1961 was a pretty interesting year for sci-fi movies. I say that because some British film companies decided to imitate the two most famous giant monsters of all time; Godzilla and King Kong. Now earlier this year, I reviewed the movie Gorgo, which was the British version of a large reptilian creature coming out of the sea and destroying a major city, which was intended to be a homage to Godzilla. Well that same year, the same month even, another studio put out their movie to rival the world’s most famous giant gorilla, but the difference being that their gorilla did not start as a giant but would gradually grow throughout the film until reaching giant size. So let me introduce you to the challenger for Kong’s title, Konga.
The plot: While on an expedition to Africa, Dr. Charles Decker’s plane crashes into the jungle and he is believed to have died but after being missing for a year, he returns to London. When he returns to London, he briefly explains to reporters how he was able to survive and that the reason he did not return immediately to London was because he had discovered some new species of insectivorous plants that he was studying. He also introduces the reporters to Konga, a small chimpanzee that he had befriended in the jungle and decided to bring back with him. Returning to his home, Charles talks with Margaret, his secretary and friend, who wishes to know about what Charles plans to do. Charles has her accompany him to his greenhouse, where he proceeds to pull out all of his flowers in order to plant the plants he brought back from Africa. The next day, Charles is beginning his experiments but when accidentally allows a serum he is brewing to boil over, his cat licks up some of the spilled serum and Charles shoots it, as he does not want the cat to begin growing too fast and alert people to what he is doing. Some time later, Charles begins to inject Konga with a serum made from the plants, and Margaret is shocked to see Konga begin to grow within minutes. Some time later, Charles has finished teaching his class and asks one of his students, Sandra Banks, to begin helping him with his experiments. He is called into the Dean’s office, where the Dean reprimands Charles for an interview he had the other day, claiming to find a link between plants and animals. As the two men begin to argue, the Dean feels that Charles has come back to work too soon from his ordeal and tells Charles to take some time off, but Charles refuses and storms off. Back at the lab, Konga and Margaret have begun to bond, with Konga bringing down some tea for her. When Charles gets to the lab, he sends Margaret upstairs and then injects Konga with a new serum, which makes Konga grow and take the appearance of a gorilla. Charles then hypnotises Konga to respond to his commands before taking Konga to Dean Foster’s house, where he has Konga kill Dean Foster. When she sees the paper, Margaret questions Charles about Dean Foster’s death and accuses him of killing the dean but when he asks what she plans to do about it, she admits that she won’t do anything due to her love for Charles. The next day, Charles is questioned by the police about his meeting with the dean, but he is able to keep their suspicions off of him. That night, during a party at his house, Charles talks with Professor Tagore, a scientist whose research is very similar to his own. Prof. Tagore invites Charles to see his work later that night, which Charles accepts and when he arrives at Prof. Tagore’s lab, he has Konga kill the professor while he steals his research notes. The next day, Charles leads his class on an excursion to look for ferns but while he spends time with Sandra, Bob, Sandra’s boyfriend, grows jealous and when they are forced to leave early due to rain, Bob catches Charles alone and confronts him about Sandra. Briefly going mad in his jealousy, Bob begins to strangle Charles but he comes to his senses and apologizes, and Charles says they should both forget the incident. That night, Bob prepares to go on a date with Sandra but before he can leave, Konga appears and strangles him. The next day, Margaret yells at Charles about Bob’s death, questioning why he had to die. When Margaret says that Charles has gone too far and the police might catch him, Charles says that perhaps they should kill Konga and start over in Africa. Charles then decides to have Sandra over for dinner, claiming his desire to comfort her during her grief, However Charles tells Sandra that he brought her there to get her used to his greenhouse as he wants her to work with him, as well as be with him. Margaret overhears this and goes to the lab and orders Konga to kill Charles and Sandra, then injects him with a massive dose of the serum. Konga grows to giant size and begins to destroy the lab, setting it on fire, before he kills Margaret and breaks free from the house. Konga heads to the greenhouse and smashes through the glass and grabs Charles, which shocks Sandra, causing her arm to get caught in one of the carnivorous plants. The police and firemen arrive at Charles’ house and see Konga, who leaves the house and begins to head towards downtown. As Charles continually pleads with Konga to put him down, the military arrives and begins firing at Konga. Konga throws Charles at the military but, after being shot multiple times, falls to the ground dead, shrinking back to his original chimpanzee form after doing so.
Konga met with negative reviews from the critics, holding a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the critics called it inept and silly with an improbable looking ape. A novelization was made for the movie and, like Gorgo, Konga was featured in several comic books as well. The studio and director only had a budget of $500k so they did the best they could, using miniature models and studio mattes to help make the technical aspects appear better.
You know, this is a pretty decent movie with just one problem, the giant gorilla. I know. I can’t believe I said that either but it is true. This is probably the only time where a giant monster did not help the movie. The acting was pretty good in this movie. Michael Gough (Charles) was great in his role of a overly driven, and slightly mad, scientist and Margo Jones (Margaret) did a great job in her role as well. The story seemed to have two plotlines going on. The first one, about the scientist doing his experiments and letting nothing stop him was actually really good, but the part where he had Konga kill people that threatened his research did not seem to be as well written. The effects with Konga’s growth looked pretty bad and when he reached giant size, they looked even worse. When Konga grabbed Margaret, and later Charles, the dolls used to simulate people looked so fake that you just couldn’t help but laugh. There are better giant monster movies out there but this one is worth watching at least once, if for no other reason than to get a laugh out of it.
Rating: 3 out of 5