Friday, August 17, 2018

The Monster and the Girl

The Monster and the Girl
Stuart Heisler

The Monster and the Girl opens in a courtroom where Scott Webster (Phillip Terry) is on trial for murder. He’s accused of killing a man who lured his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew) into a life of prostitution through a sham wedding. Scott was framed but he's found guilty and executed. Thankfully(?) a scientist puts his brain in a gorilla body and Scott has a second chance to exact revenge on the criminals who ruined his sister’s life.

"Sure, I lied to you, forced you into prostitution, and sent you brother to the electric chair,
but does that make me a bad person?"
The most surprising thing about The Monster and the Girl is how much respect the film gives to its pulpy subject matter.  We are not just tossed into the brain swapping; the viewer is given a lengthy court sequence with flashbacks to Susan’s crushing realization of her faux marriage and her coercion into prostitution. There are also a few tough scenes of Susan pleading with gangsters to save her brother. When it finally gets down to some gorilla-style revenge, it is done so almost exclusively through shadow and suggestion. The Monster and the Girl is much more invested in long lingering shots of the gorilla’s soulful eyes rather than necks getting snapped. In a way, the story feels akin to the weird fiction of the time, as much is left to the viewer's imagination.

The Monster and the Girl’s main strength is also its biggest fault. Things are maybe just a bit too reserved. This is primarily a noir-revenge film, and it wouldn’t have changed the story at all to just have Scott escape prison and go on a killing spree. So given that we have a killer gorilla on the loose the film almost steadfastly refuses to use its most lurid element. The first killing we are told about via a radio news broadcast, after that most of the attacks are simply the gorilla lunging out of the shadows and the film cuts away. I think the story needed one full-on attack at the climax as a counter-point to keep all the previous action from feeling the same.

"All that snoring and somehow I'm the monster?"
I went into The Monster and the Girl expecting it to be a threadbare production like many killer ape movies from around this time. Although it isn’t a large production and is relegated to just a few sets, it is a wonderful looking film. It is filled with moody plays of dark and light. The gorilla suit isn’t quite as convincing in full body shots, but the moments of just its face watching and waiting for potential targets or former siblings are genuinely touching and unnerving.  The cast also does a great job. You hate the gangsters and you feel bad for Susan and Scott. There is a lot of emotion at play here and it helps elevate the film from just being a standard gorilla on the loose movie.

The Monster and the Girl is a minor classic and manages to pack a lot of things into a run-time of barely over an hour. This is no shambling shoddy ape suit movie, it is a carefully made and occasionally thoughtful noir story that just happens to feature a brain transplants and a killer ape.

Friday, August 10, 2018


APE (aka A*P*E)
Paul Leder

A 36-foot tall ape escapes future enslavement at Disneyland and decides to take out his frustrations on South Korea. Along the way, he takes a fancy to a movie star, Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns). After the ape hunts her down and runs off, Tom (Rod Arrants), Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) and Captain Kim (Nak-hun Lee) give pursuit.  Will the ape find true love or just a lot of bullets?

APE was made to cash-in on the release of Dino Dilaurentiis' King Kong (1976) remake and managed to beat it into the theaters by two months. APE throws everything it can into the mix to try and attract an audience. Do you like giant apes? We have you covered. Did you think Jaws (1975) was great? Well, our ape fights a giant shark. Do you like the television show M*A*S*H? Hey, we’re going to title our movie, A*P*E. Toss in some 3-D and you have a film that leaves no then-popular trend untouched. It is a pity that the script and the effects budget didn’t get nearly as much attention, but you have to make sacrifices somewhere, I suppose.

APE lets the audience know exactly what it thinks of them.
The flow of APE’s narrative feels like someone wrote the script after only hearing descriptions of what happens in giant ape movies. The ape is captured conveniently off-screen and is being shipped by boat to America. The story calls for the ape to get loose so it can rampage around South Korea. So, the movie just has the boat explode and the monster gets out. No explanation. Shortly after the ape gets in a fight with a giant shark, or more accurately a guy in a sopping wet ape suit punches a dead shark in someone’s pool for what seems like an hour, we get our movie star in distress, the American and Korean military struggling to deal with the monster, we have the traditional hordes of people running away and so on. All the key elements for a kaiju movie are here they are just incompetently executed.

Just how incompetent? The ape doesn’t stomp on buildings so much as trip over them. When it comes time to fight a giant snake, someone just hands him a real snake like it’s a threat. Marilyn veers from screaming her head off about being grabbed to cooing and saying sweet things to the monster and then back again. The 3D scenes consist of people jabbing things directly into the camera over and over. It’s all a colossal mess, but it is an amazing colossal mess.

This Fruit Gushers™ ad did not go over well.

The acting is all around terrible, but the secret MVP of the entire of the movie is Alex Nicol as Colonel Davis, a man who's only defining feature is that he finds giant ape invasions endlessly irritating. Davis grouses at everyone, barks orders, and ignores phone calls to smoke cigarettes. He is a treasure.

APE is trash of highest order and what is even more delightful is that it tries to have a moment of unearned seriousness when the ape is finally killed (cheerfully throwing up blood along the way), Tom utters the immortal line, “He was just too big for our small world.”

Bravo APE.

Friday, August 3, 2018


Richard Franklin

Jane Chase (Elisabeth Shue) is a graduate student looking to do some work with Professor Steven Philip (Terence Stamp), who has made a life studying the behavior of primates. Dr. Philip brings Jane to his house as an assistant to him and his three chimps. One of them, Link, takes a sinister interest in Jane. Soon, Dr. Phillips vanishes and Jane finds herself trapped in the house with Link.

Link gives us a trio of apes, a young chimp named Imp, an older one named Voodoo, and Link, who is played by an orangutan with dyed fur and prosthetic ears to make him appear to be more chimp-like. It is a decision that could have been disastrous but I think it makes Link appear even more uncanny and threatening. If nothing else about this movie really works, the animals are excellently trained, and some careful editing gives them a wide range of facial reactions to the various turns of the plot.

Eat your heart out, Lancelot Link
The human cast is relatively small, we spend the majority of the film with Jane. Shue seems comfortable around the apes, even during her infamous nude scene with Link. Her character is innocent to the point of being dense, when Dr. Phillip vanishes she seems completely unsuspecting of any foul play until Imp practically gives her all the clues. Terence Stamp is having a lot of fun as the idiosyncratic Dr. Phillip. His scenes ranting about the nature of humanity and his rapport with his test subjects (human and ape) really livens up the first half of the movie but it also means things slow down considerably once he vanishes. There a few more characters who show up later in the film to give Link someone to kill, but they really aren’t memorable in any significant way.

So, the animals are good, the cast is fun, and even the premise sounds like it could be a good time, what goes wrong? The pacing is an issue, we spend a lot of time getting to know our characters but the film forgets to let the rising threat of Link lurk in the background. Even when Link strikes and takes out Dr. Philip, the entire event is off-screen, the impetus being to cast doubt in the viewer's mind that he’s actually killed, but we know he’s dead. The movie has to set up the central conflict of Jane vs. Link so it is wasting time being coy. There is also the question of tone. I feel like the movie was aiming for black comedy, but there’s nothing here that is particularly funny. I am only basing this assumption on Jerry Goldsmith’s Gremlins-esque theme that gets cranked up every time the movie needs to generate some energy, often to no avail.

Terence Stamp isn't the only one who chew the scenery.
Link is a great premise that never feels focused enough to deliver on its promise. There are separate elements here that can be viewed on their own but the whole thing never blends together into a good film. Consistency is the missing link of Link.

Friday, July 27, 2018

King Kong Lives

King Kong Lives
John Guillermin

It’s been ten years since King Kong fell from the World Trade Center. Turns out he’s been in a coma all this time. Dr. Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton) is concerned that Kong’s blood won’t keep him alive much longer without an artificial heart and a transfusion. As luck would have it, Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) is wandering around the jungle when he just happens to find a female giant ape. I’m sure this will end well for everyone.

The 1976 remake of King Kong wasn’t exactly a debacle. It still has fair reviews to this day and it made some money. It is, however, overshadowed by its own hype campaign courtesy of Dino De Laurentiis. The infamous producer promised that Kong would be realized on screen by a gigantic hydraulic puppet. Dino couldn’t deliver on that promise. There is a giant hydraulic Kong at moments in the film but it is ridiculously stiff. Most of the time Kong was portrayed by Rick Baker in an ape suit. Ten years later De Laurentiis finally made a sequel with no pretension of changing cinema through technology.

The secret that Arby's doesn't want you to see.
King Kong Lives isn’t a promoted as a comedy, but it certainly feels like one. This movie brings us giant ape open heart surgery with a massive artificial heart, Kong/Lady Kong romance, a cartoonishly evil general, and some even more cartoonishly evil rednecks. Director John Guillermin goes so far as to have Kong engage in snapping alligators in half, and eating people. Just so you know how seriously he's taking things, he also stages a scene from the perspective of a bullfrog.

Even accounting for ten years of inflation, King Kong Lives was made for a fraction of its predecessor's cost. The effects are a mixed bag, the miniatures are often great, but much of the green screen work looks shockingly terrible even for 1986. Peter Elliot and George Antoni manage to evoke sympathy for the Kongs through their portrayals even if the choice to linger on the costumes goes on too long in parts and reduces the suspension of disbelief. Near the end Lady Kong gives birth. Kid Kong is far less successful and is maybe the biggest letdown in the whole film. It looks just like a common ape suit, there’s nothing babyish about him. I always felt that he seemed way too small as well.Turns out, there was a reason for this, Dino De Laurentiis had an idea to spin-off Kid Kong into his own animated television show where he could change size at will and travel to other planets. This never materialized but its further proof that Dino does not dream small.

The Kongs, this fall on NBC.
Linda Hamilton as Dr. Franklin is reduced to chasing King and Lady Kong around while watching the action from a distance. She gets a few decent scenes and tries her best to demonstrate real concern for the Kongs' plight. The low point for her is initiating an ill-advised sleeping bag frolic with Hank using the immortal line, “Yeah, why not... we're primates, too.” The other stand-out actor is John Ashton as Lieutenant Colonel Nevitt. He’s a mustache-twirling evil jerk-off, and it’s a delight to watch him get smashed into the ground.

King Kong Lives isn’t good, but that’s of little concern. It’s fast-paced, fun, and ridiculous in a perfect Saturday afternoon matinee kind of way. It promises giant ape destruction, love, tragedy, and a crushed Lamborghini and sometimes that’s all you really need.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Empire of the Apes

Empire of the Apes
Mark Polonia

Dane (Danielle Donahue), Theel (Elizabeth Costanzo, and Jada (Marie DeLorenzo) escape from a life of slavery only to land on a planet ruled by a tribe of intelligent apes. Their leader Korg (Ken Van Sant) would like nothing more than to use these humans to his advantage. Slaver, Captain Zantor (Steve Diasparra) arrives to get them back. The trio is not interested in submitting to anyone and they find their only ally is a heroic ape named Trask (Jeff Kirkendall).

If for nothing else, you have to admire Empire of the Apes for its sheer ambitiousness. Most microbudget productions can barely muster the resources to have a bunch of modern-day characters stalked and slashed by a masked killer. Empire of the Apes scoffs at those limitations and throws in a spaceship, lasers, space-prison wardens, a village full of ape-men, and even a dystopic future setting. Now, for how successful it is at doing these things is up for debate. Within the standards of conventional filmmaking, it falls short, but if you look at Mark Polonia’s body of SOV work, Empire of the Apes is confident and relatively well constructed.

"Anyway, I call it Two Girls, One Banana. What do you think?"
Most of the ape masks and many of the props look like they were purchased at a Spirit store’s post-Halloween sale.  The apes wear what I can only describe as medieval villager clothing with the occasional trench coat. The three prisoners look to be sporting some workout clothing and cutoffs… excuse me, space-workout-clothing, and space-cutoffs. Sometimes there is a fine line between an impoverished production and a lazy one, in the non-ape costuming department Empire of the Apes feels lazy. Perhaps most of the resources when into costuming the apes, they certainly have a lot more screen time than the humans.

Since this is a small production, you would think it is much more inclined towards some exploitation to help attract attention over a mainstream Planet of the Apes type film. Empire of the Apes doesn’t indulge in any nudity or much on-screen violence, but it does put three women in danger of becoming breeding stock for apes. Tastelessness can be a big draw, and although Empire of the Apes doesn’t graphically pursue this notion, it indulges in it more than you might suspect. I can almost guarantee you will be laughing at the film's final moment leading into the sequel, Revolt of the Empire of the Apes (2017).

"I'm not drunk! You're drunk."
Look, this is a Polonia movie, it’s not going to look great and it’s not going to be acted especially well.  Watching people in costumes stand around on a "wild planet" with nicely mowed grass can only take you so far.  Even though it only runs 79 minutes, it is about 39 minutes too long before heading into a final act twist that may cause whiplash in the viewer. Yet, despite all that, I kind of admire the audacity of Mark Polonia to even try and make such a film. Empire of the Apes is a hairy mess, but it must work on some level because I am curious to see where this all going.

Dollar Tree Boba Fett

Friday, July 13, 2018


Frank Marshall

When the fiancĂ© of Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) goes missing in the Congo trying to locate special diamonds, she joins up with Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), a scientist looking to return a gorilla named Amy (Misty Rosas) to her home. Amy knows sign language and is outfitted with a special rig that can translate her signs into spoken words. Also along for the ride is Herkemer Homolka (Tim Curry) a shifty Romanian ex-pat who’s looking for a lost city, and Captain Monroe Kelly (Ernie Hudson) a former British military officer and now guide through the chaotic jungles of the Congo. Waiting deep in the jungle is a race of murderous white apes that will kill anyone who stumbles upon their treasure.

Congo is a B-movie sporting a mainstream release budget. Take away the high tech plot elements and you are left with a film that would feel right at home among the jungle adventure movies of the 1940s. It has all the hallmarks of those films, mysterious natives, banana republic dictators, random animal attacks, lost cities, treasure, and lots of gorillas. Being a 1990s era production we are given some (slightly) less racist takes on the locals, and a leading woman who doesn’t bow to authority or shy away from the action.

"Clever, uh... girls?"
With the story being based on a Michael Crichton novel, the technology is put front and center, but thankfully it serves to facilitate the action and not dictate it. The characters are colorful and fun save for Walsh’s Dr. Peter Elliot who plays sidekick to his talking gorilla pal and does little else. Ernie Hudson and Tim Curry seem to be very aware of what kind of movie they are in and have a contest to see who’s fake accent is the most outrageous. Bruce Campbell makes a sadly brief appearance at the opening of the film, but he makes the most of it and plays the role with the expected hammy charm.

A large number of the special effects are practical and have aged relatively well. The ape guards of the city of Zinj look great. Amy is less than convincing, possibly because the camera has to linger on her for long periods of time. There is a very noticeable shift when the film moves from location shooting to the set that encompasses the lost city. It is a great looking set, but it does look artificial. The film concludes with a lot of CGI lava that is probably best forgotten. This is PG-13 production, so there is a little on-screen violence but much of it loses any impact it might have had due to some heavy-handed cutting.

"What's sign language for, 'I'm going to scoop out your skull and wear it for a hat?"
Congo is deeply dumb and very silly. I can’t imagine this movie ever getting made with its budget and cast if it weren’t for the monumental success of Jurassic Park (1993). That said, I haven’t thought about this movie since I saw it in the theaters over twenty years ago, but found myself reasonably engaged on a rewatch. It is a weightless action film, but it has killer apes, lasers, and plenty of B-list stars to pass the time.

Friday, July 6, 2018


John Lemont

Dr. Charles Decker (Michael Gough) has gone missing in Africa and is presumed dead. He reappears one year later, a little unhinged, but now possessing the secret of a formula that can make plants and animals grow to enormous size. He uses this formula to turn a baby chimp named Konga into a vicious killer. He sends the animal to murder those scientific colleagues who mocked him in the past. A spurned lover, Margaret (Margo Johns), gives Konga an overdose of the serum and that’s when things really get out of hand… or into hand as Konga grabs Dr. Decker and rampages through London.

Michael Gough as Dr. Charles Decker drenches the screen with cartoon villainy, he can be found cruelly unloading a revolver into a cat, hypnotizing killer apes, and feeding people to giant venus fly traps. Gough is single saving grace of the movie. The rest of the actors try and make all the ridiculous goings-on feel serious, but it never works as well as it should.

Michael Gough's reaction to Batman & Robin reviews.
If King Kong (1933) taught us anything it’s that apes are great, but giant apes are even better. Konga gleefully cribs from King Kong in several ways, but instead of placing the cause of destruction on humankind’s hubris, we find the public faced with a menace that was birthed from common human jealousy. It is novel in that respect, but it could have worked better by tying Decker's rage to the animal fury of Konga. Well, at least it will be cool to see some buildings get smooshed by a giant ape, right? Right?

The ape attacks and giant plants are fun but the story is too slowly paced to keep up much interest. Two-thirds of the movie is essentially a revenge movie as Decker uses his mind-controlled ape to kill off the people who have mocked his work. When things finally get completely out of control and we are treated to Konga stomping around London, it’s too late and too brief to save the rest of the movie.

Konga's reaction to Konga reviews.
The less said the better about the fact that Decker’s serum transforms Konga the chimpanzee into Konga the ape. I feel like you could get away with that nonsense in the 1930s but by the 1960s people were well aware that chimps and apes were different animals (Well, they should be aware anyway.) The actual Konga ape costume isn’t terrible, but Paul Stockman, the actor inside, just kind of shuffles around like a guy in a costume rather than an animal. The only part of the costume that emotes are the eyes, but Konga only projects a perpetual ‘What the fuck is going on?’ stare. However, having Konga carry around Dr. Decker as his on personal Fay Wray is a delightful change-up.

Konga isn’t a good movie, and it’s not enough of a misfire to enjoy as a noble failure. The ingredients are there, a lurid plot, hammy acting, and questionable special effects, but the movie is never able to overcome its leaden pace. In the end, when (*spoiler*) Konga, and Decker lie dead in the street, there is no soliloquy or line uttered by anyone to bring the story to a close. Everyone just stands there silently staring at the corpses in the street. It is, perhaps, the perfect way to close this film.