Scream, Ann, scream for your life -it’s KONGSPLOITATION!
Having recently re-watched both the original King Kong and Son of Kong, I’ve found myself with a hankering for more big ape movies. It’s strange, though - King Kong as a character has somehow just never quite got the hang of the whole franchise thing. Having said that, he and his remakes have been the subject of a multitude of spin-offs, ripoffs, sequels, and parodies. I therefor submit the term “Kongsploitation” as a collective noun for said productions.
My system for defining such films boils down to two major factors:
A giant ape film spurred on by the success or production of a recent King Kong film, made with the intent of capitalising on Kong’s hype. Examples of this: The Mighty Peking Man, King of the Lost World. This can include official Kong productions, for example: Son of Kong.
A film which uses the “Kong” name in an attempt to capitalise on the appeal of Kong as a character. For example: Kong: King of the Apes, The Mighty Kong,
Konga. This can also include official Kong productions, for example: King Kong Lives, King Kong Escapes.
You might notice some conspicuous absences, such as the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young, having included the original version. This is because the 1949 film has several factors which tie it directly back to the original King Kong, whereas the remake has no Kong-related factors whatsoever.
I’m sure there are other examples out there which fit into my definition, and remember that is all this is - one person’s definition and musings. Feel free to suggest more, or challenge some of my entries if you disagree.
Titles in bold are officially licensed Kong productions.
Son of Kong (Dir: Ernest B. Schoedsack, USA, 1933)
Japanese King Kong (Dir: Torajiro Saito, Japan, 1933)
King Kong Appears in Edo (Dir:
Sōya Kumagai, Japan, 1938)
Mighty Joe Young (Dir:
Ernest B. Schoedsack, USA, 1949)
John Lemont, UK, 1961)
King Kong vs. Godzilla(Dir: Ishiro Honda, Japan, 1962)
King Kong Escapes(Dir: Ishiro Honda, Japan, 1967)
Queen Kong (Dir: Frank Agrama, UK, 1976)
Paul Leder, South Korea, 1976) (not pictured)
The Mighty Peking Man (Dir:
Ho Meng-hua, Hong Kong, 1977)
Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (Dir:
Gianfranco Parolini, Italy, 1977)
King Kong Lives(Dir:
John Guillermin, USA, 1986)
The Mighty Kong (Dir:
Art Scott, USA, 1998)
King of the Lost World (Dir:
Leigh Scott, USA, 2005)
Banglar King Kong (Dir:
Iftekar Jahan, Bangladesh, 2010)
On Thursday, August 5, 1938, the Regina-Wilshire Theatre at
Wilshire and La Cienega in Los Angeles, trying to stave off bankruptcy,
began what was intended as a four-day run of a tripple-bill feature of Dracula, Frankenstein and Son of King Kong.
The bill unexpectedly captured the public’s imagination and became an
overnight sensation. It was soon playing 21 hours a day to packed houses
while police controlled the crowds queuing around the block. At the
same time, an unemployed Bela Lugosi, who, apart from one week’s work in
the Republic serial S.O.S Coastguard in 1937, had not been
offered film work for two years, was suffering dire financial problems.
At the start of the year, he had been forced to apply to the Motion
Picture Relief Fund for help with medical costs when his son, Bela
George Lugosi, Jr., was born on January 5th, 1938. His only work during
1938 had been an appearance on the Baker’s Broadcast radio programme on March 13th, on which he sang a duet with Boris Karloff. As
the crowds began to grow outside the Regina-Wilshire, he was forced to
move into a rented house when the mortgage company foreclosed on his
beloved mansion at 2227 Outpost Drive. Realising the goldmine he had
stumbled upon, Emil Umann, manager of the Regina-Wilshire, quickly hired
the unemployed actor to make nightly public appearances at the cinema.
Universal, which had rented the
films to Umann at a flat rate, found itself missing out on the massive
profits that the cinema was making. Quickly striking 500 new prints of
Dracula and Frankenstein, the studio set a publicity campaign in
motion and rented the newly struck prints to cinemas across the country,
which all duplicated the success of the Regina-Wilshire under terms
more beneficial to the studio. As the campaign gained momentum,
Universal, who had taken credit for Emil Umann’s inspired idea, pulled
their prints from the Regina-Wilshire after four weeks, leaving him out
in the cold as the profits continued to roll in. Bela Lugosi headed off
on a West Coast tour of personal appearances at cinemas to promote
the Dracula and Frankenstein double-bill. On October 17th,
Universal rushed Son of Frankenstein into production, heralding the
beginning of the second cycle of Hollywood horror films and the end of
Lugosi’s financial woes. Of his unexpected return to the spotlight, he
told the press, “I owe it all to that little man at the Regina Theatre. I was dead, and he brought me back to life.”
Five thousand people queued outside the Victory in Salt Lake
City to see the double-bill. Unable to meet the demand, the manager
rented the Broadway Theatre across the street and the films played
simultaneously through the night.