KING KONG (1976)
Producer Dino De Laurentiis' late-70's remake (43 years after the original!) arrived with tons of publicity and merchandising tie-ins, a relatively new concept at the time. Ultimately, it failed to connect with audiences.
In the updated story, a sleazy oil company exec traps Kong on Skull Island and brings him back to New York to publicize his business (in the 70's there was a fuel shortage). Sure, the revamp has unintentional camp elements and some of the performances are surprisingly poor for such a big budget movie (future Oscar winner Jessica Lange is particularly wooden in her feature film debut). But there's no arguing with make-up wizard Rick Baker's fantastic special effects make-up job that makes this the most facially expressive Kong to date. For the most part, it's still a guy in a monkey suit (Baker himself actually), but when Kong rips a NYC subway train off of it's overpass tracks, it sure comes close to matching the similar scene in the 1933 original.
An actual life sized mechanical Kong was built by Italian F/X guru Carlo Rambaldi for the movie but was so stiff and unrealistic compared to Baker's creation that it is thankfully only seen briefly in the final film.
The big finale in this version takes place on top of the World Trade Center's twin towers.
Sure wish I still had the official King Kong Candy Bar I bought while visiting North Dakota in 1977.
This extremely low budget quickie was rushed into production to capitalize on the pre-hype for Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong remake. They shouldn't have bothered.
A giant ape escapes from a tanker ship and, referencing Jaws, battles a massive rubber shark, then goes on a rampage in a miniature set of downtown Seoul, Korea. Apparently this was originally shown somewhere in 3-D so the guy in the monkey suit throws fake boulders right at the screen and in response, townsfolk shoot flaming arrows directly at the camera. A pre- Growing Pains Joanna Kerns (then going by Joanna DeVarona) stars as the American actress making a movie in Korea and naturally is abducted by the creature (who is occasionally referred to as King Kong!).
The height of lunacy occurs when, while in combat with the Korean Army, the giant ape actually gives his opponents the finger.
QUEEN KONG (1976)
This British production was another film made purely to capitalize on the hype surrounding De Laurentiis' King Kong remake. Queen Kong flips the usual gender roles so that a young male actor befriends a 64 foot tall female gorilla in this spoof of the established King Kong story. Benny Hill styled unfunny jokes fly by at a rapid rate and Queen Kong fights a guy wearing a rubber dinosaur costume (her ape suit isn't much better) while native jungle women wear makeup and store bought bikinis.
Once taken to London, Queen Kong climbs Big Ben and becomes a symbol for the British women's lib movement.
Dino De Laurentiis successfully sued the producers of Queen Kong to prevent their film from being released theatrically creating more notoriety for this disaster than if he had just left it alone.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977)
The Shaw Brothers' knock-off of De Laurentiis' King Kong remake features a large ape-like creature (the face isn't all that simian looking) and, borrowing from Mighty Joe Young, his female human friend who was orphaned as a child in the jungles on India (!) and rescued by the titular beast. They get tricked into agreeing to come to Hong Kong where the Peking Man is put on display and subjected to the expected abuse. He also witnesses his scantily clad human companion (Evelyn Kraft) getting attacked by the sleazy businessman behind the whole thing. In a fit of anger he breaks free and goes on a Godzilla-like rampage through the streets of a miniature downtown set.
Also known as Goliathon as if that makes a difference.
KING KONG LIVES (1986 )
Ten years after the critical bashing they received for their 1976 King Kong remake, the De Laurentiis team incredibly launched a sequel that absolutely nobody was asking for.
Turns out that after Kong took his fatal fall (or so we thought) off the World Trade Center, he has been in a coma being kept alive by doctors who want to make him the recipient of the world's largest artificial heart transplant. Of course you need a lot of blood for an operation like that so a King-sized female gorilla is found, captured and prepped for surgery. Simple, right? After the successful operation, Kong and his new mate break out of their confines and are the run from the military.
The monkey suits don't look too bad but whose idea was it to have the apes smile so much?
John Guillerman, the director of the '76 film returned to helm this but I'm not sure what's harder to believe: that he was asked back or that for some reason he accepted.
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998)
Disney's big budget remake of the 1949 Mighty Joe Young stands as one of the best Kong inspired films so far. In central Africa poachers kill Jill Young's zoologist mother leaving the child alone with her pet gorilla (whose mother was also killed). They grow up together and the gorilla Joe grows to a height of fifteen feet.
After a brief stay at a California conservancy goes bad thanks to underhanded interference from those original poachers, they convince Jill to let them take Joe to a huge wildlife park back in Africa, really a front for selling exotic animal parts. Before they get far, Jill discovers who they really are and Joe escapes with the authorities, the poachers and Jill all in pursuit through downtown Hollywood causing the expected mayhem along the way.
The mostly CGI Joe character is impressively rendered, no surprise since Rick Baker was in charge of the creature design.
Nice to see a quick cameo from Ray Harryhausen who did the special effects on the original and Terry Moore who played Jill in 1949.
THE MIGHTY KONG (1998)
This Warner Brothers animated TV movie (with the voice of Dudley Moore) is currently not available on any home video format.