When the classic movie monsters went ape shit

Up next from my late brother’s collection are five flicks from a boxed set called Sons of Kong. The packaging is so cool I just have to share a pic.

Of course the prints on the discs are not so cool, but they were still watchable.

Not related to Kong at all, the ten films in the set are simply about killer gorillas. Okay, like half of them are apes, but I really wanted to say killer gorilla. I also had to blog about five of the films because they each star either Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, or Lon Chaney Jr. Awesome.

THE APE (1940)

Boris Karloff seems like a very nice evil doctor in this simplistic flick. He is trying to cure a young woman of polio with the spinal fluid of other people, which could be a challenge. What I want to know is…why is she wearing the Roseanne quilt?

Conveniently, the circus is in town, and a big ape escapes and begins terrorizing locals. Now is Karloff’s chance to tap into some spine!

But it’s not what you think. Ape scenes are disappointingly minimal, making this not much of a killer gorilla movie at all. And the surprise twist is rather absurd, mostly because it’s not presented in graphic detail as it would be in a modern day horror movie.

THE APE MAN (1943)

This is how you start an ape horror movie. Bela Lugosi is a mad scientist whose assistant brings Bela’s sister down to see what he’s been up to in the lab…he’s made himself half ape!

Meanwhile, a nosy reporter and his female photographer pal start sniffing around Bela’s house.

I don’t know what it was about spinal fluid back then, but Bela needs fresh spinal fluid to cure him of his problem. He also happens to have a gorilla, which he puts to good use killing people for their fluid!

This is a much more satisfying spinal fluid hunting killer ape flick than The Ape, and an odd character that appears throughout the film proves to be a crazy early example of meta movie humor at the very end.

BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952)

Brooklyn Gorilla? These days we just call them gorilla juiceheads. Anyway, Bela Lugosi once again plays a mad scientist, and this time he wants to make humans into apes. See? Horror movies have always been unoriginal and ripped each other off.

Actually, this is mostly a comedy, and a very funny one at that thanks to lead Sammy Petrillo, who made a career out of impersonating Jerry Lewis. He had me laughing nonstop in this film about him and his singing buddy accidentally landing on a jungle island. The singer falls for a pretty female native…and sings to her twice. Meanwhile, an overweight female native is hot for Sammy, so her size is used repeatedly as the punch line of jokes.

Bela Lugosi’s monkey also has eyes for Sammy. The comedian becomes even funnier when he starts interacting with the monkey. And in a hilarious meta move, Sammy calls out Bela Lugosi constantly for being just like Dracula. This is definitely my favorite flick in this bunch.

Eventually, Bela succeeds in making man into ape, and that’s when the guys know they have to get off the island. Through all this madness, what’s most shocking is…there’s no other away to put it…it has a Wizard of Oz ending.

THE GORILLA (1939)

The Gorilla is sort of a comic reimagining of Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, starring the comic trio The Ritz Brothers, whose shtick is very much in the same comic vein as Abbott & Costello.

With news of a serial killer known as “The Gorilla” running around town, a rich man hires detectives to protect his visiting niece and her boyfriend from the killer.

Bela Lugosi plays the butler, and while he speaks just like Dracula again, his role is underplayed, and the funny maid overshadows him. There are a good number of goofballs here, with very few actors in the straight man role to balance it out, so there’s plenty of slapstick comedy to go around.

As thunder and lightning crash outside and the Ritz Brothers are busy doing a comical investigation, secret passages and hairy arms reaching out from dark shadows abound…because there’s an actual gorilla on the loose in the house!


Hey, weren’t you in Creepshow?

And if you think twists upon twists are a new thing, think again. This playful little film is loaded with them.

BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951)

This one establishes a plot that could have been remade as an episode of Tales from the Crypt. It wouldn’t even need to be condensed much since the movie is only 65 minutes long (as is virtually every movie I covered in this blog).

Raymond Burr puts the bur in burly as a sexy man working for a rich guy on a jungle plantation…and wooing the rich guy’s wife. The rich guy’s witchy servant witnesses an altercation between the two men that results in the rich guy dying, so she puts a spell on Burr.

This time around, Lon Chaney Jr. is not the man turned monster, but a detective investigating the case.

With the rich dude out of the way, Burr’s life with the widow starts to look up…until the curse kicks in and he begins to think he’s transforming into a gorilla at night.

But is he, or is it all in his head? We will never know because the movie leaves it up in the air, and unfortunately it falls apart as a result, lacking any kind of suspense or scares.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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