Konga (1961)

Dr. Decker (Michael Gough, The Horror of Dracula) returns to England from a year spent lost in Uganda after a plane crash.  He brings with him a chimpanzee named Konga, as well as secrets he learned from witch doctors.  It seems that certain insectivorous plants can produce a formula that can embiggen anything, and Decker begins to do just that, first with the aforementioned plants and then with Konga himself.  Before Decker can really get going and let his megalomania run wild, he’s several problems to deal with.  His assistant/housekeeper/mistress Margaret (Margo Johns) wants him to finally make an honest woman of her; his Dean (Austin Trevor, The Black Museum) wants to shut him down; a rival professor (George Pastell, The Mummy) is also researching the plants; and the nosey boyfriend (Jess Conrad, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) of the student (Claire Gordon) he is hoping to turn into his next assistant/housekeeper/mistress keeps getting in his way.  Decker’s response to each of these problems:  sick Konga, embiggened to gorilla size, on them.  There’s just one problem:  it’s never a good idea to spurn your assistant/housekeeper/mistress when she knows where you keep your chimpanzee embiggening formula.

Dr. Decker, you cad.

Dr. Decker, you cad.

Horror nerds of a certain age grew up reading  little orange and black books about movie monsters put out by Crestwood.  I can’t be sure at this late date if that is where I saw a single still of Konga, or if it was in another book about monster movies, but in any case, I most definitely saw it with the description that scientists created an ever-growing female chimpanzee that menaced Big Ben, a typically inaccurate description.  Konga joined my mental list of monster movies I should see sometime.  At some point I believe I saw part of it on AMC’s long gone American Pop program, which was essentially a drive-in movie or two with often hilarious shorts.  It didn’t make much of an impression, and somehow the basic idea of the film-Michael Gough as a murderous botanist!-seemed so amusing I had to give it a second shot.

This was a major mistake.  The film is every bit as boring as my cursory viewing of it years ago indicated.  A film that features a giant ape, carnivorous plants, and a mad scientist offing his rivals with a gorilla (sure, the film says “gorilla sized chimp” but that is George Barrows gorilla costume, not some newly made giant chimp suit) has no right being this dull.  It doesn’t help that the kaiju element is limited to the last 15 minutes or so, with Konga running through the streets holding Gough (points for novelty, there) until an infantry platoon shows up with a few machine guns and a couple of bazookas to finish poor Konga off.  Konga‘s  snail pace and  decided lack of tension or suspense are brutal, but worse, this isn’t really a Sci-Fi/Monster movie; for the most part this is a film about Gough being an ass and the odd relationship he has with Margaret.

Gough and Johns are solid enough, but the rest of the cast is either given little to do but show up and die, or they’re terrible, as are the girl who Gough lusts after and her boyfriend.  It didn’t help that, for me, at least, Johns’ Tilda Swinton appeal trumped Claire Gordon’s….blondness?  I’m not sure what was supposed to be so appealing about her; certainly it wasn’t her hair, the hideous love child of a mullet and a beehive.  The effects are cheap but  not horribly done, with the exception of some of the inflatable “plants” and the scenes where Konga picks up humans (accomplished by having the guy in the gorilla suit hold silly little dolls) are beyond goofy.  I would give it a few points for its minor novel moments, but in the end, this is a film that should be avoided; the trailer is sure to show you all the best bits, and, beyond those bits, there really isn’t much worth watching.

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5 comments on “Konga (1961)

  1. carol says:

    i’m always kind of fascinated british syncretisms of non-british film genres. and trust them to make a kaiju movie into a murder mystery, though from an increasingly desperate murderer’s pov. the scale goes all wonky from the strange tea scene to decker’s fiance’s total lack of concern about decker’s increasing displays of mad science to dr. decker’s small plans for giant carnivorous plants and a kaiju. konga might as well be the village simpleton that decker tricks into murder. all of which makes it seem much more entertaining than it is.

    also, i’ve noticed that british noirs seem always to indicate the light source casting the dramatic shadows.

    • professormortis says:

      Carol,

      That’s a very interesting, and very astute observation. Decker’s fiance is pretty poorly written, which is a shame-I think she might have been more interesting if her only blind spot was toward’s Decker’s interest in his T.A.

    • djdave says:

      regarding your comment on the fiance’s lack of concern..she made s deal with the dr. to keep
      quiet about his behavior..she even spoke out
      on the murder of the blond’s boyfriend. she
      finally acted out against him with konga. she
      put up with it all until the deal-breaker showed up.
      she was used like the ape to her bitter dismay/

  2. djdave says:

    too picky of a film review… some of the “cheapness” of
    the effects & your criticisms contrast the numerous killings.Gough is hardly amusing in the role, He plays a
    twisted Dr Decker quite well..would you cross him??
    as for the blond beauty,get off her case…it is what it is
    older guy after youing girl. Ego driven Decker wants it all
    fame recognition & the girl. nothing new here even in real life. this sixties horror tale is not quite as cheap as some
    of your cheap shots.

    • professormortis says:

      I said the effects are cheap but not done horribly-this was not a high budget film, even in it’s day it was not on the level of what Toho Studios produced in the same genre. That being said I only singled out two effects as bad. As far as “amusing”, I like Gough, and if you read what I wrote, I said the idea was amusing to me-I’m not saying Gough did a bad job, in fact, I singled him out as one of the good parts of the film. I loved Gough in this. I’m not sure I found him as genuinely terrifying as you seem to, but I certainly enjoyed his performance. As to the blond, I’m sorry, I just didn’t enjoy her performance, and I found Margaret far more interesting. It is what it is. I’m sorry that you took my review (and my opinion) so offensively.

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