Misleading advertising cannot save King Kong's cheap obscure English cousin
The Good: A fine cast especially a younger Michael Gough, original premise,
The Bad: cheesy monster design, cheap special effects, lacks suspense as a thriller, simplistic story, undeveloped characters, lacks deeper themes
KONGA is often advertised as The European answer to Hollywood's KING KONG. It's tagline about massive spectacle and it's posters showing a humongous hairy humanoid towering over Big Ben certainly misleads an audience into expecting the next big giant Monster movie. Even it's name seems like a ripoff of it's more well known American cinematic Cousin. The only problem is that KONGA has less in common with big burly behemoths running wild through the city and more uncommon with a twilight zone style murder mystery given a science fiction twist.
The film stars a young Michael Gough, almost unrecognisable from his later career defining role as Batman's loyal butler Alfred in four consecutive Superhero films. Here he plays botanist Dr Charles Decker, who made an amazing discovery from Africa that grows plants and animals to enormous size in the blink of an eye and gives them monstrous qualities. Convinced that his enemies are out to steal his discovery and claim credit for themselves, he sends his pet monkey named Konga to kill them. Of course he gives Konga a dose of the growth serum which turns the monkey into..........something that looks like a cave man in a gorilla mask and wearing the thickest fur pants ever.
Let's start with Konga's Monster design which is laughable at best. His legs are short, giving him an almost cute "Sesame Street" type of waddle when he walks. His chest is obviously a sculpted plastic or rubber breastplate, and that thick growth of fur around his waist and crotch are just ridiculous. From afar, it looks like a bad Hawaiian hula skirt made out of a shag rug, and up close it looks like overgrown crotch hair. Here is a closer look.
And no, for most of the movie Konga is only a man sized monkey as he works through his murder list. He never assumes his gigantic form until well into the final act.
The uncanny appearance of Konga does add a little to that scary twilight zone feel. If only the movie were shot in a more suspenseful manner. It feels like a tv production for most of time, focusing on the characters and the whole murder plot which would have made a nice mystery in more capable hands. The characters are largely forgettable though Michael Gough turns in a deliciously hammy performance as Dr Decker, slowly succumbing to the paranoia and madness from his discovery. Again, in a more visionary writer's hand, Dr Decker could have been a truly sympathetic villain; a man who had to play second fiddle for most of his life despite his achievements, denied due credit by conniving colleagues and denied the object of his affections, forced to extreme measures by the unscrupulous profiteering machinations of an unforgiving world. Alas, he is written as a straight up bad guy. Egotistical, stubborn and morally depraved.
When the titular ape finally goes giant, it is a half hearted sequence that does not earn its prominent display in all promotional material. The miniatures are not very convincing, all Konga does is wobble and flail, and humans are replaced by misshapen Barbie dolls, I kid you not!
Simplistic, shallow and cheap, KONGA never shed its reputation as KING KONG's obscure wannabe Cousin from across the pond. The material showed great potential but it failed at being tense thriller since all scares and twists are telegraphed well ahead of time, spoiling any sort of surprise. It could have, but failed to delve into deeper themes of the morality in animal experimentations or exploitation of workers like Dr Decker by greedy corporate types. It failed even as a giant Monster movie with too little Monster (which may be a good thing considering how goofy it looks). Thankfully, a great cast gives this movie some redeeming qualities, allowing it to earn its place among my bad movie guilty pleasures.
Replay value: C