Who could be blamed for imitating King Kong?
Besides being a pioneering production and a landmark in special effects, it remains one of the greatest action movies of its century.
But most King Kong imitators are awful, often crude or sentimental, with cheap performances and cheap effects. The only imitators that come even close to success are the purposefully campy ones that don’t take themselves seriously.
Luckily, the awful imitators are campy too, if unintentionally.
In fact some of the unsung camp classics of the 70s are failed King Kong imitators.
Here, then, is our look at King Kong imitators – six films that feature a gigantic simian. Two come in the 1960s but the rest come in the 70s when hype for the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake reached fever pitch.
Several of these films are very strange, and all of them are worth the watch.
This British-American co-production features a ridiculously intense Michael Gough playing an evil maniac similar to his character from Horrors of the Black Museum.
Can you believe this same actor played Alfred in the Batman movies? Here, he is a Frankensteinian scientist who hypnotizes a hapless chimpanzee and injects him with drugs to turn him into a gorilla (!) and grow him to 50-foot height.
More destruction would have been nice, but Konga does wreck a few tall buildings before the British army moves in.
THE MIGHTY GORGA (1969)
An incredibly low budget necessitated the use of toy plastic dinosaurs for this Grade-Z movie’s special effects. You almost can’t believe it was made.
A small expedition tramps through Africa to capture the giant Gorga, though Gorga rarely appears more than 20 feet high. The expedition members have no vehicles or pack animals, so I guess they’ll just carry him out by hand.
Some of the B-movie actors are notable, such as Anthony Eisley who played the cop from The Naked Kiss and Scott Brady who played the cop from Gremlins.
QUEEN KONG (1976)
Here’s another British production. In 1976 it was forced into obscurity after a Dino De Laurentiis lawsuit. But it appeared on DVD in 2003, and lo and behold, it’s not all that bad.
Why isn’t it bad? Because it’s a parody that doesn’t take itself seriously. It follows the original King Kong story point by point, but with an all-female film crew spouting feminist slogans and singing songs along the way.
It’s filled with smutty humor. It makes fun of the ladies, but then again it makes fun of everyone, including “Ray Fay” the goofy male hero, exploited rather than exploiting, for a change.
At one point, the female giant ape fights a T-Rex. The T-Rex looks plastic, but the action is actually pretty strong. In many promo posters, the female Kong has huge breasts.
This US-South Korean co-production is one of the greatest camp pictures of the 70s, a monument of cheap ineptitude. All the vehicles – tanks, copters, and boats – are obvious plastic toys. Even a cow is fake, jerkily wagging a mechanical tail. Everything appears to have been pieced together in a matter of weeks.
It’s what they call Grade Z. Yet there is a weird harshness behind it all, a sort of insistent desperation. The blonde actress making the film-within-the-film is constantly threatened with rape.
Most famously, the 36-foot-tall ape destroys a helicopter and then promptly gives the camera the finger! Go see it, my friends, if you don’t believe me.
YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1977)
Imagine a 50-foot Barry Gibb on acid covered with fur and trumpeting like an elephant. You have just imagined the yeti.
It’s pretty fun to laugh at this Italian imitator’s foolishness. At one point, the yeti wants the heroine to comb her hair with a giant smelly fish spine. At another point, the heroine pets the yeti’s chest and his nipple gets hard (hint hint).
On the other hand, the yeti’s face is onscreen so often (in closeup no less) that you might get too annoyed to finish watching. At least watch until you get to one good scene (probably the only good scene in the movie) when the yeti climbs down an office building like a ladder, kicking in each window as he descends.
The yeti survives at the end, as in several other imitators.
THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977)
I know it’s ridiculous, but I swear this Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) production is really good – at least for a B movie.
The giant ape is more of a cave man, as the title suggests. The story takes some new directions as the blonde heroine is already friendly with the ape-man from the beginning, already living on the same island.
The action is incredibly loud, with a full 30 minutes of city destruction at the climax, roughly three times as long as a Toho climax. It’s also the only Kong imitator on our list to offer some real nudity, if only briefly.