“Gentlemen, I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with scientists, but they rarely quarrel. They have a way of expunging the personal and the emotional in the interest of truth.”
The mad doctor in Konga says a lot of crazy things, but that one certainly takes the cake. Taking a cue from Hammer’s Frankenstein films, the 1961 British flick features an unrepentingly evil protagonist excusing his literal kitten-murder in the name of science. There’s certainly a lot going on with the film, starting with Dr. Decker (Michael Gough) returning from a year in Uganda, where he just sort of hung out after a plane crash instead of notifying anyone that he’d survived. As if that wasn’t premise of a movie in its own right, Decker has brought carnivorous monster plants with him, starting experiments in secret along with his woefully friendzoned secretary. While the premise at this point seems to be that of animal-plant hybrid monsters, things go a step farther with the incorporation of the chimpanzee Konga, who, upon getting a shot of plant fluid that looks like it’d come out of Herbert West’s refrigerator, grows to the size of a gorilla and begins knocking off Decker’s academic rivals, under the professor’s psychic command.
As if that weren’t sleazy enough, Decker is also intent on sleeping with one of his students, and has Konga murder her boyfriend. That makes the secretary jealous, so she gives Konga more of the green stuff, leading to kaiju-scale growth and the rampage at the end, distinguishing it from your run-of-the-mill killer gorilla flick. Everyone dies horribly at the end, giving it a quite melancholic twist compared to a lot of the Kong clones.
Performances in the film are pretty good (particularly Gough), and while the special effects don’t quite match what Toho was doing at the time, they are competent for an early color giant monster flick. The miniatures are quite good, but the gorilla suit always feels like a suit (that’s a common problem with ape costumes, though), and the compositing is rough (like, Konga’s feet are cut off in one shot). The end result is a quite-watchable Kong-knock off, likely second only to Gorgo in the scope of British daikaiju cinema.
As a bit of trivia, while the working title for the flick was “I was a Teenage Gorilla” (despite Konga being a chimp), producer Herman Cohen paid RKO to use the King Kong name, so you can make the case that this is an official King Kong movie. It was marketed as such in numerous countries, even though the monster doesn’t grow until the final 15 minutes. I would certainly keep it with the Kong flicks on my DVD shelf, if the disc weren’t on double-bill with Yongary, but that’s not a bad problem to have!