Tag Primates

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Something bat-winged and bloodthirsty has arrived in Kansas…

Teenager Joan is constantly being let down by her workaholic father so, to make things up to her, he buys her a cute pet monkey which has been illegally smuggled into the country from China. However, it turns out that the monkey is one of only two remaining Xsigo monkeys, mythical monsters which were used by the emperor to kill everyone.  Upon nightfall, the monkey transforms into a horrific winged creature, killing everything in its path. Furthermore, it can’t be killed by conventional weapons and killing the monkey any other way causes it to multiply. It isn’t long before there are dozens of the monkeys terrorising the town in which Joan lives.

 

As soon as I saw the title for this one, I immediately thought of The Wizard of Oz. Surely that’s where Sy Fy got the idea for this ridiculous creature feature? Couple that with the underlying plot for Gremlins and you have Sy Fy’s most ‘original’ monster idea for some time – well it beats a mutated killer shark or giant crocodile flick! Just the thought of how Sy Fy would try and turn monkeys into insatiable killing machines with a thirst for blood was enough to pique my interest. Whilst they went with a fairly simple approach, rather than some genetically-engineered Frankenstein creations, it would at least be something different. And this is the key to Flying Monkeys – for all of the usual Sy Fy tropes present, it at least feels different.

The narrative runs like clockwork, with the monsters being introduced early on in a seemingly-unrelated scene which will be bridged into later, before we meet our main characters. The film introduces a typical dysfunctional father-daughter relationship at the beginning – what is the betting that a life-threatening confrontation with flying monkeys will repair this damaged dynamic by the film’s resolution? Yawn. It isn’t long before the pair get possession of the monkey and not long after that when the first transformation occurs. Flying Monkeys sets up as much character development as is needed before unleashing the monsters.

Once you get over the fact that you’re going to see lots of badly animated flying monkeys, then the film isn’t so bad – the fact the monkeys only turn into these killing machines at night at least allows a lot of the poor CGI to be masked by the dark. The flying monkeys are quite aggressive and do a lot of damage, much of which is not shown, only the bloody aftermath. There’s also a flying monkey Predator-like vision shot which is used to show when the monkeys are zooming in on a target. Yeah, it’s every bit as daft as it sounds. The real monkey used for the daytime scenes is pretty adorable, though I still wouldn’t like to have one as a pet. The nice Gremlins-like twist about them multiplying if attacked by conventional weapons poses a nice problem to the trigger-happy townspeople and gives the monsters a dangerous pack-like mentality. They get reasonably well-fed throughout and are given enough to do to make them appear a serious threat.

To make the mythology of the monkeys seem legit, the film parachutes in two Chinese demon hunters who have weapons to kill the monsters and have been hunting them down for years. They serve little purpose other than to pad out the running time with some footage of them hunting the monkeys in China before arriving in the States to assist. But this is an American-made TV-movie so the teenage lead must be the one to sort out the problem, not the experienced experts, and their purpose is null and void (well the body count needs victims).

Maika Monroe and Vincent Ventresca star as the daughter and father and both are ok in their roles – let’s face it, you could cast the best actors in Hollywood in something like this, yet the weak, rehashed scripts won’t give them anything to work with. Ventresca has starred in a couple of previous Sy Fy outings (Larva and Mammoth) which were both ‘different’ to the norm so at least he appears to choose his crazy monster outings a little more carefully than some of the other Sy Fy regulars.

 

Flying Monkeys isn’t going to blow anyone away, and quite frankly it’s so generic that it’s hard to remember much about it shortly afterwards, but the fact that Sy Sy actually tried something a little different makes it stand out a mile away. Maybe because my expectations of Sy Fy have fallen that low that a film like Flying Monkeys can appear greater than it clearer is, is not a good sign.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Konga (1961)

Konga (1961)

Not since “King Kong”…has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!

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.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Primal Force (1999)

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A rescue team attempts to reach a group of survivors whose plane crashed on a remote Mexican island. Unknown to them, the island is populated by genetically mutated baboons which have a thirst for blood.

 

A low budget TV movie which must have been primarily a vehicle for Ron Perlman to get some work before Hellboy came along, Primal Force does exactly what you’d expect a TV movie to do. It’s got ambitions over and above its limited budget. It thinks it’s on a playing field well above its ability. And it pretends like you’ve never seen this material before in one shape or another. Well we all know better but it can’t be said that Primal Force doesn’t at least try. Much better than the regurgitated dreck that the Sci-Fi Channel puts out nowadays, Primal Force’s trump card is in its main star.

Primal Force may be complete crap but at least there’s a great turn from Ron Perlman as the troubled, sceptical guide, Frank Brodie. He’s the shining light amongst the generally poor cast but doesn’t slum or phone it in. His gun-toting, baboon-blowing bad ass gives you a nice foresight into the qualities he would bring to the role of Hellboy a few years down the line. The character is a little cliché, complete with drinking problems and inner demons, but at least Perlman turns him into something more than a walking caricature. He shows the charm, the charisma and the wit that has turned him into a star so late in his career.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast who fulfil the necessary baboon fodder roles with aplomb. There’s the snobby rich girl, the sneaky business man, etc. These are the sort of characters who can be identified either by the clothes they wear or the first few lines of dialogue that they spout. Best not get too acquainted with any of the minor characters once the baboons get to work. However whilst the promise of killer baboons doing some re-organisation work on the faces of these human survivors may sound appealing, the reality is that the violence is almost non-existent and the gore is minimal. You don’t really notice this on first glance however as there is enough going on and the film moves along at a reasonable pace. It seems that the editor at least understood the need to cover over the cracks by keeping the film brisk.

The baboons look like you’d expect TV movie baboons to look and that’s dreadful. They don’t look genetically mutated in any way, just bigger, more aggressive versions of normal baboons. When they attack the survivors, the film chops and cuts so quickly that you don’t see much of them. It’s a good thing in the long run because when they do get more screen time, you’ll think you’re watching National Geographic. The baboons get shafted for a good portion of the film as the group reach an abandoned research lab and there is plenty of talking about how they’re going to get off the island. It all leads to a derivative ending which pretty much sums up the entire experience.

 

Primal Force will just go down as another poor ‘genetically engineered creatures go bad’ flick which have become all the rage since Spielberg unleashed Jurassic Park upon the world. It’s watchable enough and you could certainly do a lot worse – and no doubt I will do many times in future.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Monkey (2007)

Blood Monkey (2007)

Experience the dark side of nature.

A group of students head into the jungle to meet up with a world-renowned professor where they are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore some uncharted territory. As the trip begins, the professor explains to the students that they are here to study a new species of ape. However the trip soon becomes a life-and-death struggle for survival as the apes turn violent and hungry for human flesh.

 

Ah the ingredients of your typical low budget creature feature – grab a bunch of good-looking young actors, strand them in the middle of nowhere, give them a half-assed plot, add in a talented named actor to the mix for ‘credibility’ and of course don’t forget the monster of the moment. Blood Monkey is another on the conveyor belt of creature feature flicks – I think they’re even beating the slasher and zombie genres now for predictability and sheer repetitiveness – and yet again another creature feature which fails miserably to offer anything remotely exciting, interesting or different.

One of the earliest of the ‘Maneater’ series made for The Sci-Fi Channel, Blood Monkey is also one of the weakest. At least the other creature features knew how bad they were and threw in plenty of rubbish CGI man-eating ‘insert monster here’ action early on to keep us going. This takes ages to get going and is very dull and plodding. In fact when the monkeys (actually they’re apes) do ‘show up’  its already too little too late – and I use the term ‘show up’ pretty loosely. It’s like a really low budget version of Congo only without that silly talking gorilla and Tim Curry’s ridiculous accent to keep us amused.

As is the case with this type of flick, the characters aren’t really important because we know that only a few, sometimes none, make it to the end. And if you’re female and have a habit of putting out for any guy that comes along, if you’re a stoner and you like smoking weed, if you’re a jock and you pick on people, if you’re a nerd and you know way too much about what is going on….well let’s just say that rarely do any of these characters survive. So why invest in characterisation? Well I actually would like to feel a little sad when characters in films get killed off. Unfortunately the group of students we have here just fill up their token roles with great aplomb. In fact to say they’re supposed to be top students, they do some amazingly stupid things like continuing to believe the professor when it’s clear he’s up to no good. I swear at times, the professor looks straight into the camera, laugh and rubs his hands together in glee at the fruits of his evil scheme coming to life – it’s that obvious he’s deceiving them.

F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for his role in Amadeus back in 1985, is the token named actor here and it’s just a shocker to even see his name even mentioned with drivel like this. I mean have things really gotten that bad for him, did he owe someone a favour or does the producer have incriminating photos of him? His performance is good but the problem is that he’s too good for the material. He’s hamming it up and clearly having a blast doing it but why did he take the role in the first place? I’m not even going to bother going through any of the other performances, save for the fact I can’t remember who is who – such was their impression upon me! Oh I’m forgetting the title creatures too, aren’t I? Well I guess everyone else did too because there’s not a whole load of monkey action to be had. What we do see is a couple of monkeys urinating on tents, a couple of close-ups of some fake teeth and then a really cheap and nasty CGI monkey right at the end of the film.

For the rest of the film, the apes are just confined to the background ala Jaws – you know the whole ‘less is more’ thing. But whereas that had John Williams’ infamous score and a rubber fin floating around, this one has nothing to indicate that the apes are even in the vicinity. Maybe this was supposed to be a drama, an ape jumped into the frame of one shot and thus they decided to turn it into a cheap horror? That makes more sense to me.

 

You’d have thought that giving man-eating apes some dumb teenagers to feast on would have been fun but the film even makes a mess of that. Blood Monkey could almost be a cure for insomnia if it certainly wasn’t a cause of depression! Avoid at all costs – stick to laughing at the baboons and their big red asses in your local zoo if you wanted to be entertained.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆