Blu-ray Review: King Kong (1976)

June 9, 2021

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Fred Wilson (played to the scenery chewing ultimate by the late Charles Grodin), an executive douche-nozzle of the Petrox Oil Company, believes a mysterious and uncharted island, surrounded by a permanent bank of thick-ass fog (official meteorologist lingo), may be the source of a huge oil deposit, and sets sail with a full crew at his disposal.
But alas, the crew is not all that’s aboard, as primate paleontologist Jack Prescott (a mega-laid back Jeff Bridges… yes, I know that’s can go without saying… ) has stowed away on the vessel, and he has all manner of historical accounts of the island they are heading to es no bueno… oh, and that fog mentioned up yonder may be caused by the breath of a giant creature.
As if that weren’t enough in the uninvited guests department, the ship also picks up a castaway, an actress named Dwan (don’t ask, it’s fuckin’ stupid… oh and she’s played by the ever-awesome Jessica Lange to the flighty hilt) who escaped from an exploding yacht during a screening of Deep Throat… as one does.
Anyway, our heroes find the island populated by an indigenous people who have erected a great wall to keep their god, Kong, at bay… speaking of ol’ Kong, the islanders soon kidnap Dwan and give her to their giant ape lord as a sacrifice, and he falls head over heels in love with her!
As our heroes set off to rescue Dwan, Wilson gets the hot idea to bring Kong back to New York City and use him as a promotional tool for Petrox. Long story short, that’s a shitty idea once executed… we’ll talk more of shitty ideas below…
People will try to tell you that the 1976, Dino De Laurentiis produced, John Guillermin directed (from a screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who would work with De Laurentiis again with 1980’s Flash Gordon) re-make of the 1933’s King Kong is a piece of crap, but in my not so humble opinion, they can go fuck right the fuck off with that noise!
To be fair, the film is dated; the lingo is no longer hip, there’s plenty of “energy crisis” era concerns, Dwan could only exist in the 1970’s with her high-as-fuck demeanor, woman’s lib platitudes, and astrology habit… but damn it, the film is impossible to resist!
Part of the reason for this definitely falls on the trio of Bridges, Lange, and Grodin, all solid actors playing their roles to the max, and while the latter two definitely give ramped-up performances, all are believable in the world in which they’ve been placed.
Speaking of which, Semple Jr’s script never falls completely into camp, but it has enough of it to bring some light into this, at times very dark (wait until you see a blood-spurting, bullet ridden Kong… for the kids!), re-imagining… but man, there are plenty of weird moments on hand as well such as Lange getting turned on by Kong blow drying her with his mighty ape breath (puffed out cheeks and all), and Kong appearing to the public after emerging from a 40 foot-tall gas pump.
Admittedly, that last one is an unforgettable image, and this film has plenty of those in spades;  Kong surrounded by explosions as he destroys an elevated train, Kong battling a giant snake (gone are the dinosaurs of the original, my one major gripe with this version), Kong stepping on spectators leaving them a wriggling crushed mess, Kong atop the World Trade Center being savaged by attack choppers (and while we are on that subject, this flick features aircraft slamming into the towers, so if you’re sensitive to that please take heed… ), Kong taking off Lange’s top… yeah, there’s a weird sexual undercurrent in this one…
While we are talking Kong, I have to mention the elephant in the room on this one. Around the time of the film’s release (yes I remember when this film came out, and I saw it in a theater as a wee monster kid), Dino was absolutely everywhere talking about the full-scale mechanical Kong that was created for the film’s production courtesy of FX wizard Carlo Rambaldi… except it fuckin’ wasn’t… though it kinda was… anyway, the long and short of it is, Carlo Rambaldi sold De Laurentiis on the idea he could create a fully functional, “life” size Kong animatronic that could do everything the scrip required… which, of course, was an absolutely absurd load of bullshit, though a full size prop was built by Glen Robinson (which completely fell apart during filming after doing damn near fuck all)… and it appears in the film for a hot fuckin’ second.. and moves with the near-supernatural speed of a dead snail (and looks nothing like the Kong that appears in the rest of the film), but hey, they actually did it… but, no…
The brunt of Kong action was provided (mostly) by future Academy award winning FX artist Rick Baker (with an assist from his apprentice Rob Bottin, who would go on to be one of my fav FX artists of all time… though insane-o Rambaldi and Robinson get the on screen credit for the creation of Kong, with Baker getting a bullshit “special contributions” credit), in an incredible ape suit of his own devising. It’s true artistry created by a genius, and deserves to be on every list of all-time great movie monster suits!
Also on the “artsy fartsy” front, the island Kong inhabits is like a Frazetta painting come to life; all gloomy skies, foreboding rock formations, and mist enshrouded primordial environs, all brought to life via fantastic miniatures, surreal sets, and matte paintings… a true (practically realized) visual feast!
While we are yappin’ about “feasts”, those lil’ devils over at Scream Factory have included an absolutely beastly buffet of extras on this Blu-ray release!
Kicking things off we get two audio commentaries, one from Kong historian Ray Morton covering the film’s production and the history of Kong in detail, and the other being an extended interview with Rick Baker where he covers the absolutely off-the-wall story of the creation of the film’s effects… both are excellent listens!
Next comes interviews with production manager Brian Frankish & David McGiffert, Scott Thaler & Jeffery Chernov (who served as messengers on the film, and have gone on to impressive careers in their own right), sculptor Steve Varner, actor Jack O’Halloran (who also played Kryptonian brute Non in the first two Christopher Reeves Superman films, and appears here in a manner best described as “blurry as all fuck”), photographic effects assistant Barry Nolan, and second unit director Bill Kronick. There are some choice robot Kong related gems here let me tell ya cats n’ creeps!
Following that we get a duo of theatrical trailers, a collection of TV and radio spots, and copious image galleries (and for real, who the hell thought an image of Dwan being poked in the babymaker by Kong’s hairy hand was a good idea for a promotional image… I mean it’s hilarious as fuck, but c’mon… also the top of the set is visible in another of the images, so again, weird choice… )
Then it’s off to disc two!
Disc two contains the television cut of the film, and if you are a Kong-fanatic this is the version to see! Running an hour longer than the theatrical cut, this version features multiple extended scenes that expand the story quite a bit, and the fact that this version can be viewed in two parts recreates the September 1978 NBC showing of the film that aired over two consecutive nights… which I also remember watching, so nostalgia fuckin’ overload boils n’ ghouls!
Also included on disc two is a King Kong Q&A from a showing of the film at the Aero Theater from 2016.
Campy, epic, and thoroughly enjoyable, the ’76 Kong is a creature feature beastly blast from beginning to end, and this Blu is the version to own by far!
 


 

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