By Orrin Grey
King Kong Escapes (1967). Director: Ishiro Honda. Starring: Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller.
Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight’s film is the second (and last) Toho film to feature King Kong, and also the one and only (so far as I can figure out) Toho-Rankin/Bass co-production, King Kong Escapes. We shall never see its like again.
For those out there who don’t remember Rankin/Bass — or for whom the name rings a bell, but you’re having trouble placing why — they’re the company responsible for those wonderfully weird stop-motion holiday movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. While the weird stop-motion is absent from King Kong Escapes, which is pretty much all guy-in-rubber-suit action with special effects by Toho regular Eiji Tsuburaya, the design influence from Rankin/Bass is present all over, from King Kong’s redesigned mug to the dinosaurs he fights on “Mondo Island” and, perhaps most obviously, on robo-Kong.
The film, which was released in Japan as King Kong’s Counterattack, is basically an adaption of the Rankin/Bass cartoon series, The King Kong Show, and its Saturday morning cartoon roots are pretty obvious throughout. The bad guy is a cape-wearing, monologuing villain named, I kid you not, Dr. Who. He has a femme fatale assistant/financier who represents “a certain country” and who is named either Madame X or Madame Piranha, depending on which version you watch. (One of the people I was watching it with suggested that, in whatever mysterious country she was from, “Piranha” was loosely translated as, “Someone really very trustworthy, we assure you.”)
Alongside its Japanese actors, King Kong Escapes also features a handful of Americans, including the wonderfully-named Rhodes Reason (of a whole bunch of western TV shows) and Linda Miller, whose sole other acting credit is The Green Slime.
For those of you who think you can imagine what a joint Toho-Rankin/Bass production of a movie based on a cartoon show about King Kong being hypnotized, fighting sea serpents and acrobatic dinosaurs, and ultimately clashing with his robotic doppelganger while humans bicker and double-cross each other over Element X would be like, you’re probably not wrong. It’s not exactly a shining jewel in Toho’s crown, but it’s certainly like nothing else out there.
This was Toho’s last film to feature King Kong, in spite of various efforts to the contrary, including an utterly bonkers-sounding plan in the 90s to bring back Kong’s robotic alter-ego in Godzilla vs. Mechani-Kong, which would have featured Mechani-Kong injecting people into Godzilla to do battle with him from within, where they would encounter “many different strange worlds inside Godzilla,” according to Koichi Kawakita, special effects director on most of the 90s Godzilla films. That one is going on the list of movies that I’m really, really sad never got made.
That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time when we undertake several voyages to a prehistoric planet!