When it comes to monkey movies, there’s just no beating “King Kong.” It’s the movie so nice they made it thrice! Kong is a tough act to beat, but still there are several other maniac monkey movies out there. Since Kong had already taken a bite out of the big apple, our movie today features an ape who makes life a bit more interesting in London. Courtesy of AIP, it’s 1961’s “Konga.”
The film begins with the crash of a plane in the jungles of Africa. On board was botanist Charles Decker (Michael Gough), who was heading out to study unique plant life. Specifically, carnivorous plants. For a year he is believed to be dead, but the world is surprised when he comes back with numerous bizarre plant specimens and a small chimp named Konga.
His assistant, Margaret (Margo Johns), who has also had somewhat of a crush on Decker for years, is thrilled to have him back. Immediately, she begins assisting the professor in planting the new specimens in his greenhouse. These plants grow quickly and are just plain weird-looking. Audrey II’s got nothing on these things…especially the giant black, strangely phallic, plants with waggling tongues. But the more bizarre the better for Decker. These plants will help him create a serum that will be capable of advancing human evolution. Once he has what he needs, Konga is the test subject. Just as Decker planned, the serum causes Konga to grow much larger. After several doses, he’s even changed from a chimp to a gorilla!
As his experiments are proving successful, Decker becomes more and more arrogant. This soon gets him in trouble with his dean (Austin Trevor) for boasting about radical evolutionary ideas with the press. It reflects poorly on the college, after all. Feeling that he needs a true test of Konga’s obedience and new strength, he sends the ape out to kill the dean. Margaret is shocked by this, but she is so in love that she lets it slide.
More trouble comes when Decker meets another botanist (George Pastell) who seems to be on the verge of publishing similar findings as Professor Decker’s. Not wanting to let someone else steal his moment in the spotlight, Decker sends Konga out to remove the competition
But it isn’t just rival scientists that he sets out to eliminate. Decker begins to fancy an attractive young student (Claire Gordon) who has a particular interest in his class. Her boyfriend (Jess Conrad) is on to him, though…so Konga pays him a visit too. Decker and Margaret then have the young lady over to “comfort” her. This leads to Decker, now in full mad scientist mode, trying to have his way with the young woman in the greenhouse. The jealous Margaret then takes it upon herself to give Konga another dose of the serum. He now grows to gargantuan size, and grabs Decker Fay Wray style before rampaging through the London streets.
“Konga” is low-budget and a bit cheezy, but it’s still very enjoyable. The premise of a scientist trying to use plants to unlock the secrets of evolution is pretty original and gives the film a bit more depth than just the standard giant-ape-goes-nutzoid scenario. A big part of the film’s success is the great performance from Michael Gough. It’s over-the-top in every possible way, but 100% perfect for the material. In the grand tradition of mad scientists, he is more full of himself than most.
Sadly, many modern viewers will need to work hard to get past the cheap special effects. As ape suits go, Konga isn’t real convincing, and the performer portraying him doesn’t really put much extra effort into selling us. By the time we reach the film’s climax, we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the film’s technical limitations…only to be given a huge slap back to reality. Not only do Konga’s proportions change from shot to shot as he strolls through London, he picks up a few people that look way too much like cheap Barbie Doll knock offs.
In the end, though, the story is too much fun to get caught up in the sub-par effects. “Konga” may be far from having the best monster monkey in film history, but it certainly earns Michael Gough a place in the mad scientist hall of fame.