King of Kong Island / Kong Island / Eve, the Wild Woman / Eva, la Venere Selvaggia (1968) -**½
It seems to me that a title like King of Kong Island is likely to create a certain set of expectations in the mind of a prospective viewer. Naturally, copyright law being what it is, only the most naïve would expect any actual Kong, especially after discovering that the movie in question was an Italian import from the late 1960’s. Nevertheless, you’d still probably expect a Kong Island, and you might imagine that it would have a king, around whom the movie would presumably revolve in some meaningful way. Nope. Not only is there no Kong to be seen here, but there’s no Kong Island either— nor indeed is there any island by any name. There is also nary a king in evidence, either in the literal sense or in any of the several metaphorical senses which the phrase King of Kong Island might bring to mind. And as for all those capsule synopses you might see (for example, in The Essential Monster Movie Guide or in the packaging to Mill Creek Entertainment’s Science Fiction Classics DVD box set) which claim that a “descendant of King Kong” plays a key role in the climax… well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure the people who wrote those synopses were thinking of some other movie. What we have here instead is a truly abysmal safari adventure film approximately on the 40’s model, complete with endless stock wildlife footage and a Liane the Jungle Goddess-style sexy savage, crossbred with a mad scientist flick in which Bela Lugosi or J. Carrol Naish would have been perfectly at home.
It begins, however, on yet a third note, with a payroll robbery that would have fit snuggly into any old gangster picture, were it not for the fact that it takes place in the Nairobian countryside. The jeep in which agents of the East African Mineral Company are transporting some $300,000 falls into an ambush laid by out-of-work mercenaries of European extraction, one of whom (Marc Lawrence, from Pigs and The Monster and the Girl) guns down not just his unarmed victims, but his fellow bandits as well once the money is in his hands. The leader of the gang (Brad Harris, from Goliath and the Giants and The Fury of Hercules) is merely wounded, though, and we may safely predict that a simmering vendetta will grow in time out of this particular incident.
Evidently contract soldiering and highway robbery are not the only irons our trigger-happy friend has in the fire. When next we see him, an indeterminate length of time after the robbery, he and a second scar-faced man (Paolo Magalotti) are dressed up in surgical gear, implanting a little electronic gizmo in the head of a man-in-a-suit gorilla. The great mystery of this transition— who the hell has time to pursue simultaneous careers as both a soldier of fortune and a mad scientist?— will never be acknowledged, let alone solved.
Instead, we return to the leader of those mercenaries, who we now learn goes by the name of Burt Dawson. Burt has returned to Nairobi after a long convalescence, and he is currently visiting with some old friends who presumably were not in the soldier-of-fortune business. Ursula (Adriana Alben) is his ex-girlfriend, and despite her protestations to the contrary when her husband, Theodore (Aldo Cecconi, from The Triumph of Hercules and The Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules), finds her chatting with Burt in the bedroom, clad only in her underwear and an immodestly open robe, there are obviously a few live embers remaining from their former love. It would seem that Ursula is Theodore’s second wife, for he has a son and a daughter who can’t be more than five and ten years younger than her, respectively; both of the kids have histories with Burt, too. Diana (Ursula Davis, of An Angel for Satan and Crypt of the Vampire) has been infatuated with Burt since she was a little girl, and Robert (Mark Farran) visibly aspires (with how much success is debatable) to Burt’s uncompromisingly rugged style of masculinity. While Burt flirts with Ursula and Theodore fumes impotently over the prospect, the two kids are planning a hunting expedition in the jungle, their intended quarry a legendary— and quite possibly merely that— beast known to the natives as the Sacred Monkey. Robert would like very much to have Dawson along on the trip (as would Theodore, who is up for pretty much anything that would keep Burt and Ursula apart), but the ex-mercenary isn’t interested. I suspect the reason why may have something to do with a man called Turk, who has apparently been keeping tabs on Burt ever since his arrival in town, and who turns out to be none other than the mad mercenary scientist’s scar-faced assistant when at last we see him for ourselves, spying on Burt while he entertains Ursula at a highly improbable nightclub. The eventual meeting between the two men confirms their status as foes, for as soon as Turk catches Burt alone, he sics a pack of machete-wielding goons on him. Whatever Turk is paying his muscle, it’s too much; Burt, unarmed, is able to hold off all three of them, plus Turk himself, until he is bailed out by a mysterious man (Gino Turini, from Bloody Pit of Horror and SS Hell Camp) who had also been watching surreptitiously while Burt danced away the evening with Ursula. Burt’s rescuer wanders off after Turk and his thugs retreat, never bothering to mention his name.
A few days later, Robert and Diana meet with disaster on their hunt. They never do find the Sacred Monkey, encountering instead what we may take to be the “evil spirits” which the superstitious porters claim are never far from the Sacred Monkey’s side. The attackers who overrun their campsite, killing all the bearers, beating the crap out of Robert, and abducting Diana (after taking a moment to spy on her while she changes into her nightgown, of course) are a group of gorillas, and in light of the unusually purposeful manner in which they conduct themselves, I’m guessing every one of them has a little electronic whatsit embedded in its head. And just in case you require further proof that the mad doctor of fortune is the driving force behind the attack, Turk shows up once the gorillas have melted back into the underbrush, and gives Robert a message to pass along to his father back in Nairobi.
Evidently the mad mercenary scientist (who was identified somewhere along the line as Dr. Albert Munier) harbors an equal and opposite grudge to that of Dawson, for what Turk instructs Robert and Theodore to do is talk Burt into setting off on a mission to rescue Diana, which will in actual fact lead him directly into the villain’s clutches. Robert cooperates because he just wants to save his sister; Theodore, on the other hand, has obvious reasons for wanting Burt permanently out of the way. Burt, for his part, sees right through the setup, but goes on the rescue safari anyway— after all, he’s got that years-old itch for vengeance going, and he’s just as eager to meet up with Munier and have at him as vice versa. All in all, it really makes you wonder why Burt and Albert don’t just exchange phone numbers and be done with it. Nor will Burt be the only one tromping around in the jungle in the direction of Munier’s hideout, for that nameless guy who helped Burt chase off Turk and his minions is really Agent Forrester of Interpol, who is after Albert for that heist in the first scene, and who has been trailing Burt in the hope that the ex-mercenary would eventually lead him to his old comrade in arms.
So let’s see… We’ve got a mercenary on a revenge trip, another mercenary who is building an army of remote-control gorillas on the side, a kidnapping plot, a cuckold and an adulteress who have the knives out for each other, and an Interpol agent on a secret mission. What’s missing? I know! How about a fierce tribe of headhunters? Better yet, how about a half-naked jungle goddess?! Fuck it— what do you say we go for the throat and have both of those things, and then toss in a comic relief chimp for good measure? Yeah, so while Burt is hunting for Albert, Turk and the gorillas are hunting for Burt, and Forrester is following along at a safe distance, all concerned get attacked by savages, and King of Kong Island briefly turns into a dime-store approximation of The Naked Prey. Forrester is killed by the natives (I think— actually, he just sort of disappears from the movie about two minutes after the headhunters show up), and as Burt is hiding out beside a waterfall, he has his first run-in with the jungle girl he dubs “Eve” (Esmeralda Barros, from House of 1000 Pleasures and The Devil’s Wedding Night). Given what we’ve seen so far, this would be a strange enough thing to have happen all by itself, but then Burt goes and lifts King of Kong Island up to a completely new level of absurdity by intuiting— correctly, I might add— that Eve is in fact the legendary Sacred Monkey that Robert and Diana went out hunting for. I really don’t know what to say about that one. Burt gets to work befriending the Sacred Monkey (now if that doesn’t sound like a euphemism for masturbation, then I don’t know what would…), and while he’s at it, every other character in the movie who still lives finds their way into Albert’s ostensibly secret underground lab. Burt and Monkey Chick arrive just as everybody else is sharpening up their knives for the orgy of free-for-all backstabbing that ensues the moment Dr. Munier finishes giving Diana the traditional “why I do what I do— oh, and here’s how to stop me, by the way” villain speech, and once the dust of betrayal has settled, the ex-mercenary and his two lady friends are well placed to live happily ever after.
From time to time, I’ve been known to describe a particularly incomprehensible film as a “What are you doing?!” movie. King of Kong Island is an especially pure example of the breed, containing scarcely anything that makes sense, at any level, from beginning to end. There’s really no reason why Munier needs to be both a mad doctor and an unscrupulous mercenary, even if it didn’t strain credulity so badly to imagine that he’d have room in his schedule to follow both trades at the same time. His nefarious scheme— to enslave the human race by outfitting everybody in the world with the same electronic gizmos that control his gorilla army— is obviously much too labor-intensive ever to get off the ground, and the remote-control apes themselves actually have startlingly little role in it. Nor can I make out any reason why Albert would have it in for Burt to the extent that he does— after all, it was Munier who betrayed Dawson during the payroll heist, not the other way around. What’s more, it simply awes me that the filmmakers would feel the need to complicate this top-heavy story even further by layering on an attempt by Theodore to eliminate Burt, a plot by Ursula to eliminate Theodore, an Interpol operation directed against Albert, and a last-minute gambit on Albert’s part to turn Diana into his own personal remote-control sex slave. And as for the Sacred Monkey, she winds up having no impact on the story whatsoever, even though the movie’s original Italian title refers to her directly!
Speaking of the Sacred Monkey, there are a couple of points related to her for which I really must give King of Kong Island’s creators a certain amount of cockeyed credit. You will note that, in direct contravention of standard jungle-goddess practice, the Sacred Monkey is not blonde, nor is she precisely a white girl. Rather, Esmeralda Barros is of Brazilian origin, and her ethnic background appears to be the complicated mixture of white, black, and Indio elements that one encounters so often in that country. Of course, it’s just as difficult to explain a South American mestiza living in the jungles of east Africa as it is the usual Nordic chick, and King of Kong Island doesn’t even bother trying. Still, it’s a new spin on the formula, and I commend it. I also commend what the makeup department has done with Barros’s face, which is to make her look as though she’s wearing no makeup at all. For once we have a sexy savage who doesn’t apparently have a home delivery deal worked out with Revlon. None of that serves to make King of Kong Island any less stupid on the whole than your average jungle girl movie (in fact, this is one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen), but in this business, you have to take your hints of cleverness where you find them.