Madame Tussauds opened its Kong: Skull Island exhibit in March 2017, to coincide with the film’s release, and I’d been wanting to pay it a visit ever since. However, the time never seemed right. Weekends and school holidays were a no-no, as I don’t like crowds. But even on normal weekdays it seemed that the place was rather popular, with TripAdvisor reviewers noting lengthy queues.
With the film starting to feel like yesterday’s news – in the minds of the public, anyway – I was getting worried that Madame T might decide to melt Kong down. So I couldn’t put this off any longer: I had to launch an expedition to Skull Island right away – well, as soon as Tesco sent me the entry vouchers. Hiddleston, Goodman, Larson and Jackson might have reached the titular island via a fleet of heat-packing Hueys, but I’m taking the more sedate route offered by Clubcard points.
Despite loving the heck out of Kong: Skull Island, and hoovering up as much official merchandise as I could (the Blu-ray, the soundtrack CD, the novel, the ‘Art and Making of’ book, the comic book, the Pop Vinyl figure), I somehow managed to leave an 18-inch high and rather handsome-looking Kong toy on the shelf for the past five months.
How did this happen? Allow me to explain.
I clocked the figure – sorry, Mega-Figure – back in March, around the time of the film’s release, but it wasn’t stocked by Toys R Us, Argos, The Entertainer or any other high-street shop that I was aware of. As far as I could tell, it was only available from eBay traders and Amazon Marketplace sellers, which led me to briefly wonder whether it was an import.
“Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long, and not putting weight on the toe. You can begin normal activity once the swelling has gone down.”
That was the advice I got from the NHS website after I whacked my little toe on the corner of my built-in wardrobe on Friday afternoon. Over the years, I’d stubbed the same toe many times before, often in the same manner, and I’d never suffered any ill effects beyond an initial yelp and a brief sick feeling. But this time was different. This time, the appendage still hurt to walk on hours later, and when I removed my sock I saw that the toe was badly bruised and had swelled up. Was it broken? Possibly, reckoned the NHS guide to toe injuries. Either way, it looked like it had been stamped on by a giant gorilla and I should definitely rest up, at least until the swelling went down.
Unfortunately, this was not an option, as the following morning I had somewhere I wanted – nay, needed – to be. John Scott, composer of film scores, was attending the Camden Film Fair, and I wasn’t about to let the occasion pass just because I’d been playing football with the wall. So I carefully donned a pair of green Converse and hobbled my way to NW1, clutching two copies of the King Kong Lives soundtrack: an original vinyl issue from 1987 and the CD reissue on the Intrada label from 2012. If John would sign these precious artefacts for me, well, it’d be worth crippling myself.
My name’s Darren and I’m a giant-ape-oholic. That’s right, I’m addicted to giant-ape-ohol – a cheeky and highly intoxicating substance that’s a key ingredient in more films than you might imagine. My DVD collection houses 28 of them, at last count. And, as you might expect, I’m partial to related collectables too, such as autographs. Which is why, today, I find myself standing in the lobby of Westminster Central Hall, handing over a crisp five-pound note to gain entry to the London Film Memorabilia Convention, where a certain Paul Stockman is a guest.
In 1961, Mr Stockman donned a hairy suit to play the titular character in Konga, one of only two British entries in the giant-ape genre (the other being the comedy Queen Kong from 1976) and a film that I’d regard as a guilty pleasure if I felt any guilt. Of course I can’t defend it as high art – it’s a daft production through and through, with its species-changing ape and not-always-so-special effects – but the presence of Michael Gough, who plays the dastardly Dr Decker, makes it very watchable. I find the film charming and, in the end (the very end), quite affecting. If you’re interested in my full and proper thoughts on the movie, have a read of my review. I’ll still be here when you get back, I promise.
Yesterday morning I booked a ticket to see the 1963 Ray Harryhausen epic Jason And The Argonauts on the big screen. It’s playing at the NFT1 in June, complete with a Q&A from film historian Tony Dalton – an event to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The BFI programme, posted to members last week, says: “We also hope to welcome Ray Harryhausen.”
Yesterday evening, I heard the sad news that Ray had died.
As a young kid in the 1970s, I was in thrall to stop-motion animation. Like Ray, I was bowled over by the original King Kong – I can still clearly remember sitting and watching it, having been guided to it by my parents – and I never missed a chance to see any of Ray’s own films when they were on telly. The fantastic creatures of The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and, of course, Jason And The Argonauts just seemed magical. I was also a dinosaur nut, and the likes of One Million Years BC and The Valley Of Gwangi wowed me in exactly the same way that Jurassic Park would 20 years later.
Is that the time? I’d better have another rummage around the giant-ape genre, I think. Today, I’m taking a look at Konga (1961), starring Michael Gough, who died in March aged 94. As always with these in-depth reviews, beware: there are heavy spoilers ahead, including the film’s ending.
A light aircraft crashes in a Ugandan jungle, igniting in a ball of flame. It’s feared that its famous occupant, English botanist Doctor Charles Decker (Michael Gough), was killed in the explosion along with the pilot. One year later, however, a very-much-alive Decker returns to London, explaining that he’d managed to bail out of the plane before the crash, and had spent the past 12 months living with a native tribe while conducting experiments on insectivorous plants. His groundbreaking findings, he claims, will establish a close link between plant and animal life.
To some, Memorabilia, the twice-yearly signing/collectors’ fair held at the Birmingham NEC, is the once proud, now underachieving older brother of Collectormania and the London Film & Comic Con.
Its recent guest lists seem to have drawn more tuts of dissatisfaction than any other show of its kind, both online and offline – primarily, it seems, because there haven’t been enough guests from modern science-fiction shows or the latest genre films. “The weakest line-up there’s ever been,” complained one forum member in the run-up to last weekend’s event. At the show itself, I overheard someone bemoaning the “Z-list celebs”.
You can’t please everyone. Personally I think that, while there are good reasons to criticise Memorabilia’s organiser, MCM Expo (they’re certainly no Showmasters when it comes to dishing out pre-show information), its guest list isn’t one of them – not this year, anyway.
Continuing my in-depth look at various giant-ape movies, which began last month with Yeti – The Giant Of The 20th Century, I’m now going to take a peek through my fingers at A*P*E, another mid-1970s production that seemingly hoped to ride the slipstream of the first King Kong remake. Before I begin, though, be warned: hulking great spoilers lie ahead. If this doesn’t bother you, then let’s head straight back to 1976.
A captured giant gorilla is being transported by sea to Disneyland when it shakes off its sedation and escapes, blowing up the ship in the process. After tussling with and killing an oversized shark, the ape dries off on the coast of South Korea, where, in the excitement of its freedom, it destroys buildings, igniting both flames and panic and accidentally alerting the Korean and US militaries to its presence.
High-flying entrepreneur Morgan Hunnicut (Eddie Faye) visits a palaeontologist friend, Professor Henry Waterman (John Stacy), to ask for his help with a “humane expedition” in northern Canada. Though Waterman has been taken for a ride by his friend in the past, he reluctantly agrees. Hunnicut’s mute grandson, Herbie (Jim Sullivan), has discovered a large creature preserved in ice, which Hunnicut Sr wants to thaw and use as publicity for his business. On inspection of the animal, Waterman decides that it must be a yeti that was trapped in an avalanche millions of years ago.
In an attempt to revive the yeti, he’s put in a transparent cage, winched under a helicopter and flown to 10,000 feet, the height of his prehistoric, Himalayan habitat. He eventually awakes and, after almost causing the ‘copter to crash, is given a sedative gas and brought back to earth. The effects of the gas quickly wear off, and he breaks free from his cage, causing panic – until he befriends Herbie and his older sister, Jane (Phoenix Grant), whom he sees as his kin. With the yeti calmed, Hunnicut puts him on display in Toronto, but he quickly breaks loose, his reputation – and fate – now in the hands of Jane and Herbie.
I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’m part of the last generation to experience stop-motion as a contemporary weapon in fantasy cinema’s special-effects arsenal.
As a kid in the 1970s, I was wowed by television showings of the likes of Jason And The Argonauts, One Million Years BC and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad – films that, at the time, were relatively recent releases, though I must admit, I didn’t discern any real difference between these ’60s/’70s epics and much older films such as King Kong. To me, stop-motion monsters were always eye-popping and wonderful, in the purest sense of the term – the pinnacle of special-effects artistry.
In 1981, my parents took me to the cinema to watch Clash Of The Titans, the last film I can recall seeing that was built entirely around stop-motion set-pieces. Sure, later movies had their moments – eg, Return Of The Jedi in 1983, and The Terminator in 1984 – but Clash still feels like a last ‘hurrah’ for the kind of film that defined my childhood experience of monsters and magic.