Monday, February 1, 2016

Sadist and Surgeon

KONGA (1961)

Together with PEEPING TOM, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM and CIRCUS OF HORRORS complete Anglo Amalgamated's Sadian Trilogy. Here are the celebrated dispatches of Dorinda Stevens from the former, and Vanda Hudson from the latter.

WITH a background at Gainsborough, Arthur Crabtree turned to titillating gore with HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, where cigar-smoking true crime writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) has a private shrine of torture devices. Bancroft provides gravitas to his work by instigating a number of ghastly murders, most of which are carried out by his young protégé Rick (Graham Curnow) after the injection of a drug that turns Rick green. Bancroft moulds the youngster in his own image, telling him that females are "...all a vicious, unreliable breed" in the hope of putting him off Angela (Shirley Anne Field), giving fatherly advice ("Someday you will go deep into the black soul of man, deeper than anyone else has gone, and you will remember it was I who sent you on that journey") and subsequently securing the Black Museum as their dirty little secret. Under the garish hues of 1950's Eastmancolor, the set pieces are too flat to be effective: Bancroft's doctor Ballan (Gerald Anderson) is disposed of in a flesh-removing vat, Gail (Dorinda Stevens) has her eyes punctured by concealed binocular skewers, and the writer's mistress Joan (June Cunningham) succumbs to a DIY guillotine.

In Sidney Hayers' CIRCUS OF HORRORS, disgraced plastic surgeon Dr Rossiter (cold as ice Anton Diffring) flees England and turns a makeshift French circus - run by drunk Vanet (Donald Pleasence) - into an international success. The performers are all criminals whose faces Rossiter has re-built, and if they get out of line "accidental" deaths are arranged. After a decade the surgeon risks bringing his famed troupe back to Blighty, but as the walls come down on his shenanigans, Rossiter survives a gorilla attack before being run over. Similar to the sadistic murders of BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS illustrates a style of gaudy schlock that would come to the fore in British horrors of the 1970's (the most celebrated being Magda (Vanda Hudson)'s ECesque demise during a sabotaged knife-throwing act). Lambasted by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its "excessive brutality [and] suggestive costumes," Hayers' makes the most of a bevy of large-breasted beauties such as Yvonnes Monlaur and Romain; as the Catholic Legion suggests, its narrative is purely an excuse to murder females who wear revealing circus attire, and all the better for it.

Claire Gordon in the clutches of KONGA. Shot in the fictitious but grand sounding SpectraMation, the giant gorilla is a B-movie charmer.

Allegedly filmed as I WAS A TEENAGE GORILLA, John Lemont's KONGA is a preposterous man-in-a-monkey-suit horror, and a riot of abysmal miniatures and opticals. Gough basically reprises his overwrought performance as Bancroft from BLACK MUSEUM, complete with a hypnotised partner-in-crime; here he is crazed botanist Charles Decker ("in science, a human being is only a cypher"), who wills an enlarged ape to acts of violence. Presumed dead after crashing in the African jungle, Decker returns to London a year later with a rare form of plant life, plus a pet chimp named Konga. When extracts from the vegetation causes rapid growth the chimp grows to Gorilla size and the doctor uses him to murderous effect: the school Dean, a competitor and the boyfriend of the bustiest of his teenage students, Sandra (Claire Gordon), are all dispatched. Although Decker's assistant Margaret (Margo Johns) has kept his activities quiet in lieu of marriage, when she too discovers of her intended demise, she gives Konga an excessive dose of the super-serum. This results in Decker finding himself in the clutches of a now-gargantuan simian by Big Ben.

Hollywood low-rent mogel Herman Cohen co-produced and co-wrote both BLACK MUSEUM and KONGA. Famed for his queasy shock tactics and playing up to his target teen audience, there are seldom truly likable characters in any Cohen production; instead, inhabitants are usually borderline unhinged and sex-obsessed. Consequently Gough is the archetypal Cohen actor, more than at home with arrogant, lecherous over-achievers while barking out his sudden outlandish demands. With KONGA Gough is in tantrum heaven, at one point gunning down his cat after it drinks some of the formula ("We're not ready to have a cat the size of a leopard running through the streets!").