Last Few Movies XLI – Monster and Mayhem

My quest to find and revisit the most interesting movies every made continues.

Once again, films are listed in the order that I enjoyed them.

Movie Review: Never Too Young to Die (1986) - As Vast as Space and ...

25. John Stamos (Full House) and Vanity (The Last Dragon) star in Never Too Young to Die (1986), a pretty forgettably bad B-action movie that does at least boast a truly gloriously camp hermaphrodite villain played by Gene Simmons of Kiss. Also Robert Englund appears briefly as a nerd.

Fireproof - Available Now

24. Christian movie icon, Kirk Cameron, is a firefighter who learns not be such a dick to his wife and his wife learns the importance of valuing her dick of a husband in Fireproof (2008). As far as hokey religious flicks go, the production value isn’t the worst and, despite some alienating dogma speech and strict adherence to gender roles, it does mean well.

What the 'Big Short' Movie Gets Right—and Wrong—About the ...

23. Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015) is a sprawling real-life drama peppered with a multitude of characters vexing about the housing market bubble of the early 2000s. It’s an important issue. I just found it rather tedious and don’t remember a single thing from it.

Trilogy of Terror: Solarbabies (1986) - Noiseless Chatter

22. Imagine a post-apocalyptic desert world where fascists run orphanages and the orphans form roller skate ball game squads and then an alien orb that can conjure water shows up and stuff. This is Solarbabies (1986). It’s all very stupid, but it has Jamie Gertz and some pretty decent production value.

C Me Dance - EricDSnider.com

21. Weirdly I’d seen this one before. C Me Dance (2009) is another low-budget Christian production that features a ballet dancer whose mom dies and then she gets cancer but then God gives her the ability to convert people and make them repent just by looking at them, but then Satan tries to intimidate her into knocking it off. And honestly, with a plot this wacky, had this been an Italian flick from the 60s, it would have made so much more sense. It’s got a few inadvertent laugh-out-loud moments, but not my favorite of the genre.

Brian Clark on Twitter: "death spa is really good… "

20. A slasher movie set in a bougie health club? Cue the killer lightning strike opening of Death Spa (1989). Death Spa is a bad slasher film that doesn’t quite make my cut for great schlock, despite its bonkers plot. Two things that Death Spa needed more of: more spa and/or gym equipment-related deaths and a clear point of view (do the filmmakers view the health spa trend with disdain?). As it stands, it just reads as a random location that hadn’t been done yet. A bit more location-specific gore and a dose of satire would have pushed it up a few notches. The ghost/computer nonsense was marvelously stupid though.

Dagon (2001) directed by Scott Gordon | Eldritch horror, Cosmic ...

19. Legendary horror director, Stuart Gordon, falters slightly in the mostly fun Lovecraft misfire, Dagon (2008). A young couple gets shipwrecked and winds up in a remote Spanish fishing villages where the townsfolk are turning into fish creatures. It’s decent schlock that could stand to be a bit schlockier, but like I said: it’s mostly fun. I’d give it a look if you’re into Lovecraft adaptations. It’s no Re-Animator or From Beyond, but it’s not without its charm.

Green Screen: The Oral History of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ...

18. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) is still the best. Before it became a recognized franchise, you have to appreciate just how insane the premise was here. Humanoid surfer dude karate turtles get trained by a rat in the sewer so they can take down an evil gang that grooms children to be ninja. Corey Feldman is reading all of his lines at an 11.

Eugene V. Debs and the Endurance of Socialism | The New Yorker

17. I knew nothing about Eugene V. Debs. We didn’t really learn about the American labor movement in school. I only knew Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, had mentioned him in a few interviews, and recently tweeted about the documentary The Revolutionist: Eugene V. Debs (2019). So I watched it. It’s a great primer into the socialist, activist, and trade unionist, Eugene V. Debs. People interested in the history of unions and the labor movement in the US should find this character pretty interesting. It really goes to show how much we take for granted and how long people like Debs have been fighting and how far we still have to go to improve the conditions and protect the rights of employees everywhere.

French Can Can – 1954, Jean Renoir | Wonders in the Dark

16. Jean Gabin stars as the man who brings the working-class Parisian café-concert to the wealthier elite in Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (1954). It’s a love letter to 19th century showbiz and painters like the director’s own father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It’s breezy and enjoyable, especially if you’re into costumes and getting a glimpse into the art scene of Paris’s past.

Argoman the Fantastic Superman (1967) - Backdrops — The Movie ...

15. This is basically Batman but in Casino Royale (1967) without the irony (I think). Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967) is classic Italian schlock with a groovy Austin Powers aesthetic. Argoman can (I think) do anything. He can use telekinesis and punch people and influence people’s wills and who knows what else. His morals are ambiguous (he’s a skosh rapey and he murders so many people) and when he’s not in his zany outfit, he looks like the archetypal man in vintage ad illustrations. This is for fans of camp.

American Factory Wins Oscar | ucomm blog

14. A Chinese company buys a defunct Ohio factory and brings it back to life in the hopes of expanding business in the documentary American Factory (2019) directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. This is a fascinating look at capitalism, culture clash, and the working class people caught in between. I highly recommend this doc for anyone interested in our ongoing global corporate takeover.

The Blob (1988) – film review | mossfilm

13. I never thought the original Blob from 1958 was that great. It had a kooky theme song and some fun set-pieces, but Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake, The Blob, is everything a good remake should be. A mysterious blob of goo crash lands outside a small American town and proceeds to absorb everyone that comes into its path. It has some added humor, well-done gross-out effects, and some classic 80s punk anti-government satire. The 80s heralded some of the great remakes of classic horror-sci-fi and The Blob deserves to be mentioned alongside Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Quick Gun Murugan: Mind it!

12. A reincarnating vegetarian superhuman cowboy goes head to head with a corrupt beef franchise restauranteur in the Indian comedy-melodrama, Quick Gun Murugun (2009). It’s like a live-action cartoon complete with outlandish plots and physics-bending action scenes. We laughed a lot. It’s loads of fun if you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter and silly.

Invasion of Alien Bikini - CinéLounge

11. This low-budget Korean sci-fi comedy romance starts super frenetic and aggressive before it settles you in for a rather unique slow-burn horror. Invasion of Alien Bikini (2011) takes place over one night, mostly in the apartment of Young-Gun (Young-geun Hong), a celibate oddball and runty vigilante. When he rescues a young girl (Eun-Jung Ha) from what he believes to be street ruffians, he unwittingly signs up for the date from hell. Plot twist: she’s an alien and needs his seed by midnight or else she’ll die. But Young-Gun is a chaste and honorable man (and battling a lot of childhood trauma and general social awkardness). Thus a frantic struggle to forcibly extract his sperm ensues. The film is darkly funny and imaginative. I found it reminiscent of another weird Korean film; Save the Green Planet.

The 1999 Satire Starring RuPaul You Need to See | AnOther

10. Before Saved!, there was Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) starring Natasha Lyonne, Cathy Moriarty, Clea DuVall, and RuPaul. Megan Bloomfield (Lyonne) thinks she’s just your regular, all-American high school girl. But her family knows there’s something terribly, horrifically, unforgivably wrong with her. She’s a lesbian! So Megan gets shipped off to conversion therapy camp. A comedic voyage of self-discovery ensues.

Film Freak Central - Phenomena (1985) - Blu-ray Disc

9. Italian cinema of a certain era was certainly a trip. Iconic horror and giallo filmmaker and most assured perverted psychopath, Dario Argento, gives us the works in Phenomena (1985). If you thought Suspiria was a bit nutty and hard to follow, buckle up. Phenomena is a lot of disparate pieces and half-baked fragments of ideas blended together with a sort of hyper-stylized insane dream logic that congeal to form a truly impressive and perplexing, grotesque mess. An America teen (Jennifer Connolly) is sent to a boarding school in a Swiss village plagued by a serial killer who is mutilating young girls. The heroine can also communicate with insects for some reason. Also she sleepwalks. Also she may be developing a split personality. Then there’s an old entomologist (Donald Pleasance) who has a chimpanzee nurse. And that chimpanzee nurse – I cannot stress enough – rules. There’s plenty of clunky dialogue, bizarre character interactions, and gory surprises. The soundtrack seems hilariously mismatched with almost every scene, despite some great standalone themes from Goblin.

Meantime (1984) | The Criterion Collection

8. No one does depressing working class British drama like director Mike Leigh. Meantime (1983) boasts some stellar performances by young Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Phil Daniels (also the Trunchbull herself, Pam Davis). Squalor and class dynamics play prominent roles in this story of two brothers stuck in a miserable East End flat with their parents. Cleanse the palate with Leigh’s lighter fare like Happy-Go-Lucky and Topsy-Turvy. And then gear up for Naked, which appears later on this list.

From the Camel to Machinery: The Construction of Turksib and the ...

7. Who would have thought that a silent Soviet documentary about the construction of the Turkestan–Siberia Railway would be so cool? Turksib (1929) is that documentary. It’s a fascinating portrait of the region and the peoples who reside there as well as a technical examination of the engineers that built the railway. It’s soft propaganda, but a unique film for fans of trains or folks interested in the history of documentaries.

Mighty Kaiju, Right Beside You. DAIMAJIN TRILOGY (1966) | by ...

6. Question: Is Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Daimajin (1966) the best classic kaiju movie? It’s a definite contender. It might just be my new favorite. While not as iconic as Godzilla or Gamera, Daimajin has something special. It’s framed as a folktale and set during feudal Japan so we get some fun samurai hijinks before the colossal destruction in the finale. It’s a slower movie, but unlike a lot of kaiju movies, the human drama is a bit more engrossing. Around the midway point I was begging for the monster to make an appearance and finally wreak some havoc, but it all builds to a satisfying conclusion. There’s rituals and coups and prophecy and espionage and murder and, once you get to the third act, and that damn stone samurai god wakes up, it’s nonstop awesome. Do not anger the god of the mountain. It’s easy to see how the Daimajin series influenced the later North Korean film, Pulgasari (which also borrows a bit from Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth).

Goregirl on Twitter: "Now watching (re-watching) Basket Case (1982 ...

5. Micro-budget indie horror doesn’t get much better than Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), the tale of a mystery man from upstate named Duane wandering the grimiest streets of New York City with a big wicker basket under his arm. What’s in the basket? That secret is revealed pretty early on. It’s his malformed twin brother. Psychically linked, the pair are on a revenge killing spree. It’s a wild premise, but the fact that every single character (no matter how minor) gets plenty of quirk and “business” to do just gives an added layer of humor and humanity. It’s great and I get why it’s been recommended to me so many times.

NorShor Classic Film Series: Duck Soup - Perfect Duluth Day

4. I grew up watching a lot of classic comedies from the 1930s and 40s. Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, etc. But the Marx Brothers were always my favorites. I recently re-watched Duck Soup (1933) and it is just as anarchic and silly as I remember. Watching it with people unfamiliar with the Marx Brothers was a treat. Comedy doesn’t always age well, but we were all impressed with how many jokes, puns, and gags were crammed into every single scene. If you don’t like a joke, wait three seconds and maybe you’ll dig the next one. Light on plot, Duck Soup features the wise-cracking Groucho wooing the regal Margaret Dumont while he acts as head of state of Freedonia, a peaceful bankrupt country on the brink of war with Sylvania. The hilarious Chico and Harpo are Sylvanian spies and the hapless Zeppo is a secretary or something. It’s a rather broad send-up of foreign diplomacy, politics, and modern warfare, but that doesn’t matter. Duck Soup boasts some of the Marxes very best gags and comedy set pieces (including the famous mirror scene). The first six Marx Brothers movies are their best (shout out to Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera in particular), and Duck Soup is squarely their funniest.

Original 'King Kong' returns to LI theaters | Newsday

3. I also got to introduce the original RKO Pictures King Kong (1933) to my roommate recently. This is the granddaddy of monster movies and it had always terrified and fascinated me as a kid. Re-watching it again, I will stand by this movie. It holds up (just ignore some of the casual ethnocentrism and misogyny or treat it as a product of its time). This is pure, primal adventure. It’s mysterious jungles, lost civilizations, and a giant gorilla god who kidnaps a hot blonde (Fay Wray) and battles dinosaur after dinosaur. Stop-motion pioneer, Willis O’Brien (who would be a huge influence on Ray Harryhausen), had to develop a lot of new techniques to achieve the myriad of impressive creatures and in-camera effects. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong is still a captivating technical marvel and shockingly violent adventure after nearly 90 years. As an added bonus, today it stands as a remarkable time capsule of 1930s NYC. Still one of my favorite movies.

Pin on Fireball McNamara

2. Another Mike Leigh film. Naked (1993) is truly a depressing portrait of both London and humanity itself. Johnny (played amazingly by David Thewlis) turns up at an ex’s house and just sort of kicks around the joint while psychologically and verbally abusing anyone in his path as he rants in long, snarky, nihilistic screeds. This is a real actor’s film and a real gritty slice-of-life drama. You may feel dirty afterwards, but if you can appreciate despair and pain portrayed in a bitingly human fashion, give it a look.

San Sebastian Film Festival :: Errementari

1. Classic European demons done right. Errementari: the Blacksmith and the Devil (2017) is a delicious Basque horror fantasy directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo. A blacksmith escapes hell and keeps a demon locked up in his workshop until a young orphan girl releases it. I will not reveal any more of the plot. Just watch it. It’s fantastic. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for stories about myth, monsters, and the arbitrary rules that they must follow. Errementari is gorgeously shot and really explores the humanity of its characters in addition to boasting some brilliantly realized makeup effects. And it’s funny too. If you like dark fantasy with rich and familiar yet mysterious atmosphere like November, Border, Tale of Tales, and Pan’s Labyrinth then check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Facing Your Fears: The Top 13 Movies That Freaked Me Out When I Was a Kid

I loved movies my whole life. There were a lot of things I saw in movies that really freaked me out when I was young. These are the ones that left the most profound scars on my youthful psyche. I give you: The Top 13 Movies That Freaked Me Out When I Was a Kid.

Seriously. Why do this to children?

Seriously. Why do this to children?

13. Pink Elephants, Heffalumps and Woozles. Thank you, Disney, for haunting my childhood with not one, but two very scary songs about elephants. Dumbo (1941) has the “Pink Elephants on Parade” song—where drunk Dumbo and Timothy Mouse hallucinate some truly nightmarish pachyderm-themed imagery. Winnie the Pooh’s nightmare after meeting Tigger was also frightening to me as a kid.

Eerily prophetic of what would happen to the real life Val Kilmer.

Eerily prophetic of what would happen to the real life Val Kilmer.

12. You’re all pigs. Most people might remember a nasty troll turning into the two-headed Eborsisk and ripping his brother in half in Willow (1988), but for me there was a scarier scene. The scene where the evil sorceress turns the army into pigs. It was a particularly jarring morph scene that rattled my young impressionable mind.

Two decades later this image still really bothers me.

Two decades later this image still really bothers me.

11. Pigs are still scary. The song “I Found a New Way to Walk” performed by the Oinker Sisters on Sesame Street. I actually can’t explain this one. Something about those dead-eyed, floppy mouthed, felt pig puppets with no pants singing in that black void really got to me. That the song is frighteningly catchy too only makes it worse. For whatever reason, this clip from “Sesame Street” scared me when I was little and, truth be told, still kind of unnerves me today.

That's a bone-chilling image to thrust into your kiddie space adventure.

That’s a bone-chilling image to thrust into your kiddie space adventure.

10. There’s a wolfman in Star Wars?! The glowing eyes, drooling maw, nightmarishly slow and calculated movement, and that jarring noise he makes are all super scary to a kid of four. I dreaded the Tatooine cantina scene for that reason. Outside of that, the only other thing that ever bothered me in the entire Star Wars universe was when Luke takes Darth Vader’s helmet off. I think it was his scabby head.

Dwight Frye always dies.

Dwight Frye always dies.

9. Dwight Frye dies twice. He got to play two different creepy sidekick guys who die in Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). In the original he is the doctor’s hunchbacked assistant, Fritz, who gets his comeuppance off-screen—although you do hear his cries echo through the moldy castle corridors. When Dr. Frankenstein arrives, the monster has hung Fritz’s lifeless corpse from the rafters. In the sequel he is Dr. Pretorias’ nasty henchman, Karl. The enraged monster throws him off a castle during a storm. Something about the lifeless dummy falling, arms akimbo, accompanied by Frye’s hideous screams is still unnerving in its fakeness.

Alfred Molina's first movie appearance,

Alfred Molina’s first movie appearance,

8. The first 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Spiders, booby traps, impalements, rotting corpses, poison darts, and a terrific sense of suspense—especially for children. Had I stuck around for the grand finale at that tender age I don’t know where I’d be now.

It's the ever advancing closeups that did it, man.

It’s the ever advancing closeups that did it, man.

7. A Hitchcock trifecta. I succumbed to the terror of Psycho‘s shower sequence (1960) and I’ve had trouble with shower curtains ever since. The wonders Hitchcock must have done for the glass shower industry. The Birds (1963) also has some good scares, especially when she finds the dead old man with his eyes pecked out. No one remembers Torn Curtain (1966) and it’s not a great one, but the scene where Paul Newman murders the hitman with the oven disturbed me.

No one ever listens to the old Chinese guy.

No one ever listens to the old Chinese guy.

6. The Gremlins in Gremlins (1984). The sequel was hilarious, but Joe Dante’s first movie was nightmare fuel. It forever changed how I experience the Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Those little slimy cocoons and the gleefully malevolent violence that followed really rattled my young, impressionable mind.

Alas, no photos could be found of the nasty executioner guy.

Alas, no photos could be found of the nasty executioner guy.

5. The ugly torturer guy gets sandwich impaled. Remember the crappy Disney Three Musketeers from 1993 with Chris O’Donnell and Tiger Blood? The scene where Oliver Platt fights the jailer at the end is horrific. The guy is big and ugly and sweaty and half naked for starters. Then he gets slammed onto a wall of nails. He twitches and Platt moves in to inspect and he suddenly starts yelling like some sort of animal. Finally the other half of the spike-wall hinges shut—sandwiching the poor bastard in a bloody grid of iron and spikes. Rated PG.

Remember me, Eddie?

Remember me, Eddie?

4. Judge Doom gets run over by a steamroller. I was two years old when I first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It’s one of my favorite movies now, but when I was little I was scared to death of this movie. The scene where Judge Doom (Doc Brown! No!) gets run over by a steamroller is an unsettling bit of family-friendly horror. That he peels his own flattened body off the floor, sucks some helium to re-inflate himself, pops his eyeballs out, and somehow becomes stronger is just bone-chilling to a two-year old.

He doesn't eat people though. He just chews 'em and then throws 'em.

He doesn’t eat people though. He just chews ’em and then throws ’em away.

3. All the deaths in King Kong (1933). The original King Kong has also graduated to one of my favorite movies. Again, it was horrific and brutal as a child. People get chomped, smashed, and squished by a rampaging giant gorilla. Additionally, the budding dinosaur fanatic in me was flabbergasted that the apatosaurus was portrayed as a carnivore.

Nightmare fuel, that is.

Nightmare fuel, that is.

2. Gold guy’s face after getting impaled in Flash Gordon (1980). I never watched all of the ridiculously stupid-awesome movie that is Flash Gordon until I was much older and more appreciative of the camp factor. When I was but a lad, the only portion of this film I saw was the ending where green-cloaked guy with a gold mask comes out and says some dick things before he is thrown onto a big plank with spikes on it. His body flattens on the spikes and then there’s a disturbing closeup of his face: a gross sound-effect accompanies the dude’s eyes and tongue bugging out like worms emerging from a metal apple.

I couldn't find a really good still so you're just gonna have to watch the whole movie.

I couldn’t find a really good still so just take my word for it.

1. Violence and Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). A lot of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies blend together for me and most of them had scary finales where everyone is captured, tortured, or horrifically killed by politically incorrect tribal guys. This first movie was the scariest to me. Never mind the animal cruelty, racism, and the fact that Tarzan is pretty much a rapist who gets lucky when his captive lady gets Stockholm syndrome. For starters, if memory serves, a pack of territorial hippos capsize the explorers’ rafts and then crocodiles get a bunch of the guys. That’s nothing. The ending is where it became too much. The surviving explorers and their porters are captured by a tribe of scary pygmies who sacrifice them to a man in a giant sloppy gorilla suit. One by one they are thrown into the pit. Before Tarzan shows up to graphically gouge apart the ape’s face with his knife, the monstrous primate repeatedly smashes Cheeta (the Chimpanzee sidekick) against a rock—the image of the big faux-ape swinging the smaller doll ape around still haunts me. Finally they use the carcass as a shield against the pygmies’ arrows before the elephants show up to trample their village. Movies were brutal back then, man. Brutal and racist.

(It was also the inspiration for my own shabby attempt at short film with Stewed).

Originally published for net.sideBar on Sept. 18, 2013.

Hail to the King, Baby

Shut up!

Yeah. The title is a line from “Army of Darkness.” So what?

One of the most iconic, important, groundbreaking, and memorable movie monsters continues to be King Kong. Any way you slice it Kong is king. Unlike the more prolific Godzilla, Kong starred in only one movie. There was only one sequel (the aptly titled Son of Kong which starred his son and wasn’t as good). Many people have tried to remake King Kong from John Guillermin to Ishiro Honda to Peter Jackson. While Jackson may come closest to the original, none have been able to capture the cinematic magic and horror of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s extravagant original vision from 1933.

Fearful Wray

Fay Wray: babe of the 30s.

Merian C. Cooper, a bold adventurous man, was inspired to deviate from his wild documentaries—shot in the remotest locations and most dangerous jungles—in favor of this landmark fantasy adventure when told a story by his good friend, Edgar Wallace. Wallace was already a prolific novelist and screenwriter and his tale of a mysterious island fraught with peril and giant monsters sounded exactly like what Cooper had been looking for in his documentaries. Capturing unexplored natural dangers untethered was irresistible and teaming up with friend and producer Ernest B. Schoedsack to make this grand fictional epic was just the icing on the cake. It may come as no surprise that the main character of the wildly ambitious and peril-provoking movie director, Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong), was greatly modeled after Cooper himself. . . which is also another reason I was disappointed Jack Black’s snaky performance for the 2005 version (although it is miles better than Charles Grodin’s in 1976).

Look at that gorgeous matte painting.

Look at that gorgeous matte painting.

With actress Fay Wray as the lovely damsel in distress, Ann Darrow, and Max Steiner’s grand score—that very effectively mirrored the onscreen action in addition to providing a very tone-setting overture—and actors like Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, and Noble Johnson, there was just one thing missing: Kong. In the thirties many special effects were still in their pioneering stages, and Willis O’Brien (who would later teach the great Ray Harryhausen his trade) was a no-brainer for the job. O’Brien’s magnificent special effects which brought to life the prehistoric leviathan’s of Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World (1925) caught much attention. The finale of The Lost World, in which a brontosaurus terrorizes downtown London, would be the basis for Kong’s rampage through New York City. O’Brien, who had been having trouble and was forced to scrap several pet projects, was hired by Cooper and Schoedsack and to work they did set.

In watching Schoedsack’s earlier film, The Most Dangerous Game (1932), you’ll notice not only the recurrence of Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Noble Johnson, but also many of the same sets used later in King Kong.

king_kong__1933____the_venture_crew_by_kriegdersterne77-d52mmws

Do you think they’ve spotted us?

The story is simple enough. An “enthusiastic” movie director, Carl Denham (Armstrong), wants to make the greatest wildlife documentary the world has ever seen. He wants to dazzle audiences with corners of the world never before seen by civilized men. His producers demand he get an attractive woman to throw into the picture to give it some sex appeal. Denham then takes to the Depression-era New York City streets in hopes of finding a desperate young lady who might agree to go along on their crazy expedition. He finds Ann Darrow (Wray) and they set sail for Skull Island. Let me repeat that. SKULL ISLAND. During their long sea voyage, Ann begins to fall in love with the stoic first mate, John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Soon the mysterious island is spotted and they disembark to investigate. A primitive tribal ceremony is disrupted by their presence and the film crew manages to get away, but that night the tribesmen board the ship and kidnap Ann to sacrifice to their mysterious and legendary jungle god known as Kong.

It's not racist if it's film history.

It’s not racist if it’s film history 🙂

Kong shows up (in what is was of the best screen entrances of all time), but rather than kill Ann he takes her deep into the jungle. Perhaps it was merely her screams that sparked his curiosity or perhaps it was her beauty that stayed his hand. Driscoll, Denham, and the crew race into the jungle to save Ann—without any idea as to what awaits them. Inside the jungle, many men are killed by territorial and bloodthirsty monsters, dinosaurs, and Kong himself. It seems the ferocious Kong just wants some time alone to perv out with Ann, but with all the little men, dinosaurs, and giant snakes attacking, he can’t seem to get any peace with his screaming nonconsensual bride.

Kong uses some awesome boxing and wrestling moves to fight a nasty Tyrannosaurus-rex. It’s pretty cool stuff. Giant ape socking T-rex in the jaw and flipping him over? This is why fantasy was invented.

king kong t rex

Just look at how gorgeous this picture is.

There’s a lot of build-up leading to the main action, but it is all well paced and ominous. The music doesn’t even start until they get to Skull Island. Once the intrepid (and ill-fated) crew passes the ancient wall and pursues the gargantuan primate into the jungle the action is pretty quick. Stegosaurs, Brontosaurs, Ptersaurs, Tyrannosaurs, and imagined prehistoric horrors abound in the dense foliage, so there is plenty of violence. Life of Skull Island must be a nightmare.

Eventually Driscoll rescues Ann and Kong is captured (but not before he destroys the native village). Denham brings him back to New York City to show the public something they’ve never seen: Kong, the eighth wonder of the world. Long story short; Kong breaks free of his fetters in the opera house and runs murderously amok in the strange new environment, searching for Ann. Instead of giant snakes, Kong battles subway trains. Instead of vicious pterodactyls, Kong must battle biplanes. When Kong does find Ann he takes her to where he can be alone with her: the top of the Empire State Building (and in 1933 it was the tallest building in the world. How romantic). The planes come and Kong must let Ann go as he plummets to his death.

Come at me, bra.

Come at me, bra.

The special effects (although nearly a century old) still have amazing power and wonderful charm. The titanic monster battles are some of the best and most impressive ever filmed. O’Brien and his team had to invent most of the special effects shots for this film as they went along. There are scenes that feature live action people in the foreground and background, while stop-motion monsters battle in between. Plumes of steam from geysers steadily rise, stop-motion birds fly overhead, and the environments are sometimes  miniature sets that extend several feet behind the main action with painted landscape beyond that. The violence is still shocking (as when Kong chomps people in his jaws or mercilessly pummels a passenger train into dead silence), but for some reason we still love Kong. We fall in love with this big, hairy, murderous beast. Even though his performance is only the painstaking animations of a puppet, we still feel he is alive. Unlike other monster movies where we take our point of view from one of the frightened onlookers of the grisly carnage, King Kong makes the monster the central character. Kong is all alone and against the world and the movie audience, for some reason, readily embraces him.

Why you lookin' at my woman like that?

*Samuel Jackson’s monologue from Pulp Fiction*

Subsequent remakes have all tried to cast Kong as a softer, more sanitized, and sympathetic character; a misunderstood animal who the human protagonists eventually come to respect. . . and Kong only justifiably kills bad people. Remakes have cast him as a definite gorilla, but the original Kong’s species is somewhat more ambiguous.

In the original, Kong is a violent force of nature who murders indescriminately: cowering innocents; fleeing pedestrians; even the tribesmen who worshipped him. He doesn’t have a beautiful magical connection with Ann. He’s actually a bit more like a rapist. He is more lost ancient god than biological freak. Ann never warms up to Kong. None of the characters like Kong, in fact. Denham only wants to exhibit him to show the world something they’ve never seen. There is no awkward environmentalist or anti-capitalist message. To the contrary, the film is riddled with cultural ignorance, racism, sexism, and unsentimental depictions of animal cruelty (like the old Tarzan movies). It is very much an escapist product of its time, but for some reason I can forgive it all its faults just as I can forgive Kong for his incorrigible carnage. If it is unapologetic it is because it is a part of our history, and what an entertaining historical document it is.

King Kong 7

Acrophobic yet?

King Kong is easily one of the cinema’s most dazzling adventure stories. The colossal group effort of these daring men in the pioneering days of film, during a time when there was still a lot left of this earth that was unexplored, make King Kong something very special. In setting out to make an adventure movie to end all adventure movies—or maybe a monster movie to end all monster movies—I personally feel that the winning team behind King Kong succeeded with gusto. If you’ve only ever heard of King Kong as legend, myth, or saw him in any of the lesser remakes, I encourage you to revisit this fantastic classic. For my money King Kong (1933) is one of the best American movies ever made and not to be missed.

I am not an animal!

I am not an animal!

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” September 25, 2009