What a gloriously stupid movie. Today’s movie is the movie I was looking forward to seeing the most for the October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow. It’s a movie of such shitty grandiosity that I was, in fact, giddy at the prospect. It’s not the easiest movie to find for viewing, either. As of this writing, none of the popular streaming services has it for rent or purchase. The only bootleg streams I could find were not in English, and even trying to find a torrent was fruitless. In the end, I had to buy a used DVD from eBay. It cost thirty-five bucks. That’s a lot of money for a shitty movie. Alas, it was worth every penny.
King Kong Lives is the 1986 sequel to the Dino De Laurentiis King Kong remake. Like the previous entry, the De Laurentiis company returned to produce, as did workaday director John Guillermin. Writing duties were handled by Ronald Shusett (of Alien fame) and Steven Pressfield. Of his role in penning the screenplay, Pressfield wrote, “…I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.” Oh, Steven. This movie isn’t a failure. It’s a wild success. It just didn’t make any money.
The film begins by recapping King Kong, which is not a good sign. It’s always wise to be wary of films that begin by showing us the ending of the previous film. The Friday the 13th films all did that, and it’s a practice much more common in bad cinema than good.
Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges appear in this footage, but that’s it. They have no other association with this film. The lead parts in this flick go to Linda Hamilton as Dr. Amy Franklin, and Brian Kerwin as Hank Mitchell.
Franklin is a surgeon at the fictional Atlanta Institute. Kong, played by Peter Elliott, has been in a coma for the last ten years, and Franklin has been attending. The injuries Kong sustained after falling off of the World Trade Center at the end of the previous film have left his heart in bad shape. He needs a transplant, but since that isn’t possible, the folks at the Institute have built him a massive artificial heart, instead. But, they can’t perform the operation to insert the artificial heart without a source of blood plasma from the same species as Kong. Enter Hank Mitchell.
He’s an adventurer/naturalist. While on an expedition to Borneo, Hank captures another giant gorilla (George Antoni), and sells its services to the Institute. This new giant gorilla is a female, and is dubbed Lady Kong.
Franklin gets the plasma she needs from Lady Kong, and the operation on Kong goes smoothly, despite a little manufactured drama. Not long after, Kong awakes, and the first thing he does is smell Lady Kong on the air. And this is where the plot really starts. Kong opens his eyes, sniffs around, and decides he needs to hunt down Lady Kong. He, of course, escapes his confinement in smashing fashion. The rest of the film is spent trying to keep King and Lady Kong apart, using lots of machine guns and helicopters. But no one can keep these star-crossed lovers from meeting. The scene where the two apes first lay eyes on each other is a moment of shitty gold. The camera does the love-at-first-sight eye zoom, like this is some romance flick. Precious.
Unlike previous King Kong movies, which centered around the human drama of dealing with Kong, this flick has the added pleasure of watching two men in ape suits flirt with one another. In including another ape, the filmmakers had no choice but to film scenes of the two interacting. Two grown adults in furry suits circle around each other on miniature sets and grunt, while the wired masks display an emotional range that no gorilla possesses in real life. It’s the height of absurdity — especially the moment when Kong reaches behind Lady Kong and pats her ass. I’m not joking. That moment happens in this movie.
Meanwhile, the human characters are joined by John Ashton as Lt. Col. RT Nevitt. He’s tasked with capturing the beasts, but he really hates his assignment. He hates it so much that it has sent him around the bend. Nevitt is perpetually angry, blind to reason, and wants nothing more than to kill Kong, despite his orders. He’s a cartoonish bad guy who exists for no other reason than to make the audience sympathize with Kong. The effort is ham-handed from both the writing of the character and Ashton’s performance. But, the character is so gung ho about killing Kong, to the point of frothing insanity, that he is indispensable to the shittiness of the film.
All of this sets up an ending that had me laughing quite loudly. I won’t spoil it, because it must be seen in all its glory. I couldn’t forgive myself if I robbed the surprise from any new viewer.
From start to finish, this is one of the best shitty movies I have ever seen. It rivals such gold standard shitty films as Anaconda and Deep Blue Sea. The story is absurd. The scenes with the two Kongs interacting are so stupid they’re endearing. The effects are hilarious. The total package is so enjoyable that it’s a mystery to me why this flick seems to have fallen through the cracks. There is a shitty legacy to this film that should be embraced by the rights holders. Alien: Resurrection is a hateful slog of a movie to get through. King Kong Lives, meanwhile, was captivating.