Sunday, July 27, 2014

QUEEN KONG (1976) movie review

Queen Kong (1976) d. Frank Agrama (UK)

With all the ballyhoo leading up to the release of Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong in late 1976, it was no surprise that other studios decided to ride the wave of free publicity, with numerous low-budget giant primate movies hitting screens beforehand, including Hong Kong’s Mighty Peking Man, South Korea’s A*P*E, and this bizarre mishmash of British sex comedy, parody, and monster flick. (News of the innocuous UK trifle raised the ire of Laurentiis, who sought to stop the film’s release by claiming it infringed upon his intellectual property. Money talks, the injunction was granted, and Queen Kong went largely unseen for many years until Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia released it to DVD in 2003.)

Essentially a gender-switched scene-for-scene send-up of the 1933 classic, we are introduced to tyrannical female director - wait for it - Luce Habit (Rula Lenska) whose overzealous filming techniques leave her without a leading man for her new picture. Undaunted, she strides into the busy London streets and finds long-haired ne’er-do-well Ray Fay (Robin Askwith) stealing toffee apples as well as a vintage King Kong poster (or an “original reproduction,” whatever that is) from an antique shop. One mickey-slipped beverage later, Ray finds himself aboard a ship headed for the far-off island of Lazanga (pronounced Lazonga) "where they do the Konga."

Agrama and co-screenwriter Ron Dobrin clearly did their homework; in terms of screen action, theirs is a fairly faithful spoof throughout, from the jungle interspecies seduction scenes to those of the spurned simian tromping her way through London town. And while the play on Fay Wray’s name is obvious, Lenska’s punny moniker also rhymes with Bruce Cabot, Wray’s leading man who played Jack Driscoll. (Either coming up with a riff on Robert Armstrong, aka fearless director Carl Denham, was too difficult or Agrama and Dobrin were just too tickled with themselves to care.)

Unfortunately, the sophomoric yuks that make up the majority of the action are rarely clever or inspired or funny, however energetic. Sample: A native hotel concierge comes out of a straw hut with a phone and calls out, “Mr. Tarzan, your wife Jane is on the other vine!” (Bring out the Kong Gong.) Eventually, the zaniness expands to include other groaner gags at the expense of Jaws and Airport 1975, complete with Linda Hayden’s cameo as a banality-braying, guitar-playing nun, four years before Airplane!

Askwith, who horror fans likely remember from his early horror efforts (Peter Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show, Horror on Snape Island aka Tower of Evil, Horror Hospital), was by this time an established English sex comedy figure, thanks to his contributions in the “Confessions” films (...of a Window Cleaner, Pop Performer, Driving Instructor). Having not seen the pictures, I can’t speak to their success, but here the shaggy redhead screeches and caterwauls between cheeky (unfunny) asides to his co-stars and the camera. He never seems to grow tired of “entertaining” us, which earns him a modicum of goodwill, but it’s the equivalent of a six-year-old attempting the old “show us your belly button” tricks that were so endearing as a toddler – he might occasionally earn a wry smile, but mostly we’re just wondering if we should call in a psychiatrist.

For a film that culminates in a good-natured celebration of women’s liberation, the females are certainly put through their exploitation rigors for the first hour, with Lenza’s film crew and Lazanga’s populace peopled exclusively by gorgeous swimwear models. Valerie Leon (Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb) and her divine bod are featured prominently as their comely leader, bedecked in a lovely red bikini and headdress and saddled with, ahem, dialogue such as “Oonga boonga banga wanga.” For her part, Lenza fares slightly better, but only because she’s given better lines and better clothes.

Also worthy of mention is rock group Pepper’s bouncy theme song, featuring the immortal lyrics “She’s a genie who ain’t teenie / she’s the queenie queenie for my weenie /when I’m feeling mighty spunky / I wanna do it with my hunky monkey / Queen Queen Queen Queen Queen Queen Queen Queen Kong.”

But what about the she-monster herself? “Queenie,” played by an unbilled female dancer, is a run-of-the-mill monkey suit with John Rees’ special effects putting her 64-foot hairiness in the same frame as the puny human co-stars. Having nabbed Ray in her huge palm, she protects her prize by tussling with a couple of hilariously dodgy papier mache dinosaurs, the T-Rex’s enormous fanged grill compared to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s. How’s that for topical humor? (The Republicans get it just as good, with a London cinema showing a Ronald Reagan Film Festival being stomped to dust.)

When QK climbs big Ben for the climax, Rees takes a page from Bert I. Gordon’s The Beginning of the End by having her scale a postcard landscape. While it’s never not silly, it’s still more palatable than the winking and grinning one-liners, and unlike the bigger-budgeted Laurentiis version, at least there are dinosaurs!

Queen Kong is a strange beast indeed. It’s far too shoddy to be considered good, and because it’s trying to be funny, it never really succeeds as a true “Turkey.” But, at a scant 75 minutes, it’s probably worth a shot for adventurous viewers; you’ll know within the first five if this extended Benny Hill episode is for you.

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