In honor of National Gorilla Suit Day, we remind you of our 5 fave killer ape flicks
It really IS National Gorilla Suit Day today, a mock holiday invented by Mad Magazine legend Don Martin and celebrated around the world by a small gaggle of that mag and artist’s fans. So in honor of that absurd and awesome occasion, we give you a quick and dirty rundown of five mad movies featuring monkeys and simians of every persuasion committing various acts of homicide on their human friends and select enemies.
Our furrier, less-refined ape brothers and sisters have been wreaking all manner of havoc in cinema since its dawn. Of course, 1933s King Kong made uncouth, angry gorillas into pop culture lore, but how many Tarzan and Jungle Jim films, not to mention Three Stooges shorts and poverty row horror pictures also traded in on the concept of apes as aggressors? I suppose much of the killer monkey madness dials back to Poe, with his tale Murders in the Rue Morgue, itself adapted for cinema several times. And then, in 1968, when Charlton Heston got shanghaied on the Planet of the Apes, where mean monkeys were the masters and people were put in the position of being the lesser species, simian-shock film history came full circle.
Bu outside of the aforementioned classics and curiosities there are acres of untapped ape goodness.
Here’s a list of five of our freaked-out faves.
GORILLA AT LARGE (1954)
After House of Wax hit big, 3D films were all the rage throughout the 1950s and this picture, a lower-budgeted indie film picked up for distro via 20th Century Fox, is one of the earliest and best of its kind. The film stars the great George Barrows as the crabby Goliath the Gorilla (Barrows had played the partially gorillia-fied Ro-Man in the previous years D-movie gem Robot Monster), an ape who is kept as one of the star attractions in a seedy carnival. When trapeze artist Laverne (Anne Bancroft) wants to change up her act with the Gorilla and is shut down, murders begin to happen, most of them blamed on Goliath. This is a pulp murder mystery with a great, authentic amusement park setting and a dream cast that includes horror legend Cameron Mitchell, Perry Mason’s Raymond Burr and Lee Marvin. If you have ever seen the film in 3D (even in the cool red/blue anaglyph version screened on TV throughout the 1980s) you know just how great the 3D gags are, especially during the wild King Kong-esque finale.
One of the greatest terrible films of all time, meaning that its really not terrible at all. In fact, Trog is rather awesome. Its central fiend is not a pure ape, but rather a troglodyte, a missing link found by spelunkers in some sort of British cave system and brought to the clinic of an anthropologist who not only sets out to study Trog but becomes a surrogate mother to him. Sure, we can laugh at how Hollywood legend Joan Crawford’s times were so tough that she signed on to star in this lower-tier Herman Coen production and we can snicker at the fact that the rather detailed ape mask worn by the diminutive stuntman is really a left-over cowl from the ape-saturated prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But outside of these fish-in-a-barrel footnotes, legendary cinematographer Freddie Francis direction is strong, Crawford is committed to the lunacy (she reportedly had to use her car as a dressing room, the budget was so low) and UK horror legend (and future Alfred the Butler) Michael Gough is at his malevolent best as a rival scientist aiming to dismantle Crawfords efforts. Theres also a mildly touching nod to the Isaac Asimov story The Ugly Little Boy and, later, Trog channels the accidental, misunderstood evil of Karloff’s Frankenstein monster. Trog is far too freakish and interesting to be completely dismissed as another bad genre film.
THE CRATE (from CREEPSHOW, 1982)
For sheer nastiness, few things beat Tom Savinis Fluffy, the homicidal, carnivorous ape monster from George A. Romero’s revered Stephen King-pennsed anthology classic Creepshow. All five of the tales of terror in Creepshow are top-drawer, but “The Crate” fires on all cylinders, from its rich cast to its startling prosthetic effects to John Harrison’s haunting piano/electro score. “The Crate” sees Hal Holbrook and Fritz Weaver as a pair of professors in a New England university who find a near century old crate chained up beneath the stairs in the school basement. The beaten-up box houses an ancient, toothy and starving gorilla-creature who, after shredding and feasting on a student and a janitor, is then offered Holbrook’s drunken harpy of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau) as desert. Part puppet, part guy-in-a-suit, “The Crate”‘s evil primate is certainly one of the greatest monsters the screen has seen.
For wanton insanity, try on Italian maverick Dario Argento’s blisteringly bizarre 1985 horror/fairy-tale Phenomena (released in the US as the truncated Creepers) for size. In it, a young Jennifer Connelly, drifts around a Swiss boarding school commanding her army of telepathically controlled bugs to help her track a black-gloved killer creeping around the woods. But the greatest WTF element in a movie that is ripe with them, is the presence of actor Donald Pleasence’s pet chimpanzee, who, once her master is murdered, becomes a kind of razor-weilding hobo-cum-avenging angel. Yessir, the monkey is the hero of this piece. And it makes perfect sense. Incidentally, this is my favorite Argento film. And the chimp is one of the chief reasons.
Australian Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin (Psycho II, Patrick) directed this pretty-much-forgotten and terribly-underrated killer ape melodrama; it’s a stylish, tense and deeply weird chamber piece about nature taking the reigns. In it, Elizabeth Shue plays a student who takes a job helping a British professor (the brilliant Terrence Stamp) who has a house full of trained chimpanzees who act as his friends, assistants and subjects. When the professor aims to have the elder chimp, Link (actually an orangutan dyed black!) put down, Link kills the old man and takes control of the house, keeping Shue as his prisoner! A wild piece of work with an absolutely first-rate Jerry Goldsmith score (though, admittedly, I can’t think of a Goldsmith score that’s not first rate ).
What are some of your favorite murderous monkey movies? Let us know and…Happy National Gorilla Suit Day!
(Note: This is a modified version of an article that appeared at ShockTillYouDrop.com in 2015)