Konga storms onto DVD

Monday, 13 May 2013 00:00
Posted in Cult Movies on DVD
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Konga storms onto DVDHere we herald the home entertainment debut of one of the first monster movies to be made in the UK in colour. “Konga” is an alternative interpretation of the King Kong mythos, with Michael Gough as Dr Charles Decker, a botanist and university professor, and the only survivor of a plane crash in Africa (the less said about the effects on that scene the better).

When he returns from the jungle, he brings with him ‘Konga’, a baby chimpanzee. During the course of his experiments, Decker discovers a serum that causes Konga to grow and grow, and even to obey his will. He encounters much opposition to his experiments and, following an obsession with a female pupil where he looks like his amorous intent will be thwarted by a rival, he decides to put the supersized ape to terrifying use - which eventually terrorises the whole of London.

Directed by Canadian John Lemont (Sir Francis Drake, The Errol Flynn Theatre) and shot at Merton Park Studios for Anglo-Amalgamated, “Konga” is now available in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited cinema aspect ratio.

Producer Herman Cohen had achieved an impressive CV in this sub-genre with the likes of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein”, and was tempted across the pond, initially for 1959’s “The Headless Ghost” which was also filmed at Merton Park.

Cohen had already utilised Michael Gough in 1959’s subsequent “Horrors of the Black Museum”, where a frustrated thriller writer seeks out accurate crimes for his next book, and hypnotises his assistant to make him commit the required crimes. It was heralded as being lensed in ‘Hypnovision’, a deceit which was continued with “Konga” as it was described as being ‘Filmed in SpectaMation’. We have some native African scenes within the movie, which are obviously stock footage slipped in to attempt to ‘big up’ the budget that’s seen onscreen, but as usual in such cases the differing quality of film stock is the big giveaway that this wasn’t specially recorded.

There’s no doubt that “Konga” was a riff on the original “King Kong” tale, with London and Big Ben standing in for New York and the Empire State Building. To blend in a little more flavour to the mix, we have a secondary plot which is lifted straight from Roger Corman’s “The Little Shop of Horrors”, which had made its debut in 1960. The carnivorous plants may not grow to the size of Audrey in that story, but do ‘show their teeth’, so to speak, in “Konga”.

It is the primate that takes over the plot, with the real chimpanzee for some inexplicable reason metamorphosing into a gorilla (or more accurately a guy in a laughably furry costume). Hypnotism also appears within this movie, as it had done in “Horrors of the Black Museum”.  Again, Gough gets to use hypnotic powers, as the ape is hypnotised into murdering not only Decker’s academic rivals, but also rivals in romance, too. “Konga” has a couple of growth spurts, and one has the feeling they utilised whatever was already in the costume stores for this!

This is a tale where some characters are just forgotten about as the story proceeds. It simply has to fall into the category of ‘guilty pleasure’, as no matter how ridiculous the plot becomes, just like watching a road crash you simply cannot divert your eyes. There are some priceless pieces of hokey dialogue, one particular line from Decker to his wife-to-be being: “Margaret, if there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s hysterics, especially in the morning”!

Michael Gough is, of course, a national treasure, having cemented his profile by playing butler Alfred Pennyworth in the quartet of Batman movies from 1989 to 1997.

In support as Margaret, his Personal Assistant, desperate enough to be his wife that she will help hide his nasty secrets, is Margo Johns. “Konga” was her most rated movie, and she had guest roles in the likes of Dixon of Dock Green, Emergency Ward 10, Danger Man and The Saint.

Claire Gordon in the grip of Michael Gough

Making a terrific impact on the movie is Claire Gordon, playing the intern Sandra Banks. She would have made a great Doctor Who companion, her screaming rivalling the best of those who were seen (and heard) in that franchise. She had a comparatively short screen career, listed credits running from 1958 to 1974. She was just 18 at the time of “Konga”. Having guest-starred in episodes of Danger Man and The Worker, she went on in the latter stages of her screen career to appear in British sex comedies of the early 1970s.

As Sandra’s love interest, Jess Conrad played Bob Kenton.  He’s a singer turned actor, who had minor hits in the UK with "Cherry Pie", "Mystery Girl" and "Pretty Jenny". Conrad had guest roles on many TV series, including Space: 1999, The Human Jungle, No Hiding Place, From a Bird’s Eye View, and Last of the Summer Wine. He even introduces the movie in a very short introduction filmed for this DVD release.

Also making cameo roles in proceedings are Leonard Sachs as Bob's father, and Jack Watson as the grizzly police detective Supt Brown, who looks as bemused at proceedings as anyone could possibly be.

Other special features on “Konga” include:

  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Press material PDFs.

 

All in all, this is a movie that is so bad it’s good. At a push, you could note that this is a comedic way to address one of the biggest scandals of the modern world – genetic modification. Decker prides himself on turning his plants from ‘insectivorous’ to ‘carnivorous’ – something that is now actually happening in laboratories around the world, where gene splicing is being undertaken.  If that is one thing you take away from watching this film, then something of merit will have happened. This ‘bad science’ is now real, and we let it continue at our peril.

“Konga” is absolutely recommended for a late night gathering of friends, with plenty of wine on-tap. You may have to watch some of the film through your fingers, but that will not be from fear! At the price, this is definitely a very affordable guilty pleasure...

“Konga” is out now from Network Distributing. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 90 minutes approx, and a RRP of £9.99, or secure it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 10:15

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