Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Hubrisween 2020 :: A is for A*P*E (1976)

Our mad mammoth monkey movie sets into motion with the S.S. Fisher Price desperately trying to stay afloat somewhere on the American Standard Sea. On deck we find two sailors deep in conversation, worrying over the "Big Boy" stashed down in the hold. And while one exposits on how the gas they used will have him sleeping like a kitten for at least another five days, the other sailor, who was present at the cargo’s capture, feels sorry for the beast secreted below that’s destined to be the next *ahem* “big” attraction at Disneyland.

Then suddenly, the boat begins to shake and heave as a large hairy hand smashes up through the deck (-- and dig those giant press-on nails!). And before the crew can barely react, the S.S. Fisher Price inexplicably explodes in a huge fireball! When the smoke clears, we can almost make out a monstrous Ape splashing around in the dark. 

Apparently completely unaffected by that ginormous explosion, as the shaggy and soggy Ape wades toward shore, he encounters a little trouble in the shallows in the form of a giant shark! (That, or the Ape is nowhere as big as I thought it was going to be.) Then, the Ape either attacks the big fish or dances with it (-- sorry, it’s really hard to tell which). 

This embarrassing display continues until the primate gets bored and splits the shark in half. (A rather disturbing scene as it’s pretty obvious they're using a real "deceased" shark as a prop.)

Once ashore, the Ape starts to make a general nuisance of himself. First, he destroys the port facilities by chucking oil barrels around that inexplicably explode on impact. (A new volatile high grade crude, perhaps?) And this rampage continues until we abruptly jump ahead an unspecified amount of time and space to the Korean International Airport in Seoul, where crack reporter, Tom Rose (Arrants), picks up his girlfriend, Marilyn Baker (Kerns), who has come to Korea to star in a new movie.

And as they wade through the local paparazzi, it appears these two lovebirds can’t quite get over the matrimonial hump because she has issues with career over commitment. Taking her to the hotel, after an extended padding sequence/tour of Seoul (-- a city on the move, a city of industry, a city of the future!), the couple part ways, promising to meet later and finally hash things out on the stormy relationship front.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Korean countryside, as a farmer plows his field he discovers some very large footprints in the soil. Slowly looking around for the culprit, first left, then right, he finally looks up and screams as the man comes face to hairy kneecap with the giant Ape! Hookay, then. This guy was in a wide open field with no trees or obstructions. HOW IN THE HELL COULD HE NOT SEE THE 40-FOOT APE BEFORE THEN?!? And speaking of that 40-foot Ape, now that we’ve seen him in the light of day all I could muster in my notes was a hope all that frizzy carpet was Scotch-Guarded. Wow. This kind of metric ton of derp this early does not bode well at all, Boils and Ghouls. Nope. Not at all.

Pressing on at our own cinematic risk, we then return to Seoul, where Captain Kim of the Korean Security Force receives word about a giant gorilla attacking a small village. Assuming this was just a hoax at first, the sheer number of calls necessitates Kim (Hoon) to at least send a patrol out to investigate to confirm or refute all these wild reports. But all his detachment finds is the burning and demolished remains of the village in question. No apparent survivors. 

Thus, with an alleged giant primate on the loose and on a rampage, Kim contacts Colonel Davis (Nicol), his liaison with the American military. But Davis doesn’t put much stock in these reports, figuring it's all just some publicity stunt for that new big blockbuster movie being shot near Seoul -- the very same film Marilyn is involved in, ‘natch. And so, all a frustrated Kim can do for now is wait.

Next, we shift to a horde of children sneaking into an elaborate playground; and while they play, the giant Ape watches, obviously enchanted by these shenanigans. Eventually, these kids get busted by their teacher, who rounds them up and starts herding them back to school. But when one student tries to take one more turn down the slide, upon reaching the top of the ladder, he finally spots the Ape, causing everyone to scatter in terror. (Again, How they couldn’t see him before is an utter mystery.)

Wandering on, our Ape spots a giant snake sunning himself in a tree. Grabbing the reptile, he quickly tosses it away toward the camera, watches it bounce off, knocking everything out of sync, and then continues watching as it lands safely and slithers off. (Wow. Not quite the epic battle the poster had depicted.) 

Moving on, our boy next interrupts the filming of some medieval martial arts film. When the crew recovers from their initial panic over the arrival of this unwanted extra, they pelt the giant with flaming arrows and manage to drive it off.

Cut to a cow grazing in a pasture, and then cut again to see the Ape stepping over a toy cow painted to look just like the real cow. (And wow again.) He then turns his attention on some poor hanglider, which he seizes in mid-air and plays with for a bit. (Vroom! Vroom!) The Ape then tosses it away like a paper airplane, and is so overwhelmed with giddiness at this fanciful display it triggers some kind of spastic clapping fit and organ-grinder’s jig.

Meanwhile, back in Seoul, as reported sightings of the giant Ape continue to mount, no longer in denial, Col. Davis holds a press conference concerning this mammoth menace, where he promises the monster will be captured or killed by nightfall...

As the publicity blitzkrieg for the much ballyhooed remake of King Kong (1976) was reaching a fever pitch, filmmakers from all over the world decided it was high time to try and cash in and, hopefully, beat what they were, heh, aping into theaters. Two such individuals were producer Jack H. Harris and director Paul Leder.

Harris had carved himself out a mini-empire in exploitation movies in the late 1950s with a trio of films -- The Blob (1958), 4D Man (1959), and Dinosaurus! (1960), which he kept repackaging and sending back out to second run theaters and drive-ins throughout the 1960s. Moving into the ‘70s, Harris had been on a bit of a hot streak again, backing and securing theatrical releases for another trio of films by amateur talents, who would go on to much bigger things, with Dennis Muren’s Equinox (1970), John Landis’ Schlock (1973) and John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s Dark Star (1974). And with his background in FX driven genre films, Harris became interested in doing his own version of the great ape as far back as 1974, when Universal Studios first announced it was going to do their own remake, The Legend of King Kong.

Now, the film rights and licensing for Kong have always been a bit of a mess. Merian C. Cooper, the creator of the original King Kong (1933), thought he held the rights to his creation and characters. And when he left RKO, who had financed the film, to form his own production company, Cooper thought he was taking that intellectual property with him and had every intention of making another film where Kong would meet Tarzan. RKO disagreed, and threatened legal action, scuttling any such notion of another sequel for the time being, and the dispute lingered on.

In the 1960s, RKO, now technically extinct as a film production company, licensed the character out to Japan’s Toho Studios for a series of films -- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), King Kong Escapes (1967), and a proposed third film, Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah, which eventually morphed into Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966), and Rankin-Bass, who produced an animated series, The King Kong Show (1966-1969), on which that second Toho film was loosely based.

But when producer John Beck struck a deal with Universal International to distribute his version of Kingu Kongu tai Gojira stateside, Cooper filed a lawsuit to stop this. In the lawsuit, Cooper rightfully claimed that he came up with the idea for Kong long before he worked for RKO and only sold them the rights to make the original picture and its immediate sequel, Son of Kong (1933); and so, he felt all licensed films and products concerning Kong should be negotiated with him and not RKO. But despite physical evidence of a letter where former RKO chief, David O. Selznick, stated the rights did belong to him, over the years Cooper had lost track of several other key documents that would prove he had only licensed Kong to RKO for those two pictures and nothing more. And without these documents, Cooper’s rights were relegated to only the copyrighted novelization of King Kong by Delos W. Lovelace. Thus, the suit was dismissed, Beck and Universal were in the clear, and King Kong vs. Godzilla hit theaters in June, 1963.

All of this flared up again in 1975 when noted Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, suddenly obsessed with both knocking off JAWS (1975) and out-doing that mega-blockbuster at the box-office, announced he would also be doing a remake of King Kong with Paramount -- where he was famously quoted in TIME Magazine, saying, “No one cry when JAWS die. But when the monkey die, people gonna cry. Intellectuals gonna love Kong; even film buffs who love the first Kong gonna love ours. Why? Because I give them no crap. I no spend two, three million to do quick business. I spend 24-million on my Kong. I give them quality. I got here a great love story, a great adventure. And she rated PG. For everybody."

Now, De Laurentiss spent $200,000 of that budget securing the remake rights from RKO. And when Universal got wind of this, lawsuits started flying again. Universal sued RKO, RKO counter-sued Universal, and then De Laurentiis sued Universal, too, claiming interference. And to add even more fuel to this legal fire, Merian Cooper’s son, Richard Cooper, who was now in charge of his late father’s estate (-- Cooper had passed away in 1973), brought suit against everybody, once more claiming Kong was his family’s intellectual property.

As things escalated, Universal discovered the Cooper estate had allowed the copyright on the Lovelace novelization to expire, allowing the story of King Kong to enter the public domain, which, in theory, would allow them to make a movie based on the novel free and clear. And after a four day trial, the judge agreed. (This legal victory would later come back to bite Universal in the ass when they lost a later copyright lawsuit against Nintendo over the arcade game, Donkey Kong, on these very grounds.) However, the RKO film was still under copyright. And so, Universal could make a Kong movie but could not “infringe upon” any elements of the original film. And with that, Universal essentially abandoned their version of King Kong after negotiating a deal with De Laurentiss, which included a box-office percentage of his proposed remake, which by now was well into post-production.

Meanwhile, as the judicial dust settled, the court wound up ruling in favor of the Cooper estate. And while the publishing rights of the novel were still in the public domain, everything else -- the name, character, and the story of Kong belonged to the Coopers. And then in December, 1976, right before De Laurentiss’ film premiered, the Cooper estate sold all of those King Kong rights to Universal, who were still toying around with the idea of their own version once their deal with De Laurentiis expired.

Now, while all of this was slowly unraveling, a full page teaser ad appeared in the February, 1976, issue of Boxoffice Magazine, which loudly proclaimed producer Michael J. Finn was about to unleash "The Greatest Kong of All" with his production of The New King Kong -- due in theaters three months later on May 1st, and in 3D no less, for Key International Film Distributors Inc, which, according to the poster, was based out of Denver, Colorado. And listed as a director of this adventure, Paul Leder.

Digging around on the internet I found next to nothing about Michael J. Finn, with no discernible credits on the IMDB after sorting through all the other irrelevant Michael Finns. As for Key International Film Distributors, as far as I can tell, they were founded in April, 1975, but I could only find two films under their umbrella; a South Korean kung-fu import, Deadly Kick (1976), and a bizarre sex comedy called Three-Way Weekend (1979). Further digging sees the company abandoning theatrical distribution in 1983 and rebranding themselves as Image Entertainment, which would go on to specialize in home video releases, concentrating on Laser Discs and then DVDs, securing exclusive deals with Universal, 20th Century Fox, Disney and the Criterion Collection.

Now, as near as I can tell, the Key International ad for The New King Kong was essentially sent out as a feeler to see if they would get sued by any of those other interested parties. And while they never did, De Laurentiss and RKO were concurrently in the process of sledgehammering Keith Cavele and his Dexter Films Ltd. over his bawdy spoof, Queen Kong (1976), essentially getting it banned in North America and Britain for the foreseeable future. With that, Finn and Key International were out of the Kong business, but Leder stayed in.

Before serving as a medic in World War II, Paul Leder was a singer, who was showcased on The Molly Goldberg radio program. After the war, where he was with Patton’s Third Army when they liberated Buchenwald, Leder returned to his singing profession, landing a part opposite Phil Silvers in the Broadway production of Top Banana. Leder remained on stage throughout the 1950s, but then shifted to film, producing and starring in a series of mature “Adults Only” features shot in New York, co-written by William Norton and directed by John Hayes -- The Grass Eater (1961), Five Minutes to Love (1963), and How to Succeed with Girls (1964), all co-starring future Golden Girl, Rue McClanahan.

Norton would go on to write screenplays for The Scalphunters (1968), White Lightning (1973), and Day of the Animals (1977), among others, but would also continue to write for Leder, who made his directorial debut with the Morton penned Marigold Man (1970), about a couple of hippies with dreams of planting flowers from New York to Los Angeles. Leder and Norton followed that up with their most notorious collaboration, Poor Annie and Little Albert (1972) -- which is probably better remembered under its alternate title, I Dismember Mama, where an escaped mental patient with mommy issues leaves several female bodies in his wake on his road to revenge. But on the way to dear old mom’s, he picks up a young girl, whom he finds so pure and innocent, he struggles over whether to, well, defile her or kill her as his conflicting urges get the better of him.

After that, Leder was on his own for the dreary heist picture, The Chinese Caper (1975), and My Friends Need Killing (1976), where a crazed Vietnam veteran starts tracking down and killing off members of his old unit. Which circles us back to The New King Kong, which Leder wasn’t ready to abandon even after the financial backing withdrew from the project. Enter Jack Harris.

To help finance the film, now under the title Super Ape, and to perhaps distance himself from any legal hassles, Harris looked for foreign investors, and finally found one with the South Korean based Kukje Movies and Lee Ming Films, who specialized in female-centric romance pictures and steamy melodramas. But in the end, they only managed to muster just a little over $23,000 for the budget -- and only $1200 of which were expended on the special-defects, which explains AH-lot about what we’ve seen already. To save even more money, the production was moved to Seoul, South Korea, but it was still shot in 3D under the limited supervision of Dan Symmes.

Symmes had worked on Alf Silliman’s softcore comedy, The Stewardesses (1969), which was the highest grossing 3D film ever produced. A historian, innovator, and champion of the Stereoscopic format, Symmes would go on to pioneer new 3D technology in the 1980s, allowing broadcast TV to show things in 3D as well, and who would be instrumental in the 3D-restoration of the John Wayne film, Hondo (1953). 

But he was only present for four days of the two week shoot on Super Ape due to work visa issues, explaining why the gimmick in Leder’s film is pretty risible, plagued with inconsistencies, massive technical glitches, and no understanding how the gimmick really worked, in a depth of field sense; and so, the 3D didn’t go much further than just constantly -- and I mean CONSTANTLY, chucking things at the screen, be it arrows, rocks, snakes, or vomit. Yes, vomit. And thanks to some really shitty editing, we get to see those same arrows, rocks, snakes and vomit -- yes, vomit, chucked at the screen again and again and again. And speaking of the crappy editing, if you listen real close you can actually hear Leder yell cut to wrap a scene more than once in the finished film. And as the film’s credited editor, Leder has no one to blame but himself on that one.

On the plus side, as the producer of this mess, Leder did get some much needed production values by somehow conning both the South Korean and American military to stage some extensive training exercises for them to film and be inserted into the movie, including infantry, armored columns, a fleet of helicopters, and the use of several jeeps. But as the production dragged on, at some point, as he looked at his footage, Leder quickly realized Super Ape was destined to be a train-wreck and started re-writing the script on the fly, trying to make it less an adventure film and more of a comedy. This decision to go for an all-out spoof also led to one last title change to A*P*E (1976), which Leder later contended was a direct rip-off of M*A*S*H, with the acronym standing in for (A)ttacking (P)rimate Monst(E)r.

Leder also added the character of Col. Davis and his haggard assistant, Lt. Smith (Chandler), as some (borderline) comedy relief when the film was nearly finished and falling way short of the needed run time. Note how the majority of Davis’ improvised dialogue is nothing more than just recapping what happened in a previous scene. And when Davis holds another press conference, in a rare instance where he gets to interact with the other cast members, he reveals how his superiors have ordered him to capture the beast alive at all costs, assuring the gathered reporters, including Tom Rose, that the giant Ape poses no immediate threat and the situation is completely under control. When a skeptical Rose disagrees with this assessment, he badgers the evasive Davis until the press conference comes to a premature end.

Meantime, Rose is apparently an old friend of Kim’s, which allows the reporter to tag-along on the next planned expedition to find and neutralize the Ape. With a two hour window before Kim departs, this gives Rose just enough wiggle room to visit the movie set and warn Marilyn about the dangerous gargantuan primate currently on the loose. Here, he arrives just in time for the film’s big rape scene, where Marilyn’s surly co-star gets a little too into the method, roughing her up, bringing a quick call of “Cut!” from the director (-- a cameoing Leder). And while he efforts to get his male lead to tone it down, but keep it real, Rose sneaks Marilyn off to a quiet corner, where they talk about marriage, giant monkeys, and maybe having a quickie while no one is looking. Still unsure on the whole marriage thing, Marilyn does promise to be wary of any males over ten-feet tall.

Speaking of which, we then cut to the Ape, who is in the process of flattening yet another village. Now, there is some unintentional slapstick here with these protracted scenes of fleeing citizens; for no matter where they go, or what corner they run around, they keep running right into the big gorilla -- well, make that they keep running into a less than reasonable facsimile of the Ape’s legs and feet. And yet despite this giant swath of destruction, for no reason other than the script dictates it, Kim’s patrol just can’t seem to find him.

Meanwhile, back on the movie set, the action has moved outdoors but they’re still having some trouble with that protracted rape scene. (Oy!) This time, when the director calls for action and the actors resume their struggling, following the script, Marilyn breaks away and flees from her tormentor. And flees, and flees, and then flees some more until she nearly runs off the location before the director finally yells for a cut. 

Forced to redo this scene several times due to mounting technical difficulties, trying everyone's patience (-- including mine), unbeknownst to cast or crew, they have a new audience member watching from the hills. And once the scene starts, again, and Marilyn breaks away, again, and she flees, again, this time everything appears to be progressing nicely -- until Marilyn goes off-script by running right into that giant ratty-natty hand with the press on nails!

Enchanted with his new prized possession, the Ape wanders off, clutching a less than reasonable facsimile of Marilyn in his paw. Flagging down Kim’s lost patrol, the director relays what happened to Marilyn, saying they went thataway and to please bring back his starlet. They’re on a tight schedule, see. With that report, Kim puts in a call to Davis, who sends reinforcements but refuses to rescind the order to capture the Ape alive -- even though, with all the death and destruction it’s caused, Davis really feels the monster should be shot on sight.

Back on the Ape’s trail, Rose openly frets, certain the animal will kill Marilyn. But Kim isn’t so sure, feeling if that were the case the Ape would’ve killed and eaten her right away. But perhaps the Ape and Marilyn have something else in mind as we catch up with them as he takes refuge in the mountains. With the girl gently cradled in his paw, she suddenly stops screaming, strikes a disturbingly seductive pose across those splayed fingers, looks him in the eye, and says, “Be gentle, big fella,” to a chorus of coos and purrs from her aroused captor.

Well, before this all gets a little too weird, even for me, a fleet of helicopters chug into sight and zero in on their target. Answering this challenge, the Ape releases his captive safely, allowing her to scramble into a narrow crevice -- but it’s deep enough the distressed Ape can’t seem to reach her. (And is the movie trying to tell us something here? 40-foot monkey, 5’8” girl? Tab A will not fit into Slot B? Paging Dr. Innuendo. Code Blue. Dr Grodie Innuendo. You're needed in the mismatched metaphor room. Stat!)

Thus, with the Ape somewhat distracted, the helicopters circle ever closer, allowing the ground troops to catch up and launch a massive gas bomb attack. In the ensuing mayhem, Rose borrows a Jeep to try and sneak in and save his girl. And while the Ape knocks a few choppers out of the sky (-- sorely missing the gonging sound-effect they added in for the later clip show, It Came From Hollywood (1982)), Rose seizes the opening, finds Marilyn, and whisks her away. 

Behind them, as the battle rages on and reaches its, heh, premature climax, the Ape stops and flips Kim the bird. And with that obscene gesture, I can now make it official. I surrender, movie. Pilot to bombardier! Pilot to bombardier! I am releasing the stick and the film is now all yours.

Meanwhile, as they flee back to Seoul, in a conversation done completely by voice-over of a jeep making several right turns (-- it’s my understanding at some point during the production that the sound equipment was irrevocably damaged, couldn’t be replaced, and here we are), our girl still won’t commit to marrying our boy. And to muddy these waters even further, Marilyn confesses that not only did she feel safe with the Ape but found something appealing in his eyes. (Don’t look at me. I gave up, remember?) Not surprisingly, when Rose is skeeved-out by this, she accuses him of just being jealous.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, when Davis receives word of the failed gas attack, he calls his superiors, again, recaps the whole movie up to this point, again, and then adds the Ape was last seen headed for Seoul because, more than likely, it's after the girl. Once again, again, begging for the authorization to use lethal force -- seems Davis doesn’t go for that "scientific phenomenon bullshit," the Koreans still want to try and capture the priceless specimen just one more time.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile, when Rose drops Marilyn off at the apparent safety of Kim's apartment, his girl expresses a wish that they'd just catch the Ape and send him home. Told that isn’t very likely, Rose then tries to cheer her up by mentioning he knows a Buddhist monk that has never married two Caucasians before. This, apparently, finally does the trick as Marilyn asks if this Holy Man is free on Saturday.

After Rose skedaddles to cover the hunt for the Ape, Kim’s wife (Woo) and children welcome Marilyn into their home just as the gorilla reaches the outskirts of Seoul and starts tearing up the city, obviously looking for her. With that, the order is given to evacuate -- but someone forgot to notify the occupants of the Kim residence, who, in their defense, might’ve been too distracted to hear the sirens by a really creepy marionette. (Come to think of it, I don’t think there ever were any sirens. Just some deadpan PA announcer suggesting everyone flee for their lives.) 

Anyhoo, just as Rose hooks back up with Kim, the Ape finally rips the right residential roof off, scoops up Marilyn, and then heads back out of town with his prize. Meantime, the casualty reports are mounting, causing Davis to call General Pak, the Supreme Military Commander of all South Korea, who finally gives permission to, and I quote, "Kill that hairy sonofabitch."

Unleashing everything at his disposal, despite the Ape having a hostage, Davis gives the order to open fire. But as the mobilized tanks and infantry start blasting away, the Ape shields Marilyn with his body as best he can. 

Gravely wounded, as the soundtrack turns sappy, the beast once more releases his beauty and shoos her into the waiting arms of Rose and another pilfered Jeep. With that, the Ape rallies for one more fight and starts winging boulders at those tanks, managing to smash a few of them. (Well, one of them, which we see get smashed three or four times. Maybe more. I lost count.) The creature then causes a rock-slide, forcing the infantry to retreat.

But in the end, Davis has too much firepower, including another squadron of helicopters, which deliver the killing blow. And with that, the Ape vomits up a shower of blood into the camera, keels over, and dies -- much to Davis’ delight. However, one man’s triumph is another gal’s tragedy. As off to the side, Rose consoles a distraught Marilyn, offering, "It was just too big for a small world like ours."

Oh, sure, a lot of actors have skeletons in their closets. George Clooney has both Return to Horror High (1987) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) lurking in his. Sam Elliot has the moldy and mildewed Frogs (1972). Jennifer Aniston debuted in Leprechaun (1993), and Denise Richards and the late Paul Walker probably wished we’d all forgetten about Tammy and the T-Rex (1994). But these all pale when you compare them to the 40-foot tall skeleton hanging out in the back of future Growing Pains star Joanna Kerns’ closet. 

Billed here as Joanna DeVarona, A*P*E was Kerns big screen debut and it’s easy to see why she got the part. The lady has quite a set of lungs as she screams constantly throughout the film. And honestly, she does little to embarrass herself and anything too stupid on display should be rightfully laid at Leder’s ever evolving and rapidly fraying script.

A*P*E was also a family affair as the crew list and credits are littered with other Leders. Paul’s son, Reuben, co-wrote that wobbly script with his old man, which does its damndest to not get sued by copying anything from the source material as it takes potshots at everything ranging from JAWS to Women’s Lib. And his daughter, Mimi, served as a second-unit camera operator. Both of Leder’s children went on to highly successful careers as producers, writers and directors of episodic TV, meaning anything that looked halfways decent was probably shot by her. Otherwise, behind the camera was family friend, Tony Francis, a noted still photographer, who treated each scene like he was taking a still photo as the camera barely moves and his technique is basically just point and shoot and click with little to no lighting in what few interior shots there were.

Leder’s stilted direction isn’t much better; and when combined with his editing skills and a need to make that magic 72-minute mark, we wind up with ah-lot of lingering “just in case you were wondering how this character got all the way up the hill” shots. As for the special-effects, well, I think Park Kwang Nam did the best he could considering the budget. Honest. And this lack of funding explains why the vast majority of the FX were done in-camera with very few -- I recall a grand total of one instance where footage of the Ape is matted-in and combined with other film elements but even that one could've been a forced-perspective shot on closer inspection. And if nothing else, A*P*E really makes you stop and appreciate the fine kaiju-eiga action and miniature craftsmanship that Eiji Tsuburaya and Yasuyuki Inoue pulled off at Toho for all those years.

Alas, as far as I know, the identity of the stuntman who played the Ape still remains a mystery. The suit itself is not the worst faux gorilla I’ve ever seen -- for that I’d put my money on either Queen Kong or The Mighty Gorga (1969). The head is obviously a separate pullover piece, as well as the hands. But where things really fall apart is with the giant hand prop -- you can actually see the fishing line used to manipulate the fingers. But as ludicrous as that was, those giant legs and feet props were even worse. And like with a lot of other giant monster movies, the Ape is filmed in slow-motion to try and give it some scale. But here, the actor seems to be moving very slowly and deliberately, too. So instead of the illusion of size and mass, we get the illusion of some idiot in a gorilla costume moving, really, sloooooooooooooooow.

But despite the monster’s obvious, off the rack origins, the most mind-boggling element of the creature is when you realize that aside from a few coos and trills the giant Ape makes absolutely no noise. No grunts. No ook-ooks. No primal screams. Nothing. As I watched the film for the first time I knew something was missing but it wasn’t until the first battle with the helicopters did I realize this Saxony behemoth was a mute (-- has anyone else noticed this?), who dopily wanders around the countryside, switching from fits of playfulness to tantrums of utter destruction and mass murder. And this drastic tonal shift really doesn’t allow the audience to identify with the Ape and take his side in all of this madness, which makes Marilyn’s simian Stockholm Syndrome even more asinine.

When it was finished, Harris found a distributor in Worldwide Entertainment, who rolled it out regionally, beating the King Kong remake into theaters by over a month. But even with this head start, as a surprise to no one, A*P*E never really lit things up at the box-office and received a critical drubbing. Undaunted, Harris sent it out again as Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla in 1982, and the film made its home video debut under the title Hideous Mutant -- though the New World Video VHS copy I own is under the title APE. But I think the best title the film ever had was for the South Korean release, which went all in with King Kong's Great Counterattack.

This movie -- omigod, this movie. This movie defies all logic, but it also has one fatal flaw. It’s very repetitive and the non-Ape scenes are a slog and a half. And this kind of absurdity can only go so far before it starts to get a little tedious after awhile. That said, I still contend A*P*E is a helluva lot more fun than the Big Dino D's remake. Yes. This film is terrible. Yes. This film was incompetently made on every conceivable level. And just when you think it can’t get any dumber, this movie does not disappoint. But as the old crap axiom goes, When someone sets out to make a terrible movie, can we really be mad at them when they succeed? That’s me shrugging right now. 

Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's ONE film down with 23 yet to go. Up next, The Gospel According to Steven Hawkes.

A*P*E (1976) Kukje Movies :: Lee Ming Film Co. :: Worldwide Entertainment Corporation / EP: Jack H. Harris / P: Paul Leder, K.M. Yeung, Yeong-shil Hwang / AP: Tony Francis, Reuben Leder, Tseng-Hsui Yang / D: Paul Leder / W: Paul Leder. Rueben Leder / C: Tony Francis, Daniel L. Symmes / E: Paul Leder / M: Bruce MacRae / S: Rod Arrants, Joanna Kerns, Nak-hun Lee, Alex Nicol, Jerry Harke, Yeon-jeong Woo, Bob Kurcz


tom j jones said...

" I Dismember Mama" is a real film? I always thought it was a made-up title that Bryan Brown's character was supposed to have worked on in FX!

W.B. Kelso said...

Oh, it's real. Believe me.

Chris S said...

You're back..and your writing continues to ....impress! I've really missed you, thanks for doing this love it!!!!!!! Also. I have to thank you for sitting through this. Great research I learned a lot as always!.

W.B. Kelso said...

I thank you. Yeah, we're back. At least temporarily. Thanks for reading, and spread the word.

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