Sunday, August 10, 2014

A*P*E (1976)

Say what you will about the schlocky monster flick A*P*E, but at least the damn thing gets right down to business. After a very brief introductory scene explaining that a 36-foot-high primate has been captured, drugged, and placed in the cargo hold of a large boat, the critter breaks free, causes the boat to explode, wrestles with a giant shark, and storms through a coastal village, sparking mass destruction. All of this, plus opening credits, takes less than 10 minutes. Boom! Sadly, it’s downhill from there, and it’s not as if the original altitude was high. Made to capitalize on the hype surrounding Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong (1976), this crapfest was shot in South Korea with American leading actors. It’s a truly wretched piece of work, presenting trite scenes of animal rampages and military responses without imagination or skill. (The effects in A*P*E wouldn’t pass muster in the worst ’70s Godzilla movie.) Yet A*P*E is weirdly compelling for a while—until boredom takes hold—simply because the tone is so peculiar. Actors perform most of their scenes casually, as if the appearance of a giant ape is not a cause for anxiety. During several sequences, the titular monster aimlessly frolics in the Korean countryside—even after military engagements, suggesting that the military somehow lost track of a 36-foot-high primate. In one memorably awful scene, a film director overseeing the work of the blonde starlet with whom the monster becomes infatuated advises the starlet’s male costar how to play a rough interaction: “Rape her gently.” (The would-be rape victim is portrayed by Joanna Kerns, appearing her under her given name, Joanna DeVarona; later in life, the wholesome-looking actress gained TV fame as the mom on the 1985-1992 sitcom Growing Pains.) And in perhaps A*P*E’s finest moment, when the monster gets riddled with bullets during the finale, the actor inside the ape suit appears to do a version of the funky chicken. Seriously, the death scene looks like a full-on dance number. Suffice to say that any desired tragic implications are hopelessly diluted.



Mike Doran said...

A Question From The Back Row:

Is this like the first Godzilla, with the American actors edited into the Korean footage ex post facto?
Easiest way to tell is if there's no interaction between the Yanks and the Asians.

The name I noticed in the poster was Alex Nicol, who was making his living at the time directing episodic TV; my guess would be that his paycheck was likely the biggest of the Americans (unless I'm wrong ...).

By Peter Hanson said...

I believe the American actors worked in Korea alongside the Korean cast, with everybody speaking English. I imagine the goal was to make something for the international market. Whatever the circumstances, this thing's really quite dreadful.