The “guy in the gorilla suit” is synonymous with cheap genre movie quickies. If you had a budget of pocket fluff and pennies, you could throw a low-rent schlockfest where your monster was a variant of an ape in no time.
Hell, John Landis did exactly that in the early 1970s with his movie, Schlock.
The ape as monster/antagonist/friend/hero has a great cinematographic legacy. Today, the Sharksploitation movie is the subgenre that gets all the attention for how outrageously endless it is. But the apes did it first.
’90s cinema is experiencing its moment of nostalgic rediscovery of late, and with that comes the opportunity to delve into the films of that decade and see them through a modern lens. The ’90s also had its fair share of ape-focused genre entertainment. We had the (pretty good) remake of mighty young joethe baseball movie Edand the period movie based on some real shit that really happened, Co-worker – where a rich lady played by Rene Russo tries to raise a gorilla.
And then you have the movie. congo, object of this article. After the shocking success of Spielberg Jurassic ParkHollywood began to adapt the works of Michael Crichton with the zeal typical of Hollywood when something becomes great. 1995 produced congo – a big-budget production directed by frank marshall.
become the next Jurassic Park it didn’t, but it did at least double its budget despite poor critical reception.
For those who do not know, congo is a film about a group of scientists from a communications company who embark on an expedition to, you guessed it, Congo to find out what happened to their field team in search of a rare diamond mine. The team died suddenly and violently, possibly at the hands of mysterious, yet unidentified apes. Dr. Ross (laura lynney) brings primatologist and animal trainer Dr. Elliot (dylan walsh) and her ape, Amy, whom she has trained to speak using sign language and sophisticated technology that verbalizes the words she signs.
Amy also drinks martinis.
Thrills and chills abound as the team takes on hostile governments, ravenous, hungry hippos, and yes, those violent apes that wiped out the initial ground team.
Age does funny things to movies. Movies that were once absolute gems can lose their shine. And movies that seemed like dumb fails can accumulate charm as they mature over time. congo It is one of the last movies. I can’t say that I liked the movie too much when it was first released. I don’t know what he wanted, but it was probably something along the lines of Jurassic Park…but with gorillas. Having recently rediscovered the film, after not having seen it since it hit cable in the ’90s, I can say the experience was like seeing it for the first time all over again.
This movie is crazy, guys. Like, really crazy. No expense was spared with sets, locations, and especially Amy’s effects, which of course were handled by Stan Winston Studios. Despite the money on screen, there is a strange sense of artifice to the film that cannot be ignored.
While location shooting took up a large portion of the production, reality was not a goal in depicting the jungles here. In a way, it harkens back to the visual language of classic adventure films of this kind, where sets and matte paintings dominated the frame. This makes sense considering that Crichton himself conceived the story as an homage and update of King Solomon’s Mines. congo definitely tap into that pulpy spirit. This is an old school adventure for today. Modern by mid-’90s standards, that is. I’m pretty sure Marshall planted his tongue firmly in his cheek while directing the movie, because it’s too over the top to be accidental. The man is no stranger to humorous emotions; he directed the total classic that is arachnophobiaafter all.
The pulp adventure tone is only accentuated by a fantastic cast who do it in the absolute best way. ernie hudson she walks away with the entire movie as field guide Monroe Kelly. Hudson sinks his teeth into her in the park with effortless charisma.
Tim Curry he is also present as the treacherous Herkermer (get it? Like a Herkimer diamond?) Homolka. Curry, no stranger to accents in his career, invokes one of the most exaggerated Romanian accents I’ve ever heard on film. It’s completely gonzo here, and Curry alone is pretty much half the camp appeal that congo offers
Also, Bruce Campbell he shows up for the first 10 minutes or so, making you wish he was the lead instead of Walsh. No offense to Walsh… Linney and Walsh are useful as heroes, but they can’t keep up with their co-stars who set the stage for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The final act of the film is when the sci-fi action/adventure shenanigans really kick into gear. We have hidden temples and caves. All kinds of 90’s movie tech is on display with excessive design. We have lasers, motion guns, and enough computer screens to fill two movies. Assassin Apes are truly intimidating foes. Winston and company knocked it out of the park with everything they did, and congo deserves to be mentioned along with Winston’s most famous cinematic achievements.
Time has been kind to congo and is begging for wide rediscovery in my opinion. It has a certain colorful and cheesy charm that oozes from every frame. Despite its PG-13 rating, it also has a handful of twisted visuals for all bloodhounds. Where else can you find a movie with a talking, martini-drinking gorilla named Amy and Tim Curry using the wackiest accent you can imagine?
In the 90s, my friends. Only in the 90s.