Don’t Believe The Cover Art! The Actual Film Is Far Better
DIRECTED BY: PAUL LEDER/1976
STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 28, 2017/KINO LORBER
Sometimes you stick with a movie not to see how the plot turns out, but to see if it can actually get any worse. A*P*E, about a giant ape that runs amok, perhaps in an existential quest to explain his own asterisks, warps the usual Kong lore, beginning on a ship carrying the captured beast from Harlem (yes), on its way to Disneyland (it’s true), but somehow ending up in and around Seoul, Korea, probably because that’s where the money for the movie came from.
…the beautiful thing here is that by a certain point in the proceedings, you get a real sense that Harris and director Paul Leder knew they had a glorious stinker on their hands and just went for it…
The generally game man-in-suit never acts particularly riled, but rather seems content to galavant about the peninsular countryside ripping down power cables and making mischief amongst gaggles of random extras – a kid’s party at an amusement park, a group of mountainside karate enthusiasts, etc., until he catches sight of a damsel in red dress in need of some high adventure. She’s an American actress, played by Joanna Kerns before she married Alan Thicke on TV, in country to shoot her latest movie, when her fake screaming calls upon the hairy knight’s chivalry, and he scoops her up to soothe some growing pains of his own. Meanwhile, Joanna’s journalist boyfriend (Rod Arrants), a low-rent Charlton Heston in denim and curls, busies himself leaning on jeeps earnestly pondering his next step, while the American military, represented by Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol), is stuck in a wood-paneled bunker with his nervous aide, chain smoking cigarettes and ratcheting up the intensity with each scene, his only role in the whole affair seemingly to look worried and ad-lib panicked orders into the phone.
The worth of this sort of film is derived from how closely the low production value spins itself into high entertainment value and, in the case of A*P*E, that gap slaps shut so fast you can hear it on the soundtrack. Burped out in the opportunistic months before the big-budget De Laurentiis remake of King Kong the same year, this Jack H. Harris (The Blob, Equinox) production is an absolute feast for the connoisseur of crap. It’s 87 minutes of shambling sets, sub-mental dialogue, and special effects just this side of a toddler’s Lincoln Logs/G.I. Joe jamboree.
The saturation of poorly realized ideas, emptily fake buildings, unsupported story points, bizarro cultural interludes, deeply dull padding, corny 3D gimmicks, and repeatedly unconvincing man-to-monkey scale, are all the stuff of underdog moviemaking by producers looking for a quick cash grab but who accidentally made a bonkers love letter to cheese.
But the beautiful thing here is that by a certain point in the proceedings, you get a real sense that Harris and director Paul Leder knew they had a glorious stinker on their hands and just went for it – and that certain point is a particularly savory moment about mid-point when the giant gorilla, fresh off the success of downing a pesky fake chopper, hammers a fist into the crook of his arm and raises a one-fingered salute at the camera… Not to the downed helicopter, but to us, as if to call us out for still watching. Well, if you are still watching by that point, and you have any respect at all for cinema gone bad, you’re not leaving any time soon, cause you suspect you may have found the cheeseball motherlode.For some reason, and counter the visibly low budget, the producers saw fit to shoot the movie in 3D, and the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes that version along with the regular 2D, so long as your player and TV are 3D as well. The disc also features a snide extrapolation by horror cinema historian Chris Alexander, who knows no limit of love for the movie, yet has no compunction to call out its many radically obvious failings. This is a movie that finds its way into relevance by the sheer volume of its sins.
The saturation of poorly realized ideas, emptily fake buildings, unsupported story points, bizarro cultural interludes, deeply dull padding, corny 3D gimmicks, and repeatedly unconvincing man-to-monkey scale, are all the stuff of underdog moviemaking by producers looking for a quick cash grab but who accidentally made a bonkers love letter to cheese. By way of closure, the gorilla finally does discover the meaning behind the asterisks, though the answer isn’t in the movie proper – it’s only found on the back of the Blu-ray box, which reveals A*P*E stands for “Attacking Primate monstEr”… which even A*P*E himself would think was on the dumb side. But, like many, that wouldn’t stop him from popping it in for a good laugh.