King Kong

written by Delos W. Lovelace
conceived by Edgar Wallace and Marian C. Cooper
originally published in December 1932
reviewed copy published by Tempo Books,
a subsidiary of Grosset and Dunlap, in 1976
with illustrations by
Richard Powers
the novelization of King Kong is available in innumerable editions through Amazon and other booksellers.


King Kong is here reviewed as part of MOSS’ May-long Hairy Beasts celebration. Be sure to check out our contribution from earlier in the month – the El Santo saga Santo vs. Las Lobas courtesy of Denis’ weekly The Horror!? column.


Something of an anomaly from a time in which the movie tie-in wasn’t nearly so ubiquitous a phenomena (a difficult past to imagine now that even hollow Hollywood extravaganzas like Battleship are granted novelizations), Delos W. Lovelace’s brisk prose adaptation of the quintessential monster fantasy is, if nothing else, proof positive of the great lengths to which producers Cooper, Schoedsack and Selznick went to familiarize the public with their epic Depression-era production. Lovelace’s King Kong, originally published in late 1932 (well in advance of the film’s March ’33 premiere), wasn’t the great ape’s only contemporary foray into print media either, but while the abbreviated two-part adaptation serialized by Mystery Magazine in February-March of 1933 is now all but forgotten Lovelace’s Kong lives on, having been reprinted time and again, typically in timely association with the latest big screen Kong adventure. Case in point is the copy reviewed here, a mass-market paperback scale-down of the hardcover The Illustrated King Kong from Grosset and Dunlap, originally published to coincide with mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis’ unsatisfying 1976 iteration.

While I picked up my copy of the Lovelace Kong longer ago than I can remember, to the best of my knowledge this marks the first time I’ve actually read the thing. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted, but having never been without a copy of the film on video (be it VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, or Blu-ray) that temptation was always tempered by the fact that it was just darned easier to watch Kong than read him, even with the big-print of the paperback scarcely filling two hundred pages. And then there was the persistent question – just how much can a Kong book possibly have to offer when the film is so indelible, so familiar?

And indeed, the narrative of Lovelace’s Kong is as familiar as one might expect, deviating little from the screenplay that serves as its foundation. The tale begins with adventurer and filmmaker Carl Denham stalking about downtown Manhattan on a desperate hunt for a pretty (and unrepresented) face for his latest production, a mysterious bit of documentary-fiction whose South Seas subject Denham keeps a closely guarded secret. He finds that face in the beautiful Ann Darrow, a down-on-her-luck performer he rescues from hunger (and certain arrest) after he sees her snatching an apple from a street vendor’s stand. After feeding her, clothing her, and assuring her of his honest intentions (“No funny business!”), Denham whisks Ann off to the tramp freighter Wanderer and sets off, with dependable Captain Englehorn, handsome first mate Jack Driscoll, and three times the ship’s usual crew, for an uncharted speck of land far west of Sumatra…

With rare exception Lovelace’s Kong emulates its cinematic equivalent to a prosaic T in so far as its human drama is concerned. Sure, Ann and Jack’s “I guess I love you” romance is moved ahead in the schedule (and up from the deck to the crow’s nest for good measure) and ethnic stereotype Charlie (the Wanderer‘s Chinese cook in the film) is now a more politically correct old codger named Lumpy*, but substantive differences are few and far between. Ann Darrow makes screaming screen tests while Denham rattles on about Beauties and Beasts (“I’m going right into a theme song here!”) until the Wanderer encroaches upon a mysterious fog bank and Denham’s elusive shooting location is finally revealed – Skull Mountain Island**, a rocky outcrop covered in dense tropical foliage and whose only populated area is cut off from the rest by an immense and ancient wall. The fair-haired Ann inevitably catches the eye of the Island’s native populace, who were in the midst of an ancient sacrificial rite at the time of the Wanderer‘s arrival. They eventually kidnap the unsuspecting beauty with the intention of making her the latest offering to their prehistoric god – a new bride for the mighty Kong.

It is in the story’s comparatively dull buildup to its fantastic adventure across Skull Mountain Island that Lovelace’s Kong shows its weaknesses most. Part of the trouble obviously lies in the familiarity of the drama, but the greater problem rests with Lovelace’s prose itself – this is where the briskness of the novel becomes a bit of a distraction. Technically speaking there is nothing at all wrong with Lovelace’s writing, but all the grammatical proficiency in the world can’t make up for the fact that it’s such slight, barren stuff. The film relies (and beautifully so) on the artifices of its medium, the performances, the photography, the score, the fantastical set and effects design, to build atmosphere and evoke emotion in the viewer. Lovelace finds no literary substitutes for the same, and the novel Kong, bereft of all but the sparest of descriptions and characterizations, suffers greatly for it.

That said, Lovelace’s word-pinching ways aren’t enough keep the story’s most attractive element – its lengthy diversion into the prehistoric jungles of Skull Mountain Island – from being anything less than enjoyable. Indeed, this is where those already familiar with the film (are any of you not?) will find the most to love.

As with the earlier drama, the majority of the Wanderer crew’s death-defying trek through the hostile territory beyond the wall is by the book (or film, as it were), with the sailors menaced not just by the furious Kong, but by the uncharacteristically aggressive advances of two of the Island’s herbivores – a Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus respectively. The major difference arrives at the end of the Brontosaurus attack, after one unfortunate straggler is chased up a tree by the brute, at which point the crew reaches the edges of a tar pit and catches sight of a trio of Triceratops, themselves in pursuit of Kong. The great ape holds his own, bashing in one of the beasts’ heads with a massive slab of slate, but the Wanderer‘s intrepid adventurers don’t fare so well when the remaining pair turn their frustrations towards more defenseless prey. Only a single sailor falls victim to the expected violence – being crushed beneath one of the monsters and eventually gored. The rest are chased towards an enormous ravine-spanning log, and lost cinema history.

Produced, but cut from the film prior to release for whatever reason, the long lost Spider Pit Sequence has become the Holy Grail for fans of monster cinema – and it’s alive and well, if a bit dulled by the paucity of verbiage, in Lovelace’s Kong. With a charging Triceratops at one end of the log and the enraged Kong at the other, the crew of the Wanderer find themselves with no escape but into the dark recesses of a primordial hell below:

“Two of the men lost their holds. One grasped madly at the face of a prone comrade and left bloody finger marks as he went whirling down into the decaying silt at the bottom. He had no more than struck when the lizard flashed upon him. [...] The second man did not die in the fall. He was not even unconscious. He landed feet first, sinking immediately to his waistline in the mud, and screamed horribly as not one but half a dozen of the great spiders swarmed over him.”

The horror of the spiders over and done with, Lovelace’s Kong returns once more to the familiar. Driscoll and Denham survive the onslaught, though on opposite sides of the ravine. While Denham heads back to the wall for help from the Wanderer‘s surviving crew Driscoll silently stalks Kong, witnessing his battles against various Jurassic-age monstrosities on the way to his lair high on Skull Mountain. Aside from a particularly romantic retelling of Driscoll and Ann’s harrowing escape from Kong’s clutches (arguably the most successful part of Lovelace’s novelization, and in welcome possession of the sort of emotional hooks that are in such scant supply elsewhere) the rest of the novel Kong plays in the predicted fashion, albeit less the tragic undertones that make the film’s final moments so unforgettable.

If it sounds as though I’m being too harsh towards Lovelace, I really don’t intend to be. I have no qualms with his style of writing in and of itself, and there are plenty of bloated modern efforts that would do well to take his frugal sense to heart. It just never works well enough with the material in question to make it anything but ordinary, and as such Lovelace’s Kong never excels beyond the low expectations these film-to-book adaptations typically command. Ultimately this is far more interesting as an artifact of early tie-in marketing than as literature, and unless you’re one of those obsessed with all things Kong (I’ll admit I’m guilty, at least so far as the ’33 film is concerned) there’s very little to recommend here.

* Peter Jackson’s 2005 Kong wisely took this change to heart, before unwisely offing the character mid-way through.
** Just ‘Skull Island’ in the film, I know. Lovelace, and perhaps the script from which he worked, preferred this less concise delineation.

King Kong Escapes

part of the Goin’ Bananas B-movie roundtable:

a.k.a. Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu
rating:
company:
Rankin/Bass Productions
and Toho Co. ltd.
year: 1967
runtime: 96′ / 104′
country: Japan / United States
director: Ishiro Honda
cast: Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama,
Linda Miller, Akira Takarada,
Eisei Amamoto, Shoichi Hirose,
Toru Ibuki, Nadao Kirino
writer: Takeshi Kimura
cinematographer: Hajime Koizumi
music: Akira Ifukube
special effects direction: Eiji Tsuburaya

dvd company: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
release date: November 29, 2005
retail price: $14.98
details: Region 1 / NTSC / Single Layer
feature: progressive / 2.31:1 anamorphic
audio: Dolby Digital English (2.0 Mono)
subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
order this film from Amazon.com
single disc
| double feature with King Kong Escapes


Plot: The evil Dr. Who conspires to mine the mysterious radioactive Element X using his mechanical King Kong.  It’s up to commander Nelson and the real King Kong to stop them.

The second and last of Toho Co. ltd.’s King Kong cycle is a real doozy of a motion picture.  Co-produced with Rankin / Bass Productions (of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Last Dinosaur fame) and based on that company’s earlier collaboration with Toei Animation, The King Kong Show, it’s easily one of the sillier things to originate on Toho’s lot.  But that’s okay, as King Kong Escapes is immense fun regardless.

Baring no relation to the earlier King Kong vs. Godzilla, with the exception of the fact that the character of Kong is in it, King Kong Escapes concerns UN submarine commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason, younger brother of Rex This Island Earth Reason) and his scientific interest in the Kong legend.  When his submarine runs into mechanical trouble near the island where Kong is said to live, Nelson and his friends, Lt. Commander Nomura (Akira Takarada) and Lt. Watson (Linda Miller), decide to take the opportunity to investigate it.  There they find living dinosaurs (rather, a living dinosaur and a giant sea snake), a single elderly native, and the giant ape King Kong, who takes a shining to Lt. Watson after saving her from the jaws-n-claws of of a scaly island inhabitant.

Meanwhile at the North Pole, the fiendish Dr. Who (Eisei Amamoto), arch nemesis of Commander Nelson, is using his super-machine Mechani-Kong (the plans for which the fiendish Dr. Who fiendishly stole from Commander Nelson) to mine for the rare radioactive Element X.  But Mechani-Kong is no match for the power of the element, its delicate wiring destroyed by Element X’s deadly emanations.  With Mechani-Kong out of commission until repairs can be made and the country backing the project threatening to pull financing, Dr. Who is left with no alternative but to fly to Kong’s island and kidnap the real thing . . .



Writer Takeshi Kimura (Attack of the Mushroom People, Rodan, Gorath) must have had quite the time trying to craft a half-way serious story around the basic framework of the Rankin / Bass cartoon show (the villain Dr. Who, Mechani-Kong . . .), but the result, even if it is little more than an exercise in high camp (complete with heroes, villains, and a hypnotized giant ape), isn’t half bad.  The past relationship of Commander Nelson and Dr. Who goes largely unexplored, though they certainly behave as stereotypical old enemies that they are, playing chess and chortling about the futility of each other’s plans.  A bit of human interest is a boon to the silly dramatics, and the G-rated romance between Lt. Commander Nomura and Lt. Watson figures well into the climactic Kong / Mechani-Kong battle.

The focus of proceedings is, as it should be, squarely on the monsters, and there is no development in the full running time that doesn’t somehow involve them.  Even the representative of the unnamed country financing Dr. Who, a beautiful Mie Hama (You Only Live Twice) in her final giant monster film appearance, has a change of heart at their behest, deciding that nuclear domination of the world isn’t worth a few thousand human casualties at the hands of Kong and his mechanical alter ego.  Kimura’s story brings the human cast and their monstrous counterparts together early and often, a fact that’s sure to make genre fans happy.

There’s a strong sense of humor running throughout the film, and while Kimura and director Ishiro Honda never allow the picture’s self awareness to interfere with the storytelling comedy is still an important part of the proceedings.  Dr. Who’s hard-hatted henchmen are played with a distinctly comic edge, and when introduced to Commander Nelson and his crew his Mechani-Kong (a machine seemingly ready-made to break down at the worst of possible moments) offers up a friendly wave.  Dr. Who himself, full of over-the-top schemes and brimming with ego in spite of his utter lack of success, is the kind of villain you almost hate to see get his just deserves.

Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects production is on the fantastic and colorful side, appropriate for a film inspired by a cartoon series.  The miniatures still look great after all these years, and even the smallest (a toolbox that drops onto Kong’s face, spilling its contents) are rich with detail.  The best part of the show remains the climactic Tokyo showdown, which sees the dueling Kongs exchanging blows atop a massive reconstruction of Tokyo Tower.  Limits on time and budget rear their ugly heads in a few snippets of stock footage and in the constrained scope of the miniature downtown Tokyo, though the lively action keeps them from being as distracting as they were in films like Monster Zero.



King Kong Escapes fared well when imported for American distribution in 1968, receiving an English dub well above the norm for the genre and a slight edit that tightens the pace while adding a few shots and angles nowhere to be found in the Japanese release variant (a la War of the Gargantuas).  This 96 minute cut, around 8 minutes shorter than the Japanese, is my favored cut of the film, and the slight editing only really becomes an issue in the few moments where it clips Akira Ifukube’s score (notably during the Tokyo Tower sequence).

Universal Studios, the American distributor of the film, had been sitting on renewed rights to King Kong Escapes since 1996, only stepping up to release it on home video in 2005.  Like the simultaneously released King Kong vs. Godzilla disc, those hoping for any kind of deluxe release will be disappointed as Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s DVD is about as bare as bare-bones releases get.  That said, the film itself looks better than ever before – a big win for kaiju fans here in the States.

Universal presents King Kong Escapes in its original scope (actual aspect ratio 2.34:1) for the first time stateside since its original theatrical release.  The detailed progressive transfer is smooth in motion and remarkably void of damage, save some light speckling.  The bright color scheme really pops and contrast looks spot on.  This is a gorgeous transfer with some visible grain and great detail, and one of the best of an older Toho SPFX film that’s been seen in the States.  Audio is presented in a fine Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic English track that sounds quite good, retaining nice punchiness in the low end and doing justice to Ifukube’s excellent score.  Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are available, and there are no supplements.

For a disc with such horrendous packaging design (from the menus to the disc art to the sleeve, the graphics are consistently awful throughout), it sure does a fine job of presenting the film in question.  I was very late catching up to this (four years, and I call myself a fan!), and have no problem recommending the release or its double-feature pairing with King Kong vs. Godzilla to those who have yet to pick it up (a lot of retailers appear to be dumping the two pack from their stock, and I got my copy at well below the Amazon price – shop around!).  As for the film, it’s one of the more enjoyable of Toho’s late ’60s product and a fixture of my memories of growing up on aging UHF stations. Highly recommended.

King Kong vs. Godzilla

part of the Goin’ Bananas B-movie roundtable:

rating:
companies:
Universal International
and Toho Company Ltd.
year: 1963
runtime: 91′
countries: United States / Japan
directors: Ishiro Honda
and Thomas Montgomery
cast: Michael Keith, Harry Holcombe,
James Yagi, Tadao Takashima,
Kenji Sahara, Ichiro Arishima,
Yu Fujiki, Jun Tazaki, Akihiko Hirata
writers: Paul Mason
and Bruce Howard
music: Peter Zinner (supervisor)
dvd company: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
release date: November 29, 2005
retail price: $14.98
details: Region 1 / NTSC / Single Layer
feature: progressive / 2.31:1 anamorphic
audio: Dolby Digital English (2.0 Mono)
subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
order this film from Amazon.com
single disc | double feature with King Kong Escapes

Plot: A television executive has King Kong imported to Japan while Godzilla is simultaneously unleashed from his imprisonment in an iceberg.  The two march inexorably towards each other, leading to an epic final battle atop Mount Fuji.

Like all the earliest of Toho’s science fiction and fantasy films (Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, Gigantis the Fire Monster, Half Human, Varan the Unbelievable, The H-ManGorath, The Human Vapor, and The Last War in particular), King Kong vs. Godzilla was altered considerably for importation into the American market.  In this case co-producer John Beck, working from a treatment by an uncredited and unpaid Willis O’Brien, was given full reign over how Toho’s production would be presented in the States as part of his contract with the company.  The end result is a film almost entirely unique from the Japanese original, and one of the most altered Toho productions outside of Crown International’s treatment of Varan the Unbelievable.

In its original form King Kong vs. Godzilla is much less science fiction than comedy, a satire of television marketing.  Producer Beck was none too pleased with the light-hearted sensibilities of the picture and sought, with his version, to present audiences with the more traditional monster romp they were undoubtedly expecting.  His success in this regard was minimal, his efforts to improve things rendering King Kong vs. Godzilla an unintentional comedy rather than an overt one.

Taking a cue from Terry Morse’s financially successful redux of Godzilla: King of the Monsters! a few years earlier, Beck oriented his film around newly-shot sequences featuring news reporters in the United States (Michael Keith, The Worm Eaters) and Japan (James Yagi, of The Outer Limits episode The Hundred Years of the Dragon).  Neither Michael Keith or James Yagi had the star credentials of Raymond Burr, who had appeared as the villainous Lars Thorwald in Hitchcock’s Rear Window just two years before his turn as Steve Martin in Godzilla: King of the Monsters!.  More unfortunately, Beck’s integration of their sequences into the film proper is poor at best.  They play as little more than lengthy info-dumps between the Japanese footage and stop the pacing of the film cold.

Michael Keith plays UN reporter Eric Carter, who communicates with James Yagi’s Omura via stock inserts of the alien satellite from The Mysterians.  Beck must have been working under considerable financial limitation here, as the two sets the reporters occupy have all the depth and realism of a sub-par grade school shoebox diorama.  Each comes complete with a ‘television’, or rather a piecing together of cardboard slabs upon which crumpled monochrome prints of shots from the film are stuck.  It’s sad stuff, indeed, and a far cry from the comparably lavish production values of the rest of the picture.


Harry Holcombe (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Billy Jack Goes to Washington, Empire of the Ants), the most accomplished of the American cast by a wide margin, appears as Dr. Arnold Johnson, who is perhaps the worst paleontologist in screen history.  Using a children’s picture book as a visual aid, Johnson explains to reporter Carter that the recently appeared Godzilla may well be a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus while comparing his brain to a marble and recommending that electricity might be a viable offensive measure against him (given that he’s a reptile, as though his being anything else would make him any less susceptible to electrocution).  Yes, it is as dreadful as it sounds, though not entirely without its unintentional comic charm.

The English overdubbing of the Japanese footage isn’t nearly so bad as it could have been here, besting Columbia’s for the earlier Battle in Outer Space and a marked improvement over the endless narration found in Half Human or Gigantis the Fire Monster, though Beck’s attempts to play the film straight appear to have been lost in translation.  Television executive Mr. Tako (the wonderful Ichiro Arishima) still comes across as a daft madman and Furue (Yu Fujiki) still plays the bumbling sidekick to Sakurai’s (Tadao Takashima) straight man.  Furue provides one of the most memorable parts of the dubbed version, introducing a minor subplot about his corns and how they ache when monsters are afoot.  The dubbing even improves upon the original Japanese in one respect, making the American submarine crew sound less like the amateur actors they are.

Beck’s King Kong vs. Godzilla runs just 91 minutes, five minutes shy of the original running time, but I’d wager that no more than 75-80% of the original survived the editing process.  Lost is much of the early character development, replaced by Beck’s bricks of exposition.  Perhaps the biggest loss is in the soundtrack department, where Ifukube’s score (one of the very best of his career) is replaced with stock tracks from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Monster that Challenged the World, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, among others.  The stock tracks aren’t bad by any means, but their unconnected bundle of disparate themes can’t compare with the power of Ifukube’s work.


Thankfully, the majority of the monster footage remains intact, less a few shots here and there.  Reviews of the film in America more or less ignored the dramatic inadequacy of the film, focusing on the aptitude of the Japanese effects crew instead.  In this respect Beck’s King Kong vs. Godzilla still makes for an entertaining watch, in spite of its disparaging ineptitude in other areas.

Universal, who released the film domestically as Universal International in 1963, missed a grand opportunity to present a deluxe edition of this film when it chose to bring it to DVD in 2005, but such is the nature of the business.  Those looking for the uncut original will have to rely on Toho’s own expensive home video iterations, as this Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVD caters only to the American release version of the film.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is in a horrendous state of preservation in its native Japan, and Toho’s recent high definition restoration had to rely, in part, on an awful standard definition video master from the ’90s in order to account for footage in too sad a shape to be transferred.  Universal’s print is in comparatively excellent shape, with much of the footage lost in the Japanese restoration appearing nearly pristine here.  The 2.35:1 progressive and anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the film in its original aspect ratio for the first time on American shores and, save for some damage (dust and scratches), its a beauty.  Beck’s additions to the drama look even cheaper in the original scope, while Eiji Tsuburaya’s effects production shines.  Audio is English only Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles available.

The single layer disc boasts absolutely nothing in the way of supplemental material, not even a trailer.  Still, the price is low (at least for the double bill with King Kong Escapes) and the quality of transfer high, making it worth the upgrade from the awful pan-and-scan Goodtimes releases that have been kicking around for the past decade plus.  Fans will certainly want to indulge.

Lost on Adventure Island – XXX

a.k.a. King Dong / Supersimian XXX
company: Hendriethfilm Ltd.
year: 1985
runtime: 57′ / 33′
country: United States
director: Yancey Hendrieth
cast: Crystal Holland, Chaz St. Peters,
Dee Hendrieth, Felicia Fox, Mikhael
Visit the official website or
order the family-friendly edit of
this film from Amazon.com

Young Anna [Crystal Holland] has issues with her mother.  Big issues.  When the recently divorced matriarch announces her intentions to take an extended trip to the Mediterranean, sans her daughter, Anna decides to take a trip of her own – sailing into the uncharted waters of the South Pacific.  Left at the helm for a few seconds while the boat’s owner Alex [St. Peters] goes below deck to fetch their horny co-travelers to relieve them for the night, Anna promptly smashes the vessel into a battleship.  The next morning finds Alex and Anna stranded on an island populated by prehistoric monsters, and worse . . .

014The two run afoul of a cannibal tribe and, in their flight from danger, wind up in the clutches of a population of Amazons.  Alex finds himself locked up for dinosaur food while Anna is adopted into the tribe.  But alas, those pesky cannibals are afoot again!  No sooner has Anna stepped into her new Amazonian garb than she is kidnapped and tied to a stake in the cannibal village.

Luckily for Anna, Alex has evaded death and dismemberment at the hands [teeth?] of a Tyrannosaurus thanks to the cunning intervention of his new friend Buddy the Gorilla [played by Hendrieth himself] and his mother, a Kong-sized ape Alex dubs Super Simian.  Alex and his cohorts make quick work of the cannibal village, with Super Simian smashing both it and most of its inhabitants to bits.  But just as Alex is about to rescue Anna he is speared through the back – Anna faints and, upon awakening, finds herself in a hospital bed with her mother at her side.  Confused as to whether her ordeal was real or imagined, Anna nevertheless promises to stay at home from then on, and the credits roll.

This independent production is definitely on the strange side [as I indicated in my earlier article, which was based solely on a viewing of the new family-friendly edit of the film], with a strange history to match.  Intended as a fanciful amateur homage to the special effects films of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien [ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and KING KONG in particular], LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND would eventually find itself graced with pornographic sex scenes and marketed briefly on home video as adults-only entertainment under various titles like KING DONG and SUPERSIMIAN XXX.

013Writer / director Yancey Hendrieth claims to have had no input in regards to the pornographic material and, having now seen the adults-only cut of the film, I’m still inclined to believe him.  While it’s obvious that the original feature had a more mature bent than the revised version he currently sells through outlets like Amazon.com and Filmbaby [Alex and Anna's co-travelers are a rather horny pair, for example, though they never have sex on screen], all of the hardcore sex looks impossibly cheap and suspiciously out of place.  One rather lengthy sex scene is actually divided into two parts, with the latter playing earlier in the film than the former.  There are two hardcore scenes featuring the main cast – one in which Alex must impregnate three chained Amazons, the other a lesbian trist between Anna and one of her Amazon captors – both of which are filmed on the same sets as the scenes that bookend them.  Whoever decided on shooting the adults-only material obviously did so at or around the time the rest of the filmw as produced.

Draggy as it can get during the sexy parts, the pornographic cut of LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND definitely bests the newer no-sex version in regards to its editing.  In his effort to relieve his picture of all things indecent, Hendrieth succeeded only in making a mess of it.  The longer version actually has some dramatic impetus and, regardless of the derivative nature of the story and general lack of talent shared by the entire cast, manages to be mildly entertaining at times.  It’s unfortunate that Hendrieth didn’t opt to excise the unnecessary hardcore bits, which do untold damage to the pacing, and just leave the rest of the film as it was.

016The only real draw, regardless of which cut you see, is the accomplished [if not entirely successful] special effects production.  The three-man technical team of L. B. Carvelo, Keith Finkelstein, and David Dane manage some impressive stop motion shots of a plesiosaur as well as some imaginative layered matte work depicting the more fantastical aspects of the island [the Amazons' palace, a grove of Easter Island-like statues].  There’s also a neat life-sized Super Simian hand, a nod to the uber-expensive hydraulic arms constructed for Dino de Laurentiis super-budgeted KING KONG remake from 1976.  The stop motion armature of Super Simian fares worse than the rest, with its animation seeming shoddy in comparison to the rest of what’s on display.

The only official DVD release of LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND that is available at present is of Hendrieth’s 33 minute re-cut.  It looks about as good as its half-and-half 16mm / SOV  mastered-on-VHS origins would indicate – soft and artifacty with unnatural color and iffy contrast.  Audio fares about as well, with considerable background hiss noticeable throughout.  The authoring is, in a word, pathetic – there were no supplements on the disc I received.  The retail price tag is high given the content – around $15 before shipping.  Given the issues with the encoding and paltryness of content, it’s impossible for me to recommend a purchase.

018I didn’t find either cut of LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND to be a particularly appealing affair, the brief special effects moments aside.  It is what it is – an amateur effort with amateur talent and amateur production values.  Your mileage will undoubtedly vary, but I can’t recommend.

_________________

An interesting side-note:  The 1991 video-documentary HOLLYWOOD DINOSAURS features the plesiosaur sequence from LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND with one noteable alteration – Chaz St. Peters and Crystal Holland have both been replaced with footage of unidentified actors in mismatched locations.  Those with keen eyes will notice a blip in the editing, which reveals a few frames of the original cast hastily making their way off the left edge of the frame.

This review is part of the October Monster Mayhem roundtable:
BANNER

Lost on Adventure Island

a.k.a. KING DONG / SUPER SIMIAN
Hendrieth and Yoman Productions [1985] 33′
country: United States
director: Yancey Hendrieth
cast: Crystal Holland, Chaz St. Peters,
Dee Hendrieth, Felicia Fox, Mikhael
Visit the official website or
Order this film from Amazon.com

Young Anna [Holland], after a fight with her divorced mother, heads out on a sailing trip to the South Seas with a few of her friends – a trip that ends in disaster when their boat crashes into a battleship!  Anna and friend Alex [St. Peters] survive the incident only to find themselves marooned on an island populated with dinosaurs, Amazons, cannibals, and the Kong-sized giant ape Super Simian and her son [Buddy the gorilla, played by director Hendrieth].

This is a strange little independent production with a history so confusing that even I can’t keep it straight.  Writer / director Yancey Hendrieth produced the film mostly out of pocket with a big focus on special effects inspired by the 1933 classic KING KONG.  The three-man creative team of L. B. Carvelo, Keith Finkelstein, and David Dane, under the supervisian of Hendrieth, purportedly worked for 18 months in a 600 square foot studio to complete the post production effects.

I’m not entirely sure what happened next, but Hendrieth’s film somehow made its way into the hands of adult video producers.  The result was that LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND was loaded with hardcore sex and marketed on video under the new title of KING DONG.  Hendrieth has stated that he had nothing to do with the pornographic version of his film and, given his enthusiasm for the subject, I’m inclined to believe him.

001 002 003
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KING DONG has been all but lost to the sands of time [it still pops up on gray market video lists from time to time], with Hendrieth now making available a family-friendly re-edit of the film under its original title.

Firstly, the good.  The special effects, given that LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND was produced on such a limited budget, are rather well achieved.  With a nod to the de Laurentiis KONG remake of ’76, a full-scale mock up of Hendrieth’s Super Simian’s hand was constructed and animated with an internal rope system [no fancy hydraulics here].  Buddy the gorilla is a typical man-in-suit creation, though better than many I’ve seen and capable of at least some facial expression.  The rest of the effects are handled through stop motion animation and rear-screen projection with varying results.  A plesiosaur fares best as far as the armatures are concerned, and the mattes used to relate more fantastic parts of the island [the Amazon's hideaway, for instance] are inspired if not terribly believable.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the rest of the film holds up so poorly.  The simple fact of the matter is that with a running time of only 33 minutes [with several of those taken up by lengthy opening and closing credits] there’s just isn’t much here.  We get lots of Alex and Anna running through the wilds of the Hawaiian shooting locations and a few sparse lines of dialogue [including some nods to THE WIZARD OF OZ] but little else to hold the picture together.  Complicating matters further is the post-dubbing of much of the dialogue, which is bad to the point of distraction at times.

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The bra-less chest shot above is the full extent of the adult material to be found in Hendrieth’s new edit of LOST ON ADVENTURE ISLAND, which is just fine with me – I doubt it would have been any more successful as pornography.  The video quality of the screener I received is pretty bad and its obviously mastered from a VHS source [I suspect that the original elements are long gone by now].  The audio quality is about as good as the video would indicate and a few of the patches of dialogue are difficult to make out.  There were no supplements.

I wish I could say more but there’s just not enough here to even warrant talking about.  The special effects are neat and it’s obvious Hendrieth adores the films he emulates, but the rest of the film just falls flat and I can’t see anyone but stop-motion animation junkies [myself included] getting much out of it.  Not recommended.