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The Gravedigger's Shoot The Monkey Feature
Ape movies, whether they be man or monster-sized, have been a staple of fantastic films since the Sixties, when Herman Cohen released KONGA into theaters in 1961. A biologist, played by Michael Gough (BATMAN), lost for a year in the African wilderness, returns to London with several species of giant carnivorous plants that will help him with his studies in animal growth. Also brought back is a small chimpanzee named Konga. But Konga is just a means to an end--a way to test his experiments. When the doctor injects the forumla into his pet, which eventually makes him grow to the size of a gorilla, he also injects a drug which enables him to mentally control the beast. And as the doctor isn't the most stable of people he sends the ape out to kill people--the dean of the University who wants to fire him, a fellow scientists who is doing the same growth experiments, and a young man who is the boyfriend of a blonde student he's interested in. But his plans come to and end. His jealous secretary, learning of his love for this other woman, injects Konga with more of the serum and he grows to humongous proportions, fifty feet tall. She is killed and after the ape bursts through the roof of the laboratory grabs the doctor and rampages through London where the army shoots him down in front of Big Ben.

King Kong was resurrected to fight Tokyo's reigning monster, Godzilla in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963). Not only was this third entree in the original Godzilla series the most successful Godzilla film up to that point, it spawned a sequel with KING KONG ESCAPES (1968). This Japanese film pitted the anthropoid against a mechanized version of himself. A toy version of Mecha-Kong is still a best-selling toy in Japan. Kong would also appear in the "animagic" puppet film along with Boris Karloff in MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) directed by Jules Bass. In the Spanish produced KING OF KONG ISLAND (1968, also called EVE THE WILD WOMAN) gorillas become killers through remote control devices, though they are all normal-sized apes.

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1967), actually a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, features two giant apelike creatures--one green, one brown--fighting each other. It is perhaps one of the best giant monster movies ever made. A giant ape also appeared in ULTRA Q, a black and white Japanese television series that was a predecessor to the ULTRAMAN series.

Adventurers discover a hidden plateau of monsters, which include THE MIGHTY GORGA (1970), who is actually director David L Hewitt in the ape suit.

PLANET OF THE APES (1968), co-written by Rod Serling, tells the tale of three astronauts who are propelled into a future primitive world where humans are the animals and apes the masters. In BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES a race of human mutants cause the Earth's destruction, but not before intelligent chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira escape to the past via the astronaut's ship, to continue the series in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES. In CONQUEST FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES their son Milo,, who takes the name Caesar, eventually leads the apes to revolt. BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES deals with the interaction of apes and humans. These movies spawned a two television series--the first a weekly live action show which basically continues where BATTLE left off, and RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES, an animated Saturday morning cartoon. It combined elements from the movies while making the apes more technologically advanced (they ride Jeeps, have televisions, etc).

Two of the show's 13 episodes features a giant King Kong-like ape god who protects a tribe of mountain apes. He is encased in a block of ice atop a mountain and breaks out when his help is needed. The Japanese, influenced by these movies made their own version, TIME OF THE APES and even had ape-like creatures called Simians in GODZILLA VS. MECHA-GODZILLA.

Tim Burton's remake, although influenced by the previous series of movies, went in a completely different direction, with highly intelligent apes evolved from human experiments. A spaceship containing humans and these improved apes crash lands on an alien planet-and one of the astronauts is hurled thousands of years in the future to see what had happened.

But previous versions of the script, written during a spanof several years, were very different than the final movie. One version of the script intended for Arnold Schwarzeneggar (he's no longer doing it) had him going back in time millions of years to encounter intelligent apes. In his time period babies are being born old--and it's because of some genetic "booby trap" that was created long ago. He must survive being hunted by these intelligent gorillas, who are extremely violent and wear body armor. A more recent draft of the script, written by Sam Hamm (BATMAN) has humans facing a similar health problem--but its source is from outer space, not the past. A group of scientists land on the planet the disease came from--a planet ruled by intelligent Chimps, Gorillas and Orangutans.

KING KONG returned once again in Dino DeLaurentis' 1976 remake of the classic film, which featured Jessica Lang in her first starring role. Rather than utilizing the original stop motion animation director John Guillerman opted for a man in a suit, though this costume made by Rick Baker was far superior to the Japanese version. A giant mockup, far less convincing, was also used in some of the shots. Instead of being captured by a Hollywood filmmaker, this time it is by an oil surveying company and rather than doing his high-dive off of the Empire State Building it's the Twin Towers. Although it appears that he dies at the end--it isn't so. The King returns, sporting a new artificial heart, in KING KONG LIVES (1986). Kept alive on machines all these years scientist Linda Hamilton wants to give Kong a giant artificial heart--but in order to do this he must get a blood transfusion--from another giant ape. Adventurer Brian Kerwin coincidently finds a female giant ape in South America just in time--and Kong's surgery is performed. The two apes eventually escape from the army installation and rampage across the country. The female ape is pregnant and manages to give birth before they are both killed.

In the late 1990's director Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS) was slated to direct another remake of KING KONG, this time with a script that would do the giant simian justice. It took place in the 30's, has far more dinosaurs and gave Kong a meaner edge. Unfortunately the only recent re-telling of KONG would be the disappointing animated THE MIGHTY KONG, a cartoon musical.

In A*P*E (U.S/KOREA 1976) a thirty six foot tall gorilla is being transported on a ship during a violent storm. He escapes into the water and fights a great white shark before he makes his way to Korea. He picks up (literally) an actress who is doing a movie there and the authorities persue. They shoot him dead.

China's THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (also known as GOLIATHON), produced a year after the Kong remake (1977), is very much influenced by that movie. A huge Yeti-like creature is reported living in the Himilayan jungles and men are sent in to capture it alive. Everyone is killed except one young man, who not only finds the creature but also a Tarzan-like blonde woman who seems to be in control of the monster. She lives among the animals, which include some leopards and tigers. In a flashback scene she explains to the man how an airplane, containing she and her parents crashlanded years before. The Mighty Peking man found her and took care of her.

Rather than remain in the peacefulness of the jungle the explorer convinces her to come to civilization, where they can show the world her giant. She agrees--and soon they are all on a ship bound for Hong Kong. But the Mighty Peking Man, unused to the crowds of people and taunted by some cruel men (similar to that scene in the original MIGHTY JOE YOUNG) escapes from his cage and roams the countryside. He eventually finds his way to the tallest building and starts climbing, where army helicopters, firing their machine guns, surround him. The woman makes her way up to the building as well just as the army explodes tanks of gasoline that are in the penthouse below the roof. There seems to be two different versions of this ending--in one she lives and the other she dies with her hairy companion.

Killer apes have also appeared in such movies as Showtimes version (the 3rd movie version) of Poe's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), which featured Val Kilmer, Rebecca DeMornay and George C. Scott. Murders are being committed and they discover that it's being done by an Orangutan, not a human. The same year LINK (1986) pitted Elisabeth Shue (THE SAINT) against an intelligent chimpanzee on an isolated island. CONGO (1995), based on the novel by Michael Crichton, has an entire tribe of mutant gorillas chasing after a research team among the ruins of a lost city in Africa.

Disney's MIGHTY JOE YOUNG remake, starring Charlize Theron (DEVILS ADVOCATE) and Bill Paxton (TWISTOR) is extremely faithful to the original movie. In this version the fifteen foot Joe is brought to modern day San Diego to save him from being killed by poachers--but they come after him. The ape escapes from his confines at the San Diego zoo and eventually ends up at the Santa Monica Pier, saving people from a blazing Ferris Wheel (instead of children from a burning building).

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