Retrospective - Ape Escape

KING KONG ESCAPES (1967)

Somewhere out there, you can find a movie box set that includes the original stop motion classic King Kong. It comes packaged with several other tenuously linked features including the butchered US edit of King Kong vs Godzilla and the ape versus robot madness that is King Kong Escapes. I have to wonder why, did someone include them just for laughs? Did someone working for the distributor actually think these made enough sense as sequels? Maybe both are true; at least I certainly like to think so.

In any rate, once upon a time this oddball bundle led to me what was one of my first viewings in this genre; an entry in the wave of films which followed 1954's original Gojira. This particular monster mash is still entertaining now, and it has since become a firm favourite of mine amongst the many rubber suit creature movies which have been produced over the decades. It's a shame Toho didn't keep the rights long enough to make more of these, instead opting to use other monsters along the way whether it makes sense or not. I would have certainly liked a few more instalments which feature their take on Kong.

What could possibly go wrong?

Somewhere at the North Pole in a secret underground lair, the evil Doctor Who is close to obtaining a huge supply of "element x". It's a rare mineral found only in tiny amounts elsewhere in the world. It's also a revolutionary power source, and while the details are particularly vague it's obviously a nuclear fuel of some kind. Perhaps it's supposed to be Dr. Hu? In past viewings I was under the impression that both were given as his name, but I think my memory played tricks on me. Whatever the spelling this is no relation of Tom Baker. His villainous scheme is to sell off this new found chemical to the highest bidder, since he has no qualms with changing the balance of world power for profit. His associate, Madam Piranha, works for a strangely unspecified country and is funding the dig to obtain the results.

You'd have thought this feat would involve some kind of specialised mining equipment, or even just lots of physical labour to be extra evil. But there is no such thing here since his big scheme involves ... a robotic ape. For whatever reason the heroes of the story once decided to plan out such a robot during research on the legends of Kong and his uncharted island home. Now that the nefarious doctor has his hands on the details he decides to put the machine to work. It's not a great plan, and they watch as it smashes into the ground with very clumsy hands and a rather precarious supply of explosives. Digging the stuff out is done without any precision at all and little remote control, if any. Then just minutes into the process the whole thing goes wrong and it collapses because of the radiation involved.

Shouldn't this have been foreseen? The sole purpose of this robot was to mine for radioactive chemicals after all, so not building in any shielding seems like a bit of an oversight. But maybe copying a giant monster and turning it into a robot wasn't such a good idea in the first place. Will Dr. Who's secret operation be rethought, perhaps to include drills and mine shafts? Why of course not, a villain with a hair piece this crazy has no time for that kind of thinking. They will just have to publicly kidnap the real King Kong from his tropical home. Openly bombing him in helicopters minutes before a research expedition arrives to survey the area will be simple. Then all they have to do is hypnotize him so he will dig for them in the place of the machine. It's a stroke of genius.

Of course this also goes terribly wrong right away, much like the first attempt. Did they forget that radiation again? Apparently evil organisations have a lack of short term memory. Eventually these two giants meet in the snow covered base, and later as the title suggests Kong escapes - with his doppelgänger in pursuit. Soon the expected carnage begins in ... the middle of Toyko. Isn't that a little far from frozen regions they were digging into? Wasn't Kong a lot bigger last time when he took on Godzilla in the previous film? There's no time to think about that kind of thing, geography and scale are not important here. All that matters is that they both reach that famous red and white tower as soon as possible, so they can climb it and then punch each other in the face!

 What could possibly go wrong??

In terms of design work, the moth eaten King Kong suit is pretty rubbish and it barely resembles the original 1930s version. His face is hardly even articulated, with some basic eyelid movement and a weird lip twitch. He just looks really hung over for the most part. Those glazed over eyeballs and the weird expression don't help his image one bit. To keep things interesting in the first half they also include a couple of other creatures during the island scenes including a giant snake, which provides a minor inconvenience to the big guy.

There's also the hilarious high kicking Gorosaurus. I guess the writers thought that a normal Tyrannosaur was kind of boring, so it was given a crazy action feature. It's a fun change for the mandatory fight over who gets to eat the female lead. Someone must have liked it though since he got a few cameos in later Godzilla movies. The main attraction is the Mechani-Kong robot which looks pretty good in a charming rubbery sort of way. It's got lightbulb eyes that emit blinding flashes and a hypnosis machine stuck to its head (what else) providing an unfair advantage during the finale. The action is all done well enough for what it is, and there are lots of miniatures and vehicles used. There's a classic submarine model, and to disembark they use a hovercraft of some kind ... which is definitely not just a car in the full scale shots.

In terms of acting and plot it's mostly just dumb sci-fi stuff without much in terms of big ideas and real drama. It's just about what you'd be anticipating. There are plenty of laughable moments in the script whether it's things which date the material as a product of its time, or the kind which were probably always really stupid. The American leads are very poor, particularly the girl Kong inevitably becomes attached to; but this may just be a case of horrendous dubbing for the English language release.

These campy characters are fun at least, and it stops them from becoming the usual dry throwaway human element you see in a lot of these films. There are square jawed explorers, double crossing spies, and a big bad sporting a diabolical cape that makes him look like a vampire. These are all cartoon figures, and it never tries to be anything more. It's a thoroughly silly bit of kitsch entertainment, but an easy recommendation. Definitely worth a look for anyone after some throwaway 1960s monster fun.

3/5