Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: It's All Black And White

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, April 30, 2019 06:24pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Recently we've been treated to an avalanche of new Blu-ray releases of classic fifties black and white movies. In this article, I'm going to focus on a couple of recent sci-fi and horror classics. In the 1950s, Hollywood turned America’s fear of atomic bombs and their fallout into drive-in movie gold. An endless stream of radioactive monsters invaded movie screens and the public ate them up with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Now, decades later, many of these drive-in classics are being remastered and released on Blu-ray. There are too many to review in one month so I’ll just focus on a couple of the best of them:

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Legacy Collection, Universal:
It looks like The Creature From The Black Lagoon has finally been fixed. This Legacy Collection actually Creature From The Black Lagooncame out in the fall of 2018, but it was one of the most screwed up Blu-ray releases in recent history. The first Creature film has been out on Blu-ray for years but everyone has anxiously been awaiting the remastered sequels. Everything else in the Legacy series had been released on Blu-ray and the Creature set was one of the last two to be put out. The first Creature film looked just fine, but the sequels were a disaster. Universal had completely screwed up the mastering on the disc to the point where the entire run eventually had to be recalled. Here at the store we've had this Legacy set on backorder for months, but we just started getting new copies in the past three weeks. These are finally the corrected discs. There's still some griping online about the quality of the sequels though. I can understand the complaints, some of the scenes still look a little soft, but I'm pretty sure the blurriness one sees here and there was in the original film elements. The majority of the scenes are crystal clear and finally in hi-def. The underwater scenes look especially immaculate and you can see details of the creature costume that were never discernible before. The Creature From The Black Lagoon has always been my favorite Universal monster movie. It's just a perfect little story that is well told. The sequels are pretty great as well even though they kind of retread the original. The gill man has one of the best designs in monster history, he's fearsome yet still slightly human. The story is a simple straight to the point narrative: a team of scientists travel to the depths of the Amazon in search of a fossilized missing link between humans and sea creatures. Instead, they find the still-living real McCoy and all hell breaks loose as they fight for their lives. The film is kind of like the ultimate distillation of man verses nature.

Continue reading...

Gorillasploitation - Giant Gorilla Movies

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 8, 2014 09:48am | Post a Comment


I have liked gorillas from an early age. I think I was eleven when I read Dian Fossey's Gorilla's in the Mist, shortly after finishing Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man; both works made me want to pursue ethology or primatology for many years afterward. My fascination with gorillas went further back -- past the Donkey Kong game which I was pretty good at (if hardly King of Kong material) at least back to toddlerdom, when I carried around a wallet which contained, if memory serves, a picture of a glow-in-the-dark Aurora model of King Kong

Gorillas are the largest primates on earth. Their strength is estimated to be between six and fifteen times that of a human and they have rather large and intimidating canines. A silverback could, rest assured, easily best any human in hand-to-hand combat. Gorillas, however, are not at all blood thirsty. The occasional snack of ants is all that keeps them from being classifiable as vegans and they generally (and understandably) avoid encounters with humans. Reality, in this case, has traditionally had little bearing on the European imagination, though, and Western artists have frequently endowed the peaceful creatures with their own human feelings  composed -- as Charles Baudelaire said -- partly of terror and partly of priapic curiosity.


Homicidal hominidae as portrayed (left to right) by Aubrey Beardsley, Berni Wrightson, and Harry Clarke
Although menageries were known in ancient Egypt, the modern zoo was a 19th Century invention and larger primates were rarely found within them. Evolutionary biology and paleontology were emerging sciences and some science fiction and fantasy writers of the day were quick to trade dragons, ogresand giants of the Middle Ages for dinosaurs, cavemen, and "exotic" animals from across the globe.

Jules Verne wrote several works, most famously Voyage au centre de la Terre (1864) and L'lle mysterieuse (1874), about forgotten corners of the planet where dinosaurs and other prehistoric animal still roamed.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave the subgenre a name with his 1912 book, The Lost WorldEdgar Allen Poe and Rudyard Kipling (and later Edgar Rice Burroughs) wrote of great apes doing not very great apish things but which nonetheless fueled the febrile imaginations of many illustrators and other artists.


Fremiet's great ape on great ape violence
One of the earliest European depictions of a gorilla was Emmanuel Fremiet's Femme Gorille enlevant une negresse, completed in 1859 and depicting a female gorilla abducting an African woman. He returned to the subject and tweaked it with Gorille enlevant une Femme, completed in 1887 and this time meant to depict a male gorilla making off with a naked human female. He returned yet again to inter-ape-species violence with, L'Orang-outang eranglant un sauvage de Borneo in 1895, this time depicting an orangutan strangling a naked human. 


In 1915's terrific Der Golem, a monster took center stage. Before that, such as with Georges Melies's Deux Cents Milles sous les mers ou le Cauchemar du pecheur (1907), monsters were usually relegated to a scene or two. That split continued with films like F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) starring man-like monsters and Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen (1924) depicting scenes with giant monster battles. A year after Die Nibelungen, a special effects animator from Oakland, Willis H. O'Brien, began working on director Harroy O. Hoyt's film, The Lost World. The film includes O'Brien's pioneering use of stop-motion animation for dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other megafauna but the menacing ape-man monster (who cavorts with chimpanzees) is clearly a human actor in a somewhat wolfman-like costume. 

Much has been written about King Kong (1933), a film co-directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack but which owes its success primarily to the animation of Willis O'Brien -- a pioneer who would later be followed by the likes of David Allen, Edward Nassour, Gene Warren, Jim Danforth, Pete Peterson, Randy Cook, Steve Archer, Tim Baar, Way Ming Ching, and most famously, Ray Harryhausen.

In 1931 O'Brien had begun work on Creation, which would've been about explorers encountering prehistoric animals on an island. After twenty minutes of film were completed, it was scuppered on the recommendation of Cooper, who considered it to be boring but nonetheless used O'Brien and his miniatures for King Kong.  The year before, in 1930, a cheapie exploitation film masquerading as ethnographic documentary, Ingagi, purported to depict a tradition of women being offered to gorillas as sex slaves, which was probably another influence on King Kong

The story of King Kong follows a film crew who travel to an uncharted island and encounter, in addition to real prehistoric animals, a giant gorilla who falls in love with a human female. The ape, whose name is Kong, is taken to Manhattan where he's billed as "The Eighth Wonder of the World!" Kong breaks loose and chaos ensues that climaxes at the Empire State Building, which was the tallest building in the world until 1970.

Two years after King Kong's release, the largest known ape, Gigantopithecus, was "discovered" and described by an anthropologist. Like the modern gorilla, it was an almost exclusivley vegetarian beast, primarily ingesting seeds, fruit, and bamboo. Even though humans are, without a doubt, the deadliest of all apes -- past and present -- giant gorillas retained their ability to scare and thrill.

King Kong opened in New York City at Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy on 2 March, 1933. King Kong returned to cinemas in 1938, 1942, 1946,1952, and 1956. It's somewhat ironic that over the years Hollywood actually grew more conservative and each time King Kong was re-screened it was censored further. By 1956 it had been so-neutered that it could be shown on broadcast television but it still had power enough to inspire a band of imitators. 


With the success of King KongRKO almost immediately attempted to capitalize on it with a sequel, again directed by Ernest Schoedsack and featuring special effects Willis O'Brien and Buzz Gibson. It was released nine months after King Kong, and stars Kong's albino son, whom the characters name Little Kong. It was a modest commercial success but unlike it's predecessor, much less popular with critics. 


The first King Kong knock-off was released in 1933, the same year as the original (which was shot in eight months). Comic director Saito Torajiro shot his silent short in just five days for the Shochiku Kamata Film Studio. Rather than employing stop-motion animation, it was more cheaply and quickly produced by an actor named Isamu Yamaguchi in a gorilla suit. 

KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO (江戸に現れたキングコング) 

King Kong Appears in Edo was released in 1938. The gorilla costume was created by Fuminori Ohashi, who sixteen years later would create the costume for Gojira. Unlike the previous Japanese King Kong film, with King Kong Appears in Edo Zenshō Cinema didn't bother with licensing the character from RKO. It is currently considered to be a lost film. 


With Mighty Joe Young there was a new giant gorilla in town. Production of Mighty Joe Young began shortly after King Kong's third, successful theatrical re-release. Like King Kong, it also was written and produced by Merian C. Cooper, was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, and featured actor Robert Armstrong. Unlike King Kong, Mighty Joe Young is less oversized (3.5 meters) but billed as "Mightier than King Kong" (whose size appears to fluctuate). Also, Joe trashes West Hollywood instead of Manhattan.

Konga was a 1961 British/American co-production directed by Canadian filmmaker John Lemont and shot at Merton Park Studios and in Croydon. In the film we learn that Konga is a chimpanzee rather than a gorilla (albeit one apparently played by a human in a gorilla suit). Given her serum-transforming size  and rather Kong-like name (she's even billed, despite her gender, as the "King of Terror"), Konga is clearly more closely related to giant gorillas than she is to, say, Cheeta. Besides, there were many far less overtly King Kong-inspired films which nevertheless tried to exploit the simian's superstardrom, films like Eva, la Venere selvaggia (1968) which though Italian for "Eve, wild Venus" was released in the US as King of Kong Island despite no characters being named Kong nor any of the action taking place on an island.

King Kong vs. Godzilla was produced by Toho Studios in 1962 and directed by Gojira's Ishirō Honda with visual effects by that franchise's Eiji Tsuburaya. As with Gojira, an American crew produced an altered version with inserted scenes and dubbing. It was the first time that King Kong and Godzilla appeared together and the first appearance by both in color films. It was released theatrically in the US in 1963.


The King Kong Show was an American/Japanese co-produced kid's cartoon made by Videocraft and Toei Animation for Rankin/Bass Productions. In the US it aired on ABC between 1966 and 1969. Although I haven't seen it, I wouldn't be surprised its spirit is closer to Hanna-Barbera's The Magilla Gorilla Show, which preceded it by a couple of years, than to that of the original King Kong


King Kong Escapes was another Japanese/American co-production, albeit this time the product of a union between from Toho and Rankin/Bass. As with too was King Kong vs. Godzilla it was directed by Ishirō Honda and featured special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, who'd by then worked on Ultraman (ウルトラマン) too. It was loosely based upon the King Kong Show and was released in the US in 1968.


The first new giant ape to enter the fray since Mighty Joe Young was Mighty Gorga. The Mighty Gorga was a no budget movie, the effects of which make shows like Doctor Who, Land of the Lost, and Starlost look like the work of ILM. It was mostly filmed in and around Bronson Canyon and Simi Valley but generously padded with stock footage and "borrowed" scenes. 


King Kong was the subject of an out-and-out remake for the first time in 1976, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by British filmmaker John Guillermin (Tarzan Goes to India and The Towering Inferno). It starred Jessica Lange in her first feature film role and the special effects of the great Italian Carlo Rambaldi (Alien and E.T. - The Extraterrestrial). Updated for the 1970s, it relocated Kong's final moments from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center, which deposed the older skyscraper as the world's tallest building in 1970 and retained that title until 1973. It first aired on NBC in 1978, after which it became something of a television staple.


Hot on the heels of the King Kong remakes success, a German/British co-production titled Queen Kong was made starring several veterans of British Sex Comedies and directed by Egyptian-born Farouk Agrama (as Frank Agrama). Due to legal action from De Laurentiis, it wasn't released in British theaters although it got limited release in Italy and West Germany developed a small but fervent cult following in Japan.

A*P*E (킹콩의 대역습)  
Perhaps to avoid legal action from De Laurentiis, 킹콩의 대역습 ("King-Kong's counterattack") was released in the US as A*P*E. The American/South Korean co-production produced by Kukje Movies and the Lee Ming Film Company and was directed by Paul Leder (The Farmer's Other Daughter and I Dismember Mama) and featured special effects by Park Kwang Nam

The Shaw Brothers got in on the action with 猩猩王, literally "gorilla," but first released in the US as Goliathon (and later The Mighty Peking Man). The film was directed by Ho Meng Hua (as Homer Gaugh), produced by Runme Shaw. Special effects were directed by Sadamasa Arikawa. It was released in Hong Kong in 1977.


Dino De Laurentiis, John Guillermin, and Carlo Rambaldi returned with a sequel to their remake in 1986 with King Kong Lives. Kong, it is revealed, has merely been in a coma for ten years after being shot repeatedly and falling from the World Trade Center. Whilst the original had been a hit with audiences, if not necessarily most critics, the sequel pleased neither. Nonetheless, it did spawn to official video games in Japan, King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch and King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu

The Mighty Kong was an animated musical and the last film in which Dudley Moore acted. The songs were written by the Sherman Brothers (The Aristocats, Charlotte's Web, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, and Mary Poppins). It was directed by Art Scott, a producer for many cartoons of the 1970s and '80s, for Warner Home Video

Disney and director Ron Underwood (City Slickers, Tremors, The Adventures of Pluto Nash) re-made Mighty Joe Young in 1998 (and released it as an RKO Picture). The re-made Joe was much larger than his cinematic predecessor which co-starred normal sized humans Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron and came out not long after some regular-size Gorillasploitation films, Congo and Born to Be Wild.



Bucking the usual trend, Fox's Kong: The Animated Series was rushed to production to capitalize on the success of Godzilla: The Series, which itself existed only because of Roland Emmerich's poorly received 1998 film, Godzilla. It aired for one season in 2000 and 2001 and spawned two feature-length films Kong: King of Atlantis (2005) and Kong: Return to the Jungle (2007) as well as two video games for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance.

KING KONG (2005)

Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong seems to have been a genuine labor of love. It was the original King Kong that reportedly made Jackson want to be a filmmaker and we co-wrote, produced and directed the film. However, I found the end result to be an almost clinically joyless slog and less fun than watching someone else play the video game Peter Jackson's King Kong. Having been made after the amazing-looking Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's blurry, shoddy effects were also something of a surprise.


In 2010, King Kong returned to the screen with a lot less money and a lot more heart... and singing, in a Bangladeshi film, Banglar King Kong. In fact, although I haven't watched the entire thing (yet), it looks more like young Peter Jackson's Ray Harryhausen-indebted experiments than the increasingly soulless CGI cartoons he specializes in now.

Given Big Hollywood's increasing dependence on franchises, sequels, requels, remakes, reboots, and other rehashes, I have no doubt that we'll see a "King Kong for Millennials" or Mighty Joe Young 3.0 in the near future. Thankfully, we'll always have Skull Island.
Should you want to read more about Giant Gorilla Movies, check the shelves for David Annan's 1974 work, King Kong: les singes au cinema. A lot of credit is also due to the online site, Les origines de King Kong. If you want to track these movies down, go to Amoeba's Gorillasploitation section or order them online by clicking on the titles in this piece (when applicable). 



The current natural range of Gorillas is, thanks to their human cousins limited to small patches of Africa. Classifications have been adopted and revised over the years and today there they're generally accepted as being comprised of two species, Gorilla gorilla (the Western Gorilla) and Gorilla beringei (Eastern gorilla). Both are endangered, the Western species critically so. The Western Gorilla lives in Cameroon,CentrafriqueEquatorial Guinea, and Gabon. The Eastern gorilla lives in DR CongoRwanda, andUganda

Please remember that giant, killer gorillas are completely a product of human imagination whereas real gorillas are in danger of extinction because of people. If you'd like to donate to a gorilla charity consider The Gorilla OrganizationDian Fossey Gorilla Fund InternationalMountain Gorilla Conservation FundThe African Wildlife Foundation, or others.