Horror for the Weekend: King Kong Edition

It’s the weekend once again, and this Sunday marks the anniversary of the release of 1933’s classic King Kong. A groundbreaking special effects movie, as well as a timeless romance, the film has been remake several times. We’re going to take a look at some of the staples, as well as a few you might not have heard of, and make some suggestions for your weekend viewing.

The Original, and the best

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We all know the story – a gigantic ape called Kong dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Kong is distinguished for its stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien and its musical score by Max Steiner, both of which were highly revolutionary for the era. King Kong is often cited as one of the most iconic movies in the history of cinema. In 1991, it was deemed “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. But can modern audiences still appreciate a film that’s getting close to 100 years old?

We’d argue yes. While you probably can’t suspend disbelief far enough to think you’re watching a real giant ape, the process behind the creation of the effects is fascinating in its own right. Four models were built: two jointed 18-inch aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur models (to be rotated during filming), one jointed 24-inch model of the same materials for the New York scenes, and a small model of lead and fur for the tumbling-down-the-Empire-State-Building scene. A huge bust of Kong’s head, neck, and upper chest was made of wood, cloth, rubber, and bearskin by Delgado, E. B. Gibson, and Fred Reefe. Inside the structure, metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor were operated by three men to control the mouth and facial expressions. Its fangs were 10 inches in length and its eyeballs 12 inches in diameter.

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The story remains relatable, but it’s primarily a fascinating piece of filmmaking history.

Epic Monster Brawl

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If you want to learn more about the Japanese horror sub-genre Kaiju, this is one of the best starting points. The word kaiju has been translated and defined in English as “monster”. Specifically, it is used to refer to a genre of tokusatsu entertainment. Kaiju films usually showcase monsters of any form attacking a major Japanese city or engaging another (or multiple) monsters in battle. And what better monsters to battle than Godzilla and King Kong. It’s more an exercise in ‘suitmation’ than stop motion, and the winner of the fight has been a source of controversy for decades.

The story behind the making of the film is also pretty interesting. The idea for this movie was spawned by Willis O’Brien, responsible for the special effects for King Kong (1933). In the late 1950s, he tried to drum up interest in a sequel to be titled King Kong vs. Frankenstein. The Frankenstein would have been a giant monster created from different animals. Unable to find an American studio interested in the project, producer John Beck offered the idea to Toho who replaced Frankenstein with Godzilla. It’s also been subjected to numerous cuts, significant portions of the film are considered lost or only exist on 35mm prints, and multiple re-releases exist.

The little known sequel

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This film is the lesser known sequel to King Kong, and was released just nine months after its predecessor by prominent early horror producers RKO. It’s far more of a comedy than the original film, Several models which were used for King Kong were also utilized for the production of The Son of Kong. The “long face” Kong armature, from the log bridge and Tyrannosaurus fight sequences, was also used for the “Little Kong” character. It is the only known model of Kong still in existence and is currently owned by film historian and collector Bob Burns. While the film wasn’t well received, it’s a nice comparison piece with the original film.

One for the kids

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If you happen to be looking after children this weekend, and don’t want to give them nightmares, then a compromise might be The King Kong Show. An American/Japanese children’s animated television series produced in 1966 by Videocraft of the USA, and Japan’s Toei Animation, this is the first anime series produced in Japan for an American company.

A very loose adaption of the original Kong movie, the giant ape befriends the Bond Family, with whom he goes on various adventures, saving the world from monsters, robots, aliens, mad scientists and other threats. To give you some idea of what to expect, here’s an extract from a long plot summary of the series – “Included is a comical cartoon show called Tom of T.H.U.M.B., about a three inch tall secret agent for the Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau named Tom and his equally tiny Asian sidekick Swinging Jack who are sent out in a variety of miniature vehicles by their bad-tempered boss Chief Homer J. Chief to foil the fiendish plots of M.A.D. (Maladjusted, Antisocial and Darn mean), an evil organization made up of black-cloaked scientists out to destroy the world.”

The Musical

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The odds are you won’t get a chance to see this live. But if you do happen to be in  Melbourne, Australia, you can get tickets here.

Featuring a cast of 49 actors, singers, dancers, circus performers and puppeteers; a crew of 76; the show also hosts arguably the most technologically advanced puppet in the world – a one-tonne, six-metre giant silverback King Kong, A group of 35 on-stage and off-stage puppeteers work to manipulate the large-scale puppet. Several puppeteers are positioned on swinging trapezes and others launch themselves as counterweights off the puppet’s shoulders to raise Kong’s massive arms as he runs and swipes at planes during the performance”. According to producers, the character is “an imposing, stylized silverback of exaggerated proportions…a highly sophisticated animatronic/marionette hybrid that will be controlled by the integration of hydraulics, automation and the manual manipulation from a team of puppeteer/aerialists (‘The King’s Men’) on stage, and off.”

From a technical point of view, it sounds like a fascinating spectacle!

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