Friday, August 31, 2018

Bride of the Gorilla

Bride of the Gorilla
Curt Siodmak

On a rubber tree plantation, Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) allows the plantation owner to receive a lethal bite from a snake, so he can be with the owner’s wife, Dina (Barbara Payton). An old native woman, Al-Long (Gisela Webisek) witnesses the murder and puts a curse on Barney, one that will slowly transform him into the Sukurat, a jungle demon. Barney and Dina plot to sell the plantation, and move away, but Barney begins disappearing into the jungle for days at a time and soon things start turning up dead.

The title Bride of the Gorilla evokes imagery of a monstrous brute of an animal pursuing a woman with lust and/or murder in its eyes. It practically begs to have a threadbare gorilla suit pounce on some actors and top off the whole thing with racist overtones. Surprisingly, Bride of the Gorilla opts for something a little more nuanced. Barney’s transformation is more of an internal event than merely morphing into a gorilla. The only person who sees him as a gorilla is himself, usually in his reflection. Whether this is a transformation into the Sukurat, an actual gorilla, or just a man losing his mind in the jungle is left up to the viewer.

"Oooh, I am going to gorilla that guy so bad."
A solid cast keeps the film’s outlandish premise grounded. Raymond Burr is great as Barney. I found him to be more complicated than I expected, he’s brutish and single-minded but he still cares for Dina. Many films conceive of a person’s transformation into a monster as a horrific experience, but the jungle and his place in it has an inexorable draw for Barney. He becomes willing to abandon anything for it. Barbara Payton as Dina has a too strong sense of loyalty to her lover, even willing to betray her husband or venture into the jungle if it means staying with him. Lon Chaney Jr. takes a sympathetic role as the Police Commissioner, it’s nice to see him cast against type as someone who is incorruptible in the face of an evil environment.

The jungle is the omnipresent menace throughout the story. Everyone fears it, except for Barney and perhaps the Commissioner. The actors sell their fear and fascination with it well. Visually it doesn't hold up as the jungle is reduced to a few sets and some grainy stock footage. A bad gorilla suit can often turn a horror film into an unintentional comedy, director Simodak very wisely uses the suit sparingly and even then it is relegated to strange dreamlike moments, making its unnatural gait and appearance work in its favor.

"Something is seriously wrong with this shirt."
I’d often heard about Bride of the Gorilla talked about derisive tones, and a plot summary along the lines of ‘Raymond Burr turns into a gorilla,’ doesn't exactly inspire confidence. So, I am pleasantly surprised at how atmospheric the film is and how it approaches such potentially silly subject matter with an air of uncertainty and menace. Bride of the Gorilla is much better than it’s reputation warrants and it is worth an hour and six minutes of your time.

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