female, but her killer instincts always resurface. All three films seem somewhat long even though they’re under 70 minutes, but I'll watch anything with Evelyn Ankers or Acquanetta.
But there have always many films featuring good or heroic apes like the original 1933 classic “King Kong (1932)” which presented the giant ape as the hero, and the humans as the villains. “Mighty Joe Young (1949)” and “Son of Kong (1933)” are two good Hollywood films in the same vein. The new Kong will also undoubtedly inspire a string of imitations.
The Asian King Kong films such as “King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)” and “King Kong Escapes (1967)” are ludicrous but somewhat enjoyable. But the only great Asian film is “Mighty Peking Man (1977)” which has amassed a small but devoted cult following in the U.S. It’s more original and delightful than any ape film except for the original Kong.
Speaking of Japanese monsters, there’s a Godzilla/ape connection. Godzilla’s Japanese name, “Gojira” means whale ape. Godzilla may be a dinosaur, but in the films he often has an ape like or mammal-like appearance. Now that many scientists think that dinosaurs are warming blooded this may not be so far off as we once thought.
Gradually, the evil ape films in both Hollywood and Asian films became scarcer. Perhaps years of Discovery Channel nature programs and zoo visits have rehabilited the image of this great apes. Most people today probably think of gorillas as gentle giants even though their arms are several times as strong as human arms.
Time to stop monkeying around. Here’s a guide to the 15 most notable giant ape films with star ratings. They are organized in terms of quality beginning with the best and ending with worst.
King Kong (1933) ****-The films is more consistent and has more heart than the new version. It also retains more of a sense of wonder. The horrific ending is genuinely tragic, and the last line is among the most quoted in cinema history. Willis O’ Brien’s use of miniatures was excellent for it’s time, and the special effects still hold up today, A must see classic, and the new DVD includes some fascinating extras.
Mighty Peking Man- ***1/2- This Hong Kong adventure Film is delightfully campy and it contains a ton of laughs (some intentional and some unintentional.) It’s a strange film about a man who travels to forget a broken heart. He runs off to the Himalayas and encounters a gorgeous jungle girl (Evelyn Kraft) with a pet giant ape. The ape gets jealous when she is attracted to the human. This splendid King Kong knockoff deserves its cult following. I liked this one so much that I bought it, and some off my friends have watched it three or four times.
King Kong (2005) ***-The new version has great special effects (what do you expect from Peter Jackson?), and an unexceptional love story. The first hour is a bore, but the last one is splendid. But when the film takes off (such as during the dinosaur/Kong fight scenes and Kong’s fight against the planes), it’s irresistible
Mighty Joe Young (1949) ***- Good special effects in a film by the director of the original Kong. Basically the ape is a kinder, gentler and less powerful Kong, and it rewards viewers that are hoping for a happy ending.
Son of Kong (1933) ***- This sequel was rushed and it had about half the budget. It manages to capture some of the charm of the original but not it’s sense of awe. An interesting and enjoyable film that’s only a failure if it’s compared to the original.
Mighty Joe Young (1998) ***- This upbeat film was designed as a family friendly Kong knockoff. But it’s not without its rewards including some terrific scenes of the title ape in the jungle and an early Charlise Theron starring role.
King Kong vs. Godzilla **1/2 (1963) - In this film, Kong has a long snout which makes him look fake. He’s also four times the size he was in King Kong (1933), but he’s still dwarfed by Godzilla who is evil in this film. This Toho film is technically bad, but it’s sort of fun anyway. The scene where the two giant monsters fight and the people run the wrong way (towards the monsters) is a hoot. Shot with two endings Spoiler alert: rumor says that in the Japanese version Kong wins and in the Japanese cut, Godzilla is the victor. But this is false; a line in both versions says that Kong won. .
War of the Gargantuas **1/2-A section of an good ape-like creature is cut off and grows a second ape-like creature,
Konga (1962)-**-This British film is about a mad scientist who changes a lowly baby chimp to giant size proportions, He uses it to destroy his enemies, and it gets out of control and wrecks half or London. This is a watchable misfire.
King Kong (1976) ** -The tagline for this film is “The most exciting original motion picture event of all time” but the film does not compare well with the other two versions. Despite a funny performance by Charles Grodin and the appearance of Jessica Lange, it deserves its status as a critical and financial dud.
King Kong (1966) **-This video is actually a collection of a few episodes of the first anime TV show to be shown in America. It features a young boy named Billy Bond who repeatedly gets saved by Kong. The episodes aren’t that great, but the theme song is marvelous. It’s like a bizarre cross between the original Kong and “Speed Racer.”
King Kong Escapes (1967) *1/2- This Japanese King Kong film pits everybody’s giant ape against a huge gorilla robot named Mecha Kong. The same basic premise was used in “Terror of Mecha Godzilla” in which the famous dinosaur faces a mechanical duplicate. Neither one is especially engaging.
King Kong Lives (1986) *1/2-This dreadful Hollywood film was a sequel to the barely worth seeing 1976 version. We find out that Kong miraculously survived the fall from the World Trade Center, and all he needs to survives with a heart transplant. This time he encounters a female giant ape that functions as his love interest.” The poor film is filled with horrendous lines such as “We should have no problems identifying the enemy - they’re approximately fifty feet tall and wearing their birthday suits.”
Ape (1976) *- I saw this horrendous Korean film about a giant ape on the loose when it first came out. Even as a kid I was even appalled and disappointed. The film includes a scene in which the ape flips off the camera, and one in which it is shown wearing tennis shoes. And these are the highlights. Believe it or not, it is also known as “A*P*E,” “The New King Kong,” “Super Kong’ and “Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla.”
Queen Kong (1976) unavailable for review- Due to a copyright infringement lawsuit, this film was never released theatrically, and it is the only giant ape film I could never find.
Vittorio Carli teaches film at Richard J. Daley College, and literature at Moraine Valley Community College. Visit his web site at www.artinterviews.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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