Schlock Value: King of Kong Island (1968)
With the release of Kong: Skull Island this week, everyone’s favorite giant gorilla is back and bigger than ever (literally AND figuratively). After digging around my public domain collections, I found the perfect Schlock Value tie-in: 1968’s King of Kong Island! The film, which was originally released as Eva, la Verne selvaggia (Eve, the Wild Woman) and later re-branded for U.S. audiences as King of Kong Island, was written and directed by Italian director Roberto Mauri, and stars the extraordinarily ripped actor/stuntman Brad Harris as Burt Dawson, a mercenary who is tasked with tracking down a young woman who is kidnapped by mind-controlled gorillas deep in the jungles of Africa. Now, you may be asking, “how does King Kong factor into this?” The answer: he doesn’t! That’s right, the film called King of Kong Island has absolutely nothing to do with Kong. Nor does it take place on an island.
What’s even more curious is that despite the title, the marketing for this film doesn’t really make any great attempt to convince audiences that it even might be a Kong movie. The U.S. poster which features a topless native woman (Eve, the wild woman?) leaning seductively against a slightly larger than normal gorilla, is just flat out confusing. Is this 'wild woman' going to have sex with this gorilla? What is this movie about? The original Italian poster does a somewhat better job of selling what the movie actually is, but only slightly, featuring the same topless native woman laying seductively beneath Brad Harris and his barrel chest and chiseled jawline. Okay, so she’s going to have sex with the guy now? Sure. Okay. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a trailer anywhere for this thing, so it’s anyone’s guess who this lady’s gonna bone. My money’s on the man.
Okay, the "plot" is extremely convoluted, so bear with me. The film opens with a payroll heist deep in the African wilderness. Our “hero” Burt Dawson and his fellow mercenaries manage to lift $300,000 but one of them double-crosses the rest, gunning them down and stealing the money, leaving Burt for dead. We’ll later learn this man’s name is Albert. After a lengthy credit sequence, we see Albert and his scarred-face henchman Turk in a cave laboratory somewhere, surgically installing a subcutaneous radio behind the ear of a gorilla. Sure. Now on a revenge mission, Burt returns to Nairobi where we’re introduced to some of his pals: Theodore, a bar owner, his wife Ursula, and their two kids, Diana and Robert. While getting his groove on at some kind of African disco, Burt encounters Turk, and nearly gets his head chopped off but is saved by a mystery man. The following day, Diana and Robert head out on a hunting trip in the African jungle, seeking “the Sacred Monkey.” After an extremely lengthy sequence featuring what seems every bit of stock animal footage the studio had, they set up camp, and are attacked by two gorillas who abduct Diana, beat up Robert, and kill everyone else. Then Turk appears, telling Robert they will kill his sister if he doesn’t return with Burt.
Burt, hungry for revenge, heads out into the jungle to save Diana, but mostly to settle his score with Albert. Then, we get EVEN MORE stock footage of jungle animals in what is the most leisurely rescue mission ever committed to celluloid. Seriously, there’s no urgency whatsoever. At some point, the mystery man who saved Burt earlier on pops up again, and he’s attacked by two gorillas, giving Burt a chance to return the favor. We learn this guy is Interpol Agent Forrester, who is also searching for Albert because of the payroll heist. He offers Burt a pardon in exchange for his help tracking down Albert, and Burt agrees. Around this part of the movie, we also get introduced to a mysterious native woman (credited only as “Savage Woman”) who shadows Burt for a while, mostly just watching him sleep. Returning to camp, Burt and Forrester discover the gorillas have attacked again, leaving Robert mortally wounded. With his dying breath, he confesses his betrayal, but is shot by Turk before he can divulge too much information. Bye, Robert. But before Burt can pursue Turk, he and Forrester are ambushed by a group of horribly offensive natives. Although Burt manages to escape, Forrester takes a spear to the gut and dies. Bye, Forrester.
Okay, back to the rescue mission, right? Nope. Burt decides to take off his shirt, showing off his completely ripped chest and sinewy biceps, and go for a swim in a nearby stream (because why not?. When he spots a neatly arranged pile of fruit, he stops for a snack (again, because why not?) and spots “Savage Woman” who takes off into the jungle. He races after her and asks her a few questions, but of course, she doesn’t speak English. He does, however, manage to convince her to lead him to Diana. Surprisingly, there’s no sex, but he does name her Eva. Cut back to Albert in his cave laboratory, where we finally learn just what the hell he’s been up to. In classic Bond villain fashion, Albert has a whole monologue where he confesses to Diana that he plans to control all of humanity by creating an army of slaves with his brain radios. Fortunately, before he gets too far, Burt arrives with Eva to exact his revenge on Albert and rescue Diana. What follows are a series of fight scenes, double-crosses and plot twists that are so unnecessarily circuitous, they’ll make your head spin. I’m still not entirely sure what happened.
Look, I never expected this movie to have anything to do with Kong. This sort of bait-and-switch is to be expected with foreign B-movies of the time. What’s particularly disappointing is that they took what could have been a really fun idea and did absolutely nothing with it. A mad scientist creating an army of mind-controlled gorillas to take over the world? Sign me up! My guess is the studio just didn't have enough money to make that movie, so they spent most of the budget on a cave laboratory set and a pair of gorilla costumes, wrote a story that could be sustained primarily with stock footage, and presented it as some kind of jungle adventure/revenge movie, totally burying the sci-fi element. And that would be fine if the movie weren't so dull. I really can’t stress that enough.
So much of it is made up of bland footage of elephants and lions and monkeys and other jungle animals, and you can feel the actors purposefully taking their time through these sequences as if they know they need to get this thing to a feature length. In between all that, there are these little scenes sprinkled throughout that do drive the plot forward. Unfortunately, they use these moments to cram in as much storytelling as possible, making it extremely difficult to make sense of what’s happening. The actors, for the most part, do a perfectly fine job with what little they had to work with. And, to his credit, Marc Lawrence, who plays Albert, is actually a fairly entertaining B-movie mad scientist. It's just a shame the script doesn't make a lick of sense.
I really wanted this one to be a lot of fun, but I just can't recommend it. It's long, boring, unnecessarily tedious, and it takes itself way too seriously. It will make you angry for having sat through it. Feel free to skip it, and watch any of the legitimate King Kong movies instead. Even King Kong vs. Godzilla is more fun. Speaking of which, I think Sarah Jane has something to say about it this week.