Have you ever been watching King Kong – the 1933, 1976, or 2005 versions, it doesn’t matter which – and thought to yourself: “Gee, this is a pretty good movie. But I wonder what it would be like if it was made by a bunch of nobodies for about twelve bucks; was filmed in a bleak, depressing part of South Korea; had special effects that make Destroy All Monsters look like Avatar; had gratuitous swearing and attempted rape scenes; and be so poorly paced that 80 minutes feels like two hours. Oh, and it should be in crappy 3-D too.”
Well, if you’ve ever done that, the good news is that you can watch A*P*E and get exactly what you’re looking for! A*P*E (and no, I don’t know why it’s spelled that way with the asterisks) is a cheap ripoff of King Kong released to coincide with the DeLaurentiis remake back in ’76. The ads state that the movie is “Not to be confused with King Kong” which seems a bit odd considering that’s exactly what the film-makers hoped would happen.
I’ll say this for A*P*E, it starts off with a bang. A model ship bobs over the waters, and then we meet two crew members, who make reference to something in the hold of their ship, which will be put on exhibition at Disneyland, and their hopes that the tranquilizing gas lasts another few days. No sooner have they said that when a big hairy fist punches its way out of the ship. One of the crew members barely has time to utter a lackadaisical “Oh shit.” And the toy ship explodes.
Next we see a giant ape, presumably freed from the ship, standing waist deep in the ocean. We also see a bright, silvery unidentifiable thing zipping through the water, but it’s not until the ape starts “fighting” with a shark we realize what it’s supposed to be.
A word on this “shark fight”. If you (like me) thought the zombie vs. shark duel in Fulci’s Zombi was disappointing, this ape vs. shark duel makes it look a lot better. Basically the ape has hold of what is obviously a dead shark, no doubt purchased on sale at the fish mart, its mouth all limp and floppy because its jaws have been removed. Anyway, eventually the ape gets tired of wrestling with a dead shark and makes its way to land, to stomp on some buildings.
Meanwhile, at the Seoul airport, movie star Marilyn Baker (Joanna DeVarona) has arrived to start work on a new movie. (One of the stranger aspects of A*P*E is that Marilyn’s movie seems to consist entirely of attempted rape scenes.) When Marilyn isn’t making her movie she’s snogging her boyfriend Tom (Rod Arrants), who’s supposed to be a journalist but during press conferences he never takes a note or has a tape recorder handy.
Eventually, after the ape has terrorized some children who have broken into a closed amusement park, interrupted a martial arts fight, stepped over a toy cow, thrown a snake at (and hit) the camera, and freaked out a hang glider, he sees Marilyn and becomes instantly smitten. The military does what it always does in these situations, and the ape dies, spewing a quart of fake blood as he does so (and bringing to mind unhelpful comparisons to the Monty Python “Scott of the Antarctic” sketch).
It’s rare to see a movie so hilariously shoddy on every level. Acting, script, effects – all of it is bottom-of-the-barrel. The film is so cheap that all the screams in this movie, whether they are the cries of the crowds fleeing the ape or Marilyn’s shrieks of terror, seem to be recorded on a 15-second loop that constantly replays. Likewise, the movie uses scenes and footage over and over as well, making the whole thing a Kafkaesque experience as you watch the same clip of a Styrofoam boulder come at you five or six times.
The one thing A*P*E tries to do a bit differently is the 3-D. The disc of course is only 2-D, but in a way that’s funnier as you see all the scenes that were obviously meant to be 3-D highlights – the ape flings rocks and 55-gallon drums at the camera, soldiers point their guns into frame, martial artists shoot flaming arrows at the lens, and in the silliest 3-D moment, a soldier drives his jeep into a two-by-four that breaks his windshield.
The pace flags dramatically in the movie’s second half, when we alternate between the military guys arguing and getting ready to fight the ape, the ape wandering around the city, and Marilyn hiding out in hopes that the ape doesn’t find her. And there’s a puppet show. Don’t ask.
The DVD has nothing beyond scene selections and the transfer is as good as a shoddy effort like this can hope for. I rather like seeing all the scratches and pops in the film – it gives you that “It’s 3 a.m. and I’m channel surfing, and dear God what is this thing I’m watching?” feel.
It’s a perfect film for a drunken party, and one of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s great missed opportunities.