King Kong Lives (1986)
Arriving a full decade after producer Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 monster hit, its too-little, too-late sequel, King Kong Lives, was DOA at the box office. Director John Guillermin returned; audiences did not. The entire landscape of cinema had changed in that 10-year gap, and it shows in the new film’s opening. As if an acknowledgment that too much time had passed, Lives begins with a reminder: the ending of Kong ’76. As you’ll recall, the giant ape plunged from the World Trade Center to his death below, as Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges feigned horror.
But lo and behold — guess what! He’s not dead! In fact, King K– oh, you knew already. Yeah, the title does kinda spoil it, huh?
But how did he survive? Obviously, the big galoot was peeled off the New York sidewalks and airlifted to the Atlanta Institute of Georgia, where Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) is among the team of doctors performing emergency surgery on Kong — specifically, the implantation of a $7 million artificial heart approximately the size of a Yugo. Problem: Kong also needs a blood transfusion, but no species is a match, y’know?
Cut to: the jungles of Borneo, where intrepid adventurer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin, It Came from Outer Space II) happens upon a second giant ape, this one with a vagina and floppy breasts. Brokering a quick deal, Mitchell has Lady Kong (as the credits call her) hauled to Hotlanta pronto. At least one oversized plasma bag later, Kong’s as good as new … and horny as hell. (Considering his inability to seal the deal with Lange’s Dwan, one can imagine the level of pent-up sexual frustration must be out-of-your-gourd maddening.) No matter how far they hide Lady Kong, ol’ King can detect her musky, matted-fur scent … and it drives him bananas! He breaks loose to run away with her in the wild, where they enjoy such romantic encounters of picking ticks off each other.
Primate-on-primate bliss is short-lived as the meddling military gets involved. Hank and Amy combine jungle wits and shoulder pads to save the Kongs from this ever-present threat of the feds, not to mention redneck hunters, whose appearance confirms that King Kong Lives has veered into self-parody without even realizing it.
As silly as the guys in the gorilla suits are (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan veterans Peter Elliott and George Antoni) as they cuddle and snuggle and romp about green-screened backgrounds, they are better actors than our main characters. Kerwin is bereft of leading-man magnetism, while Hamilton cannot even utter “shit” with any conviction. Maybe it’s just me, but that single-syllable word should be a cinch against ludicrous lines of dialogue like “We’re not lancing a hemorrhoid here!”
Believe it or not, the shit-silly Toho and Rankin/Bass co-production King Kong Escapes is doubly serious by comparison — mind you, that’s the one in which Kong battles a giant-robot version of himself. King Kong Lives, however, is the only movie I’m aware of featuring an African-American youth waving the Confederate flag in celebration … so it’s got that going for it. —Rod Lott