Forgotten Horrors: A * P * E
Forgotten Horrors: A * P * E
In 1976, King Kong was big business. The big budget remake of the RKO classic from Dino De Laurentiis was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the 1970’s and Paramount pulled out all the stops on promotion. Movie posters lined theater walls, trailers played constantly on television, and all manner of tie in products sat on shelves months in advance of the December premier. While this version ultimately proved to be a disappointment to most fans, it did gross close to $100 million in its initial theatrical release, returned to theaters about six months later on a summer double bill with Orca, and ushered in a huge wave of Kong-mania.
With that much public interest generated by a film, it was inevitable that other production companies would rush to get a quick cash in movie into theaters and ride the tails of King Kong’s promotional campaign. Of all these films, and there were many including Queen Kong, Mighty Peking Man (a.k.a.Goliathon), and a hasty retitling of the animated feature Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle to King Dong (!), the one that promised the most and delivered the least was Jack H. Harris’s A*P*E. In an attempt to exploit as many elements as possible, plot be damned, the poster for A*P*E promised audiences not only a giant gorilla, but sharks and snakes as well and all in 3-D!
This Korean-American co-production dispenses with all the unnecessary background elements and opens the film with the monstrous monkey already captured and being transported aboard a pathetic miniature freighter. Everything that should have been shown in the first half hour, like the fact that this beast is supposedly thirty-six feet tall, was knocked out by gas bombs (sound familiar), and is being taken to Disneyland no less, is all neatly and thriftily summed up for us in five minutes of dialog between two bad American actors on an even worse set of the ship’s deck. No sooner than one of them can say “I hope that gas works”, all hell and one big chimpanzee breaks loose!
After some water tank splashing and a few cheesy explosions, a man in a slightly above average rental store gorilla costume (hey at least the mouth opens and closes) pops up out of the water a few feet from the boat. From out of nowhere, a cardboard shark fin appears and heads right for Ape. The ensuing “epic” battle consists of little more than the monkey suit man bear hugging an obviously dead shark carcass with the teeth already removed! In a particularly gross move, the fight ends with Ape tearing the shark’s lower jaw off and “drowning” it.
The next hour of this bargain basement beast bash consists of Ape wandering the Korean countryside and interacting poorly with various residents including a hang glider and martial arts training camp. In what is probably the stand out stinker scene in this cinematic equivalent of a tire fire, Ape spends about sixty seconds battling the giant snake as touted in the previews and on the posters. This “fight” consists of nothing more than the guy in the gorilla suit pulling a boa constrictor out of a tree and throwing it to the ground where it slithers off. Meanwhile, to at least add some variety to the boredom, two guys in a cheap looking office set, who are supposed to be the US military, talk on the phone incessantly to pad out the running time.
As an economical substitute for Fay Wray or Jessica Lange, we get Growing Pains’ Mom Joanna Kerns (billed here as Joanna DeVarona) as an American starlet making a low budget film in Korea. How’s that for a stretch? This was Kerns’ acting debut and she continued on with mainly television guest roles until landing the gig as Allen Thicke’s wife almost a decade later. Much like it’s all too obvious source of inspiration, Ape finds girl, Ape looses girl, and Ape tears up unconvincing cardboard buildings until he finds girl again. All this leads up to a climatic battle with a half dozen miniature vehicles representing the combined might of the US and Korean armies.
For the final act, the film actually does try to ramp things up a few notches but it is way too little and way too late. Ape swats helicopters and smashes a couple of the tanks by tossing boulders tied to strings at the camera. Remember, this is supposed to be a 3D film but the optical effects never exceed the level of the Three Stooges’ depth enhanced shorts of the 1950’s. We also get a few Korean soldiers thrusting their rifle barrels phallicly out of the screen and the film’s most talked about shot where Ape gives the army, and by proxy the audience, the finger! One of the tanks finally gets off a lucky shot and puts a merciful end to this cinematic crap fest but not before Ape gets to vomit up a couple of mouthfuls of fake blood! Yeah, let’s see Paramount’s Kong do that!
As audacious as it sounds, the producer’s of A*P*E only settled on this M*A*S*H parody title after RKO threatened a lawsuit over the originally announced moniker of The New King Kong ! In other countries, the film went by more aliases than a con man, including Super Kong, King Kong versus Jaws, and my personal favorite, Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla! No matter what you call it or how you try to play it up in the advertisements this was still one colossal turkey.
I remember when A*P*E was first released thanks to the trailers being shown on television for weeks before it finally turned up in theaters. I didn’t realize the film was shot in 3D until many years later when I saw some pressbook ads. I saw it that first weekend, before it dropped off the face of the Earth, at the Ocala Drive-In. The film was projected flat of course and many of the opening shots at night were so dark you could barely tell what was going on. By the conclusion, I am sure my mother was, once again, wondering what I had talked her into and, at the tender age of only ten, even I felt ripped off!