Trail Mix: Monkeys at the Movies

“Takes you where Planet of the Apes never dared!”

Trail Mix takes a look at classic movie trailers from years past to explore their relationship (however sometimes tenuous) to the films themselves and to the movie promotion of today.

With fresh installments in both the King Kong and Planet of the Apes canon on their way to theaters, the Ape is truly the pop culture king once again. Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) and the last two films in the POTA reboot series, Rise (2011) and Dawn (2014) respectively, were triumphs both critically and commercially, but the simian road to silver screen stardom hasn’t always been a smooth one. Here are just a few of our favorite chimp flicks that are less “Andy Serkis” and more “a fucking circus”…

Time of the Apes (1987)

Originally a 26 episode 1974 TV Series by Ultraman creators Tsuburaya Productions, obviously cresting on the wave of worldwide Ape Mania after the late 60’s/early 70’s production of the original five “classic” POTA films, “Saru No Gundan” (“Army of Apes“) was subsequently discovered by noted schlockmeister Sandy Frank and shoehorned onto American VHS in 1987 as a truncated, barely coherent 90 minute feature.

As you can see, the, let’s say, thriftiness that Tsuburaya’s rubber suited Kaiju creators applied to their ape-craft pales in comparison to that of groundbreaking, Oscar winning special effects visionary John Chambers, and they’ve packed some kids in the mix, so TOTA can double as a sort-of Sid and Marty Krofft ripoff as well.

“Hey, hey we’re some monkeys.”

Time is probably best known as one of the most popular targets of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Joel and the Bots were so compelled by this Japanese monkey business that they lampooned the film not once but twice, both during their initial cable access run and their stint on Comedy Central. Sandy Frank’s “productions” were such a gold mine for the gang in the early days that they even penned a song in his “honor”.

Sandy Frank wasn’t all bad though, after all it was he who spearheaded the campaign to bring the original Gatchaman (AKA Battle For The Planets) to US shores in the late 70’s, though it was reportedly less due to the material’s artistic and cultural significance and more because he was looking to piggyback on the success of Star Wars. Good thing he never got his hands on The Man Who Saved The World.

 

Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear (1988)

Zombie godfather George A. Romero is one of the most seminal, influential and prolific blue collar independent filmmakers of all time, so of course when he first decided to work within the traditional Hollywood studio system, during the coke fueled 80’s and at the height of the Freddy and Jason led VHS slasher boom, things got a little hairy.

No one told you life was gonna be this way.

Speaking of “a little hairy”, the would-be slasher icon at the center of Shines, Ella, cuts a swath of stabbing, burning and poisoning through this one that would make your late 90’s McFarlane Toys collection jealous. But the bloody, campy elements that Orion Pictures surely thought would lead to huge video rental numbers are constantly at odds with the more pensive, Hitchcockian meditation on the grief and loss of a disabled accident victim (shades of Rear Window) that auteur Romero was obviously trying to create. This makes for an ultimate viewing experience just as unstable and schizophrenic as the damn dirty ape at the center of all the film’s incongruous pulp carnage.

 

Congo (1995)

The premise was simple: Jurassic Park, but with Gorillas, written by JP mastermind Michael Crichton himself and directed by frequent Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall. Unfortunately a convoluted plot involving lost cities and powerful ancient diamonds, alongside the Poochie-esque proto-Jar Jar shtick of talking ape Amy, fell absolutely flat with critics and completely swept that year’s Golden Raspberry Awards.

 

“If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say”.

The film has garnered a strong cult following since then though, thanks to being peppered with great performances from nerd favorite ringers like Bruce Campbell, Joe Don Baker, Ernie Hudson and Tim Curry, and the movie made surprisingly decent money for Paramount that summer, earning 150 million on a budget of just 50. Still, the public’s perception of the film as an embarrassing flop of Last Action Hero proportions, both then and now, kill any possible franchise aspirations, probably the reason why we’re nearing the release of a 5th Jurassic Park installment and 2 Congo 2 Furious: The Rise of Amy is just a dream in the hearts of fan fiction writers.

Ook! Do you have any poop flinging favorites that we left out? Let us know in the comments or on Social Media!

 

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.
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