Saturday, 29 June 2013

Konga (1961)

It would be absolutely impossible not to love a movie that features both Michael Gough and a guy in a gorilla suit. And that’s just what Konga offers. This 1961 Anglo-American co-production from producer Herman Cohen (who also gave us Michael Gough in the excellent Horrors of the Black Museum and The Black Zoo) is a treat for fans of campy horror movies.

Gough is Dr Charles Decker, an English botanist who has been lost in the jungles of Darkest Africa for a year after a plane crash. Now he’s returned to Britain, bringing an extraordinary discovery with him. He has discovered the link between plants and animals and by means of this discovery he has developed a serum that can make animals grow to gigantic size. I know none of that makes any sense, which is one of the many things I love about this movie.

Decker also brought back with him a baby chimpanzee named Konga. By injecting Konga with the serum he causes him to grow in a matter of seconds into a full-grown gorilla (because everybody knows that when chimpanzees grow up they become gorillas). But Decker’s scientific genius has taken him even further - by means of hypnosis he can make Konga do anything he wants him to do. This includes getting rid of inconvenient academic superiors. Like all great geniuses Dr Decker is plagued by the stupidity of little men who cannot appreciate his brilliance. Dr Decker does not intend to let such men plague him even further.

Dr Decker has a greenhouse full of carnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants are a passion of his since they represent the link between plants and animals (more of the gloriously wacky pseudoscientific technobabble that makes this movie so wonderful).

Dr Decker has a faithful assistant named Margaret (Margo Johns). Margaret has obviously been in love with the brilliant but completely looney-tunes scientist for quite some time. Now she threatens to expose his current experiments to the press if he refuses to marry her.

Unfortunately Dr Decker also has a scientific rival, an Indian botanist who is close to making the very breakthrough that Decker believes will make his reputation.

Although the title suggests that we’re going to see a King Kong rip-off this movie actually has little in common with King Kong as far as plot is concerned although the ending obviously borrows a good deal from RKO’s 1933 classic. Konga grows bigger every time he’s injected with the serum. Soon he will be big enough to stomp the whole city of London.

Michael Gough is in fine form as the unhinged botanist. Gough was always a good choice for mad scientist roles and here he gets plenty of opportunities for the sort of outrageous over-acting for which we love this great actor. The performances by the other cast members are solid enough but they’re irrelevant - Michael Gough and Konga carry this movie on their own and no-one else is even going to get noticed.

There are some obvious similarities to the animal mayhem in The Black Zoo. There’s an old saying among actors that you should never work with children or animals because they’ll always upstage you. Michael Gough doesn’t have to worry about that. Nobody or nothing could ever upstage him when he was in full flight.

Producer Herman Cohen co-wrote the delightfully goofy script with Aben Kandel. The result is delicious high camp. Director John Lemont had a very brief career but he handles things quite adequately.

The special effects are wonderfully silly. Considering the low budget they manage to be reasonably spectacular. The carnivorous plants are particularly bizzare.

Konga has been released on DVD by MGM in their Midnite Movies range, paired with a South Korean sci-fi monster flick called Yongary on one double-sided disc. The transfer of Konga looks terrific although sadly it isn’t 16x9 enhanced. Still it does at least give us the widescreen aspect ratio and the colours are rich and vibrant.

Konga is a must-see for every cult movie fan who adores both Michael Gough and guys-in-gorilla-suit movies, in other words for every cult movie fan. A deliriously silly fun romp. Highly recommended.

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