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Konga (1960)

Ah, films. For every Armageddon there's a Deep Impact, for every Volcano there's a Dante's Peak. And for every Blair Witch Project, there's an Erotic Witch Project 2 - Book Of Babes. Ahem, I believe. What I'm trying to say here is that there's a bunch of unscrupulous types out there who see a successful concept, and try to exploit it.

And British horror film makers have been no exception to this rule. If it hadn't been for a wish to ape the success of Universal's 30s horror cycle, Hammer as we know it probably wouldn't have existed at all. Their most successful films were, as we all know, essentially remakes of Universal's old output. Which is where Konga comes in. It is, as you would expect from the title, a film which involves a giant ape, and much like our old friend Gorgo relies solely on the British audience-pleasing idea of big monsters getting nearer to home than Tokyo or New York to put bums on seats (as it were). Unlike Gorgo's Godzilla-lite shenanigans though, it's not essentially "King Kong, but set in London". Oh no, Konga is much more bizarre than that.

Konga is also, I'm afraid, the kind of film that only connoisseurs of the truly dreadful will appreciate. It is not a good film, which makes it a prime target for this site, despite the rather off-putting appearance of a PG certificate on the video box.

As a plane crashes unconvincingly in the jungle, we learn that it contained famous botanist Charles Decker. A year later, Decker (Michael Gough - on top form) mysteriously re-appears - proudly sporting a chimp and a wig and claiming to be on the verge of a link "between what grows in the earth and animal life". This being the 1960s, few sensible questions are asked by the press waiting to greet him at the airport. "How did you get that chimp through customs?" might have been a good one to start with.

The chimp's name is Konga, and he's Decker's new best friend, having saved the good doctor's life by showing him the way to a jungle village and salvation following the crash.

Decker goes home and immediately starts work, which involves creating living plants with "human characteristics" (see The Mutations and Die Monster Die for similar cobblers) and creating a serum from their leaves, which he injects into Konga and sees him immediately double in size (courtesy of some particularly un-special effects). There's a great bit where the cat manages to lick up some spilled serum, so Decker simply grabs a handy gun and shoots it dead. For some reason he reckons that a rapidly-growing chimp (a dangerous animal) would be preferable to an overlarge ginger tom. Perhaps he was worried about what damage such an animal could cause to the curtains?

Decker is managing to fit in a bit of biology teaching amongst his cat-shooting and monkey-growing activities. But the only kind of biology he actually wants to practice is a bit of practical with a busty blonde in his class called Sandra. "There is a maturity about you now, Sandra…" he schmoozes. "You have it in you to become a true scientist…"

And that's not all he plans to have in her, either, if you catch my drift.

As usual with these nutty professors, he's not averse to telling the world what he's up to, as well. His claims that he'll soon be able to "change the shape of human beings" gets him into trouble with the Dean of his college (those meddlesome deans, eh?) and it becomes clear that his only recourse is to set Konga on the unfortunate man.

More drugs are pumped into the chimp, and this time it changes into - no, not an even bigger chimp - a man in a gorilla suit (hurrah!). The Dean is soon marmalised, with Decker chillingly likening him to a "lab rat". Margaret (the horse-faced secretary - remember her?) finds out what's been going on, but agrees to keep shtum if he makes an honest woman of her. Rather charmingly, she explains: "Whatever may be shoddy and spoiled in my life, one thing will be clean. I will be Mrs Charles Decker!"

Decker has by now lost it big style, and he keeps sending his hairy friend out on homicidal errands, which he claims is actually just "testing Konga for obedience" (a likely story). But when Margaret discovers Decker snogging Sandra in the greenhouse, she decides to take her own revenge using the power of enormous monkeys. She hypnotises Konga to obey only her (and promptly snuffs it) and then injects him with enough serum to make him really quite big.

Konga picks up Decker (his reaction? The constant repetition of one line: "Put me down! You fool!" which, to give the film makers their due, does get funnier each time it's uttered) and heads towards Big Ben. However, any hopes from the viewer that we might be in for a bout of wholesale destruction are to be short-lived. Konga's rampage is restricted to the occasional appearance loitering behind a building, and lots of reaction shots from people looking upwards.

"Fantastic!" says a bored police sergeant. "There is a huge monster gorilla that is constantly growing to outlandish proportions - loose on the streets!"

I'm sure you can guess the rest - but if your guess involves Konga doing anything other than standing still and waiting for the army to blow the crap out of him, you'd be wrong. The final use he puts Decker to is one of the more entertaining moments of the film, mind you.

What saves this non-spectacular travesty from eternal damnation is of course, Michael Gough. The man is on top form - shooting cats for no reason, badly mistreating his ugly secretary-cum-lover, and lusting after busty ladies who are young enough to be his granddaughter. And no-one wears a wig quite as spectacularly badly as Gough does (apart from Terry Wogan).

There's also a few good ideas, and even the occasional surprise during the dross. The one vaguely heroic figure (Sandra's boyfriend, Bob) gets brutally killed before he has the chance to do anything, and once again pretty much everyone dies.

There are even hints at possible homosexual bestiality on Gough's part: "We know each other much better than the world suspects…" he confides in the chimp at one point, and there's a great bit when he barks at Margaret: "Please leave, I want to be alone with Konga!" However, this could just be my mucky mind going into overdrive…

Last updated: February 24, 2010

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