Today: February 22, 2024

Kaiju Korner – King Kong Escapes

Welcome to Kaiju Korner where FilmJuice regular, Edward Boff, counts down to one of this year’s most anticipated film releases – Pacific Rim – with a look at the Japanese monster movie. Yes, it’s time once again to look at the weird world of guys in rubber costumes trashing Tokyo. So join Ed as …

King Kong Escapes (1967)
Toho studios paid huge amounts for the rights to use the Kong character in King Kong Vs. Godzilla. However, despite KKvG being one of Toho’s biggest box office successes ever, the only other time they used the character was five years later in King Kong Escapes. What’s more, the film is actually a tie-in to a King Kong cartoon series made around the same time by Rankin-Bass productions, so it’s not even an actual sequel to KKvG.

The villain in this one is a James Bond style super villain (guess what other film series was big in Japan then?) complete with a secret lair with jump-suited minions.  The name of this villain?  Dr. Who.  Yes, really!  Needless to say, this makes watching the film a bit of a surreal experience, and the plot doesn’t help matters much.  Dr. Who wants a rare nuclear element, and has built a robot version of Kong to dig it out (because as we all know, gorillas are well known as burrowing subterranean animals).  The robot has broken down though so, after a UN submarine finds the real Kong, Who forces the submariners to capture him to do the digging.  The title hints as to what goes wrong next which is the cue for a confrontation between Kong and MechaKong and the inevitable trashing of Tokyo.

In many ways, this is a far better film than King Kong Vs. Godzilla, and not just because it didn’t fall foul of the distributors’ scissors this time around.  There’s a bit more monster action, including a fight between Kong and a not-quite-a-T-Rex (only more rubbery), the globetrotting narrative means there’s a nice variety of scenery to look at, and Dr. Who, as played by Akira Takarada, is actually a pretty effective villain. Makes you wish he had been in a proper Bond film.  Also, the climax is a lot of fun, as Kong must climb a tall building (in this case Tokyo Tower: a very unlucky structure in Kaiju films) to save the blonde he’s infatuated with from a different monster – this time with the army trying to help him.

That being said, this is still cheesy, Saturday morning fare all round, although with quite a dark streak running through it in places with slightly more graphic violence than one might expect.  It’s got a very silly plotline (really, a giant gorilla robot makes for better mining than just a big drill?), a tad awkward acting, especially from the Americans in the cast trying to look like they understand what’s going on, and then there are the effects of course.  The Kong costume’s a bit better than it was in KKvG but they still didn’t get the face right at all, with a crooked jaw line and horrid, snaggly teeth.  Shame because the other monster costumes look fine, if a tad silly.  Also, since the models are on a larger scale than usual, it’s funny seeing the tanks sent out against Kong having Action Man dolls in them to look manned!  Still, with direction and music from Toho regulars, Inshiro Honda and Akira Ifukabe, respectively the audience is in safe hands.

Overall, King Kong Escapes is often overlooked in the canon of both Kaiju film and Kong movies but it’s still a fun little ride that’ll appeal to anyone’s inner nine-year-old, and showed there was still a lot that could be done with the premise.  It’s really a shame Toho didn’t do more with the big guy. He didn’t even get an appearance in the following year’s big Kaiju crossover Destroy All Monsters (although the dinosaur from this did. How is that fair?!).  Still, what we have can be found for fairly cheap in a box set with the original King Kong and King Kong Vs. Godzilla, making the whole set a real bargain.

Next time in Kaiju Korner, join Ed as he heads back in time to the birth of another pop culture icon, and a title that changed the Japanese film industry forever …

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