After being presumed dead in a plane crash, Doctor Charles Decker returns to England where he proclaims to have found a way of growing plants and animals to enormous size. Using Konga, his pet chimp, Decker is determined to prove his naysayers wrong. But as Decker grows more determined and Konga gets bigger and stronger, he begins to send the simian out to kill those who oppose him.
Hokey sci-fi horror from the 60s, Konga is part-King Kong, part-Frankenstein and full-on cheese. Brought to the screen by American International Pictures, the studio behind infamous B-movies such as It Conquered the World, Invasion of the Saucer Men, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Earth Vs The Spider, Konga was one of a number of British-made B-movies to stem from a partnership that AIP struck with UK-based studios. Now looking very dated, suitably campy and very silly, these films were head-and-shoulders apart from their American counterparts. Circus of Horrors, featuring Anton Diffring, and Horrors of the Black Museum, also starring Michael Gough, were a pale shadow of the Hammer horror output of the 50s and 60s but stood up reasonably well when compared to The Brain Eaters or Attack of the Giant Leeches. Konga joined the list in 1961 and though it’s no King Kong, it’s certainly better than War of the Colossal Beast.
Name-dropping aside, it’s hard to see which niche market they were aiming for with Konga. As I’ve said, it’s no King Kong. Save for the titular characters both being gorillas, there’s little similarity between the two. There are lots of the mad scientist tropes here too and the film does run like a proto-slasher with the gorilla acting as the masked killer. Whatever the aim, the eventual output delivers plenty of cheesy entertainment which lovers of B-movies would find right up their alley. The plot is the standard scientist takes his revenge story which is rather flimsily done from the start as Decker’s motivations for suddenly turning to murder are a step too far for even his character. But the shenanigans that ensues allows for plenty of diversity with what happens. Attempted rape. Man-eating plants. Some groovy 60s cats jiving to rock ‘n’ roll in the back of a van. You name it, it’s here.
Michael Gough was most likely a nice guy in real life and I have nothing personal against him but on screen across a number of his earlier films, he just oozes this hateable arrogance. It’s a testament to Gough’s ability as an actor that he manages to sculpt such obnoxious, devious and smarmy characters as Decker here or Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum. I really can’t stand the guy when he’s in this zone and the films are far the better for it. He’s in full-on rage mode, snarling and barking out instructions and commands to everyone around him. Gough plays it straight, which is puzzling given the nonsense going on, and the film works the better for it. Sadly the rest of the cast are nowhere near his level and he stands god-like over them, stealing every scene and dominating with every line of dialogue. This is Gough’s vehicle and he’ll be damned if anyone, even a giant gorilla, will upstage him.
Konga looks awful though, save for the early scenes when he’s actually a real-life chimp. Somehow in this enlarging process, Konga turns from a chimp into a gorilla but science and realism isn’t exactly this film’s strongest suit. The stuntman-inside-a-suit never worked on screen for anyone (think of those daft 50s films like Robot Monster or any time a gorilla showed up in a Three Stooges short) and this one is no exception. There’s something inherently daft about human eyes behind the mask which ruins the impression being attempted. Things go from bad to worse when Konga grows to gigantic proportions. Apart from some nifty miniature work when he breaks out of his house, the rest of the scenes of Konga stomping around London are ruined by a matte line around the gorilla which gives him some sort of radioactive glow. The less about the toy doll (Decker) that the stuntman is carrying around with him the better.
The film sells itself as some sort of King Kong pretender, with the art work depicting a rampage through London that would have Gorgo or Behemoth quivering in fear. When Konga does grow to gigantic size and escapes in the finale, you’d expect this to be so. Apparently standing around growling at bystanders is what classed as a rampage those days! Konga doesn’t do anything and in the climactic shots, stands in front of Big Ben. A ‘Kong climbing up the Empire State Building’ moment threatens but never materialises. The film ends on a whimper with no hint of any damage done to the capital.
Konga is innocent and inoffensive fun. It’s very talky, fails to deliver a satisfactory finale and smacks of cheap special effects. However there is something charming about watching a man in a third-rate gorilla outfit throwing dolls around miniature models of London. Worth a watch to see one of the UK’s most underrated actors, Michael Gough, chew the scenery as if he hasn’t eaten for years.