Film Reviews

Konga (1961) – Blu-ray Review

In what now seems like the distant past, but was not much over two years ago, the first COVID lockdown in late March 2020 caught everybody off-guard, and meant that people had to try to find new ways to try and occupy themselves while being confined to their homes.

Some turned to exercise, while others took up learning new languages. In one case, a trio of flatmates ended up reviving the once-dormant technique of Supermarionation, making a new TV series with only what puppets and props they had to hand. And, of course, there was also baking. Oh, so much banana bread, and so much time to make it in. And for many, the lockdown proved to be a time when streaming services came into their own.

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What had once seemed something of a luxury now became a necessity of sorts, driven in part by social media bringing so many isolated people together for tweetalong viewings of TV shows and movies, creating a link with the outside world and a shared experience. This just happened to include your humble scribe, who from the little acorn of a seemingly one-off viewing of Battle Beyond The Stars ended up becoming part of a small community of like-minded others, for whom these screenings became a regular fixture.

Not only that, but they have outlived the many lockdowns we had to face, and also spilled over into some real-world lasting friendships, all through the medium of being snarky or totes hilar on Twitter about various cheesy programmes and films, under the apt name of ‘COVIDEO’. And just what a truly eye-opening experience these twice (and, sometimes, even thrice) weekly viewing appointments have proved to be, presenting a whole range of new and decidedly unusual opportunities.

© StudioCanal Limited. All rights reserved.

From Russian B-movie sci-fi featuring flammable robots, to Asian vampire flicks which flagrantly rip off Robocop. And a Brum-centric retro musical featuring Cliff Richard in a mini-hovercraft, to a blatantly copyright-infringing Turkish take on Star Wars. Not to mention ‘sword-and-sandals’ peplum epics, a Czechoslovakian time travel comedy, a vast array of Kaiju creature features, a Ukrainian sitcom, ‘60s Bond cash-ins, and so many other wild and weird points in-between far too numerous to mention.

Variety, it seems, truly is the spice of life, and COVIDEO has not been just a lifeline, but a genuinely enriching experience. It also makes you look at things in a different very light, and leave you more open to considering watching material which you might once have balked at. One such feature, which is perfect COVIDEO material, almost as if stamped all the way through it like a stick of rock, just happens to be the perfect intersection between a teen heartthrob crooner, Batman’s butler, a not-so-subtle steal straight from King Kong, and one of Spider-Man’s co-creators.

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The 1961 British release Konga has come to Blu-ray courtesy of Network Distributing, having now been lovingly restored to its original ratio and in High Definition. This is the story of scientist Charles Decker (Michael Gough), who returns to the UK after surviving a plane crash in Africa. Spending a year in the jungle, Decker discovered a way to grow both plants and animals not only at a hugely accelerated rate, but to a vastly greater size than normal.

As well as this scientific secret, Decker also brings back with him a baby chimp named Konga. However, Decker seems to have become unhinged by his obsessive drive to protect his discovery and to press ahead with conducting unsanctioned experiments, including testing it on Konga, who he uses as a means of disposing of anybody who stands in his way, both professionally and personally, after he becomes infatuated with one of his female students (Claire Gordon), and whose boyfriend (Jess Conrad) poses an obstacle to Decker getting what he wants.

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It would be easy to dismiss Konga as pure hokum, and write it off for being schlocky and lacking in substance. However, it does have somewhat more depth to it if you happen to view it within the context of the period, when science was starting to make its presence felt in everyday life, and in ways which were not all welcome. A few weeks after the movie’s release, the Bay of Pigs crisis erupted, and the world seemed to stand on the brink of annihilation. Nearly three decades after first splitting the atom, it looked as though it would be the end of us all, in Mutually Assured Destruction.

Understandably, the inevitable mistrust or suspicion which related to some scientific advances – like nuclear technology – manifested itself in the form of B-movies, in which one of the recurring themes tended to be science run amok, ending up causing more problems than it solved. Perhaps the notion of a growth-enhanced chimp trained to become a killer was not quite as far-fetched to some at the time as it now seems, thanks to the benefit of hindsight, as well as the current lack of marauding bloodthirsty giant primates among us.

© StudioCanal Limited. All rights reserved.

Gough does a creditable job of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a script here, and managing not to look even vaguely embarrassed when delivering some truly execrable dialogue. In fact, he invests the character of Decker with far more effort than is perhaps deserved by a possessive, rather lecherous, monomaniacal and perfidious old cove. Decker is a deeply unpleasant individual, far removed from any of the charm or personality you might perhaps associate with other ‘mad scientist’ types like Victor Frankenstein.

There are certainly inadvertent laughs aplenty when Decker sends Konga out to do his evil bidding, and the sight of what is patently a man in a gorilla suit beset upon a scooter-riding pop idol in the form of Jess Conrad (whose musical number was, thankfully, snipped at the editing stage) is near-certain to have you howling. The inevitable efforts to ape (yes, pun intended) King Kong, with the ginormous Konga rampaging around London, leaves you feeling that there was no expense spent in bringing this monkey business to life.

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The disc’s extras certainly help to make up for any perceived shortcomings in the main feature, with the theatrical trailer, as well as the alternate American titles from Konga’s release stateside. An interview with the larger-than-life Jess Conrad has great entertainment value, with the singer clearly being a tongue-in-cheek legend in his own lunchtime. A nice little addition is cover art from the Konga comic which ran during the 1960s and featured work by Spider-Man’s Steve Ditko, and – based upon these images alone – it looks to have been rather more fun than the film.

Whilst the main feature is not really enough to go ape over, Network’s collection of bonus features definitely make this Blu-ray release of Konga worth you spending some of your hard-earned mon(k)ey on.

Konga is out now on Blu-ray from Network Distributing.

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