The Legacy of Kong – Big Gorilla goes Ape! – movie reviews

The Legacy of Kong – Big Gorilla goes Ape!

A complete list and short reviews of giant ape films

King Kong (1933)
RKO Studios
Directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack & Merian C. Cooper

Fay Wray
Robert Armstrong
Bruce Cabot

The fact that this epic adventure is still watch-able today is a testament to its achievement. King Kong heralded the dawn of big special effects in Hollywood movies. Willis O’Brien’s use of stop-motion animation, which would dominate sci-fi and horror for the next fifty years, influenced a great many future filmmakers, most notably, Ray Harryhausen and Tim Burton.

King Kong also featured the most ferocious and authentic looking Tyrannosaurus Rex ever to grace the screen, perhaps only second to Steven Spielberg’s T. Rex in Jurassic Park. The snapping, hissing, fast-moving beast is still a marvel to watch in action, today.

Naturally, there is not much to say that hasn’t already been said about the famous film. This is a classic that I had watched repeatedly in my childhood and one that I still love. I am still in awe of this film every time I see it.

King Kong (1976)
Paramount Pictures
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Directed by John Guillermin

Jeff Bridges
Charles Grodin
Jessica Lange

Set in 1976, (during the 1970’s oil crisis) oil tycoon, Fred Wilson, sets out on the pacific to find a rumored island for the purpose of finding the next big oil reserve. During the voyage, the crew first finds a stowaway, Jack Prescott. Then, a young starlet by the name of Dwan, the sole survivor of a sinking yacht, is picked up by Wilson‘s oil explorer vessel. She had escaped the disaster in a life raft. This is a remake that does not get a lot of respect but there are aspects about it that I like. I do like the look of Kong, and the monster movie feel of the whole film. The fact that Kong climbs the newly built Twin Towers is a plus. But this is a flawed film at best and only monster movie fans are going to appreciate most of it.

King Kong (2005)
Universal Pictures
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Naomi Watts
Adrien Brody
Jack Black

The latest remake of Kong is closer to the original film with certain story aspects even more developed than the original. It is a mix between a serious film interested in becoming a new classic and a summer blockbuster with all the cliché Hollywood trappings that will make it dated in years to come. My main complaint is that everything moves too fast. Monster movie 101 tells us that if you want to make something seem BIG then you have to film it so it moves past the viewer slowly. Slo-mo filming usually does the trick. I had to watch the movie three times before I really knew what the dinos looked like. All said, it is a valiant remake effort, more classic than the 1976 version, but I can‘t help thinking that a better remake by another director will eventually come along – perhaps someone not so dependent on CGI.

Son of Kong (1933)
RKO Pictures
Directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack
Written by Ruth Rose

Robert Armstrong
Helen Mack
Frank Reicker

This sequel was made to capitalize on the fame and fortune of its predecessor and released at the end of the very same year. Ya’ see? Hollywood was all about money, even back then. Robert Armstrong revives his role as Carl Denham. The rush to make this film really shows, underdeveloped script, limited settings, and poor acting. Young Kong comes off as a blundering idiot rather than future King of the Jungle. Kong Jr. fights a rather large cave-bear and a carnivorous sauropod. In the end the island sinks (does that happen often?) and so does the Kong franchise which wouldn’t be resurrected by a US studio for another 43 years.

Mighty Joe Young (1949)
RKO Pictures
Directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack
Written by Merian C. Cooper & Ruth Rose

Terry Moore
Ben Johnson
Robert Armstrong

Mighty Joe is Kong’s cuter, smaller cousin – less fierce, more social, and misunderstood. Joe is found in Africa, a friend to naturalist/conservationist,  Jill Young (Terry Moore). Wanting to keep her wildlife preserve funded, money hungry businessman, Max O’Hara (Armstrong), convinces Jill to bring Joe to the US for a series of shows that will pay the bills on the preserve for many years to come. Joe becomes the laughing stock of the nightclub scene as he is taunted and teased by the upper class audience who considers him the dumb animal. When a drunk enters his holding area, gives him alcohol then provokes him to fight, Joe tears up the nightclub. Before the police arrive, fully armed with orders to put him down, Jill and love interest, Gregg (Ben Johnson), escape with Joe. On the way out of town they witness an orphanage home in flames with children hanging out of windows trying to escape the blaze. Joe climbs the building repeatedly, saving all the children that were trapped. This story has a happy ending as Joe and Miss Young are allowed to return home where they belong.

This film is important in that O’Brien worked closely with his successor to the stop-motion animation craft, Ray Harryhausen. In fact, in later interviews, Ray admitted that O’Bie hardly came to the set after a while and let Ray animate much of the film on his own. Ray would later dominate the 50’s sci-fi revolution with his special-effects skills. The ‘Joe’ models were constructed by Marcel Delgado, who I feel never gets enough credit. Mighty Joe had human-like qualities in this film because of the wide array of facial expressions that were utilized into making the large ape “act”. A great classic film still that is enjoyable to watch today.

Mighty Joe Young (1998) (remake)
Disney Films
Directed by Ron Underwood

Charlize Theron
Bill Paxton

The original was syrupy enough without throwing confectioners sugar on top. But it is Walt Disney Co. and Walt Disney Co. makes movies that children can see, as well as adults. There are no nightclubs, drunks, or angry destruction. If you have children this may be the film version better suited to watch with your kids, even though they‘re probably seeing much worse things in video games they play. No real complaints, there’s enough action to keep us big kids watching, too – only once.

Konga (1961)
American International Pictures

Bad masking and rear projection techniques dominate this film that has Konga never interacting with his surroundings. He’s either in the foreground and there are buildings in the background or visa-versa. The scale is different in different scenes so you never get a sense of how big Konga has grown. The script is a rather lame hybrid of King Kong and Godzilla as a scientific serum makes this ape grow from regular size to monster in a matter of hours. This film can be found in the bargain bins at your local supermarket. However, I do not feel it is even worth the buck you will pay for it. You’ve been warned.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Toho Studios
Directed by Ishiro Honda

Tadao Takashima
Kenji Sahara
Yû Fujiki
Ichirô Arishima

Yeah, the monkey suit in this film is horrible. Don’t they have apes in Japan? Couldn’t they look at some pictures in an encyclopedia? Once you get passed that, you have the typical Toho-zilla film fodder. Kong is found on a Pacific Island with Asian natives. There he fights a giant octopus and is taken to Japan for the usual financial gain of his captures. Godzilla escapes from an iceberg for his first appearance in a color film. The two meet up in Japan, smash some buildings then duke it out in a more rural area while being bombarded by rockets and bombs from the Japanese military. If you are looking for realism in this Saturday matinee popcorn flick then you got the wrong movie. If you are not a giant monster movie fan then forget it and go on with your life. If you are a giant monster movie fan, then get it. It’s corny, silly, laughable, and you can see the wires, but it is the only movie that will pit these two iconic monsters against each other.

King Kong Escapes (1967)
Toho – Rankin/Bass
Directed by Ishiro Honda

Rhodes Reason
Mie Hama
Linda Miller

King Kong Escapes is not a sequel to the earlier King Kong vs. Godzilla but rather an adaptation of a cartoon series in Japan put out by Rankin/Bass – the team that brought you ‘Rudolph’ and all those wonderful stop-motion puppets in holiday specials. Kong looks better than it did in the previous Toho film but still not so great. The Mecha-Kong robot, however, looks fantastic. Kong fights a dinosaur, Gorgosaurus, and a snake-serpent. Then Kong is captured by the evil villain, Dr. Hu, to dig “Element X” out of the ground when the villain-built Mecha-Kong fails to succeed in doing so. Kong breaks out of his chains and the evil Dr. Hu sends Mecha-Kong to kick his ass and drag him back to the mines. The resulting battle through Japan ends on the Tokyo Tower in a suspenseful action sequence high above the city. Linda Miller plays Lt. Susan Miller, Kong’s blond and squeaky-voiced “love’ interest in the film. Actress, Mie Hama, as the mysterious, Madame Piranha, later stars in the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice‘. The voice-over for the evil villain, Dr. Hu, is the same voice for the Berger-Mister, Mister-Berger in ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town‘. A fun film for the monster fan with some good Kaiju effects, battles, sound effects and classic Toho music score.

Queen Kong (1976)
Directed by Frank Agrama

Robin Askwith
Rula Lenska
Valerie Leone

This is the 1976 Kong spoof that De Laurentiis Co. had legal action against and kept it from world-wide release for the last 30 years. Give me a break, why the hell would big-shot filmmakers care about this boring, obnoxious, supposed comedy by a small company of obviously novice filmmakers? This spoof takes the 1970’s woman’s liberation angle, which was more about rights in the bedroom than civil rights. There’s even a song in the film about it, on a ship completely run by a women crew, which plays like a bad Benny Hill skit. Add to that, every woman on screen is wearing short-shorts or native bikinis and you’ll really feel the Benny Hill comparison even though the film never reaches the humor level of Benny’s school-boy, devil-made-me-do-it, mannerisms. The film is not silly enough to mirror Monty Python status so it pitches semi-humorous jokes and skits that can occasionally make one smirk (but never laugh). Queen Kong takes her man offering, is caught and brought back to London. She’s chained and shackled, gets blonde streaks, and is put on display. The last straw comes when the wealthy, business-man, promoter, forces her to wear a giant bra. After that, she breaks out of her confinement(s).

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)
The Shaw Brothers Studios
Directed by Meng Hua Ho

Evelyn Kraft
Danny Lee

Hong Kong’s foray into the giant ape movie market is one of Tarantino’s Grindhouse picks. If you liked 60’s Godzilla movies mixed with a bit of light exploitation then this film will be up your alley. It uses many of the same FX techniques as the Toho films, which can basically be summed up as this; detailed and elaborate scale-model city sets combined with not so great man-in-a-suit costumes. The young maiden in this case is the lovely, Samantha, a female Tarzan who is in constant danger of loosing her bikini top. Orphaned as a child, she was raised by the Peking Man, and is now the only one that can control the oversized beast. We all know the basic plot, giant ape is found in jungle by greedy businessman, brought to big city for profit, gets angry and goes ape. There is much more destruction in this flick than any other giant ape movie ever made. Peking Man’s rampage through city streets is on par with early Toho movies, as he destroys buildings, army vehicles, cars and people, and eventually catches on fire (yes you read it right, catches on fire!). Campy, destructive, and entertaining, what more could you ask for? The melodramatic falling in love scenes between Samantha and Johnny are so bad you have to laugh. When they get caught doin’ the nasty in a cave, the Peking Man gets jealous, rips trees out of the ground, and kicks around some rocks! Priceless!!

A.P.E. (1977)
Joanna Kerns
Rod Arrants

This is a joint Korean and American giant ape movie. It is marketed as a spoof. My guess is that it was once a semi-serious Korean film release (in the late 60’s) that an American company bought the rights for, and added American footage, most notably a US General that never leaves his office throughout the whole film. I am trying to figure out why I like The Peking Man so much but do not have any liking for this film. The annoying sound effects, hokey dialog, and bad effects just get under my skin. Some of the footage is repeated to lengthen scenes which should not have been lengthened. I guess the real difference is this film has no heart. You can feel it has no integrity and was just released in the mid 1970’s to capitalize on the Kong craze brought on by the Dino De Laurentiis remake.

King Kong Lives (1986)
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Directed by John Guillermin

Linda Hamilton
Brian Kerwin

Even a die-hard monster movie fan like me can not sit through this train wreck of a film. It is a direct sequel to the 1975 King Kong but is so poorly executed it’s a chore to watch.

Lost on Adventure Island (1986)
Written & Directed by Yancey Hedrieth

Crystal Holland
Chaz St. Peters
Felicia Fox

This short film (approx. 40 min.) is nothing more than a showcase for Yance Hedrieth and his stop-motion animation.  A couple’s Yacht is sunk by a battleship and the couple, Alex and Anna, washes ashore on a mysterious island. The island is inhabited by a few dinos, natives, warrior women and a very Kong looking female ape named, Supersimian. The giant brownish/orange haired ape takes a liking to Alex. We get to see a great looking Plesiosaur, a decent looking Allosaurus, and the scantily clad Anna doing adventurous things such as; climb a hill (in short-shorts), emerge from the water wearing a white halter-top, and get fed a banana while tied to a wooden post in her bathing suit. It’s silly and campy and my only complaint is the poor shot-on-video quality. Supersimian is a decent enough looking giant gorilla creation and could have been a good springboard for Mr. Hendrieth’s animation career, if it weren’t for one fact; by that point in time (1986?) animatronics had already replaced all other forms of special effects for monsters and creatures of all sizes in film. But, I have the feeling that Mr. Hendrieth did this film for the love of stop-animation rather than a career.

**This film had at one time been changed and edited by a distributor seeking to make money in the adult film market. Several sex scenes were added and it was released as King Dong, a hybrid porn flick. Since that time Mr. Hendrieth has sued the person(s) responsible to make sure his film is only sold as his original version and with his original intention.


If there are any films you think should be added to this list, let me know and I will do my best to review them.


14 thoughts on “The Legacy of Kong – Big Gorilla goes Ape! – movie reviews

  1. Nice write-up here. There are some awesome films under the “Kong” kingdom, and some awesomely bad ones as well. But that’s what makes the Kong legacy so wonderful. Doesn’t Jessica Lange get topless (thanks to a horny ape) in the ’76 John Guillermin remake? I think she does 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on The Paranormalist – Renae Rude and commented:
    I’ve been reading Michael Thomas-Knight – over at – for a while now, and I enjoy every post. When the following article showed up in his feed, I was especially impressed by the thoroughness of his work. I asked for permission to reblog it, and he said sure.

    In the next few days, I’m going to spend as much time as possible banking some fresh posts and spiffing up the blog. In the meantime, please enjoy The Legacy of Kong – Big Gorilla goes Ape!

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