I went to a screening of the restored print of Hammer’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell at the British Film Institute last night. This was the first Hammer Horror that I ever saw on the big screen when I snuck into the Odeon Wood Green at the tender age of 14 back in 1975. It was also the last Hammer Frankenstein and marked the final time that Peter Cushing would wield a scalpel and bone saw as the Baron. It was also the final film of director Terence Fisher, the director who had done more to define Hammer horror than any other having helmed all three of Hammer’s monster reboots in the 1950s with The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.
The film was introduced by a panel featuring Cushing’s former secretary , Dave Prowse who played the Monster (and of course was also Darth Vader and the Green Cross Man) and female lead Madeline Smith, who all spoke about what a nice man Peter Cushing was. This was especially relevant as Cushing was born 100 years ago this month on 26 May and has recently been featured on a stamp to mark the occasion.
Hammer made the film on the cheap, by confining all the action within the confines of a lunatic asylum, where the Baron had assumed the role of the asylum doctor. Well it wasn’t long before he was knocking up a creature out bits of dead inmates with the aid of his disciple Dr Helder (Shane Bryant) and the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith). I won’t spoil this for anyone by giving away the plot, but the lunatic asylum set makes this the most intensely claustrophobic Frankenstein movie that Hammer ever made. Still reeling from the recent death of his beloved wife Helen, Cushing gave the film one of the most intense performances of his career and this combined with the atmospheric music score by James Bernard and a John Elder script that wasn’t afraid to throw in the odd self mocking gag, make this film a pure British Gothic delight.
Once the panel had finished the introduction they joined us in the audience. Imagine the thrill when I realised that Dave Prowse was going to take the empty seat next to mine. As the film ended I thanked him and shook his hand. I have been truly touched by the Dark Side Young Jedi
Sorry but it was too good a gag not to use when I rolled up at London’s Russell Square Horse Hospital arts centre for the Cut‘s screening of the 1961 British giant gorilla movie Konga.
Producer Herman Cohen had by 1961 already established a reputation for cheapy horror movies like I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Horrors of the Black Museum. It won’t coma as any surprise that Konga concerns a giant ape, however thanks to what must have been a tiny budget similarities to King Kong are surprisingly few until the final reel where Konga goes apeshit and tramples through some model houses.
Michael Gough (the economy Peter Cushing) plays Dr Decker who discovers the secret of how to stimulate growth in animals with extracts of tropical carnivorous plants and experiments on Konga the baby chimp he has brought back from Uganda. Of course all this experimenting gets in the way of his teaching at Essex University, but Decker soon sorts that out by getting the by now gorilla sized Konga to murder anyone who gets in the way. Naturally it all goes horribly wrong when Margaret (Margo Johns), Deckers’ mistress catches him trying it on with student Sandra (Claire Gordon) and she gives Konga a walloping great dose of the growth serum with predictable consequences.
Somehow, despite having grown up in the 1960s and being mad for this kind of film I had never seen it before and it is a delightful mix of rubbish special effects (Konga is a bloke in a gorilla suit that isn’t even the same colour as the chimp who plays baby Konga, although it does allow for some spectacular eye rolling) and some of the campest dialogue I have ever heard, with which the cast battle valiantly. I think my favourite line was uttered by the Scotland Yard Inspector as Konga goes on the rampage.
“There’s a huge monster gorilla that’s constantly growing to outlandish proportions loose on the streets”
Thank heaven we had lots of National Service men ready to jump into the backs of trucks and take the menace of Konga down and let’s face it with all the aliens and other monsters that turned up post-war British cinema we’d have been sunk without a huge conscript army!
The Cut is a film club dedicated to previewing DVD releases of the weird. Curator Billy Chainsaw had arranged for 1960s teen idol Jess Conrad who played student Bob (Konga’s third murder victim and probably the only member of the cast still living) to introduce the movie. He did such a nice line in self deprecatory humour that he’s almost forgiven for This Pullover.
Konga is released on DVD on 13 May