Back in 1980, a book was released titled The Golden Turkey Awards which took aim at some of the worst movies ever made, including films by usual suspects like Ed Wood. In 1993, another publication took things a step further with Bad Movies We Love which poked fun at films that came from major studios and were expected to be above the cheaply made movies that were the easy targets to lampoon, something the Golden Rasperry Awards (aka The Razzies) carry on to this day.
Which brings us to the latest Blu-ray release from the estimable folks at Kino Lorber, A*P*E, one of the most bizarre giant monster movies you’ll ever see, with this release timed to the release of Kong: Skull Island. But this 1976 film is no Kong. It was actually rushed into production to beat the then just announced remake of King Kong, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, to the big screen. But as they say, haste makes waste and in this case haste produced a film that seems to have barely had a script, and once it became evident that the film was a disaster in the making, the director decided to have some fun with it.
The story of A*P*E (and the title’s specific style may have been a nod to the classic M*A*S*H which took place in Korea where A*P*E was filmed) opens with a tramp steamer somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The very smallish looking boat somehow holds a giant ape in its cargo hold — a giant ape that was just minding his own business in Brooklyn, New York, was captured and is now being transported to Disney World via a route near South Korea (!) – that breaks free and goes on a rampage except for when he’s just standing around and observing the locals. There is also a subplot about a movie being filmed with a popular actress, played by Joanna De Varona (who promptly changed her name to Joanna Kearns after this film was released), who is the movie’s Fay Wray / Jessica Lange stand-in. She, or a Barbie doll, gets carried away and the big ape destroys a lot of cardboard boxes set up like a city. A*P*E is ineptly hilarious, something you probably don’t want to see but really should … with a group of friends who can appreciate such badness of this magnitude.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray presentation of A*P*E is probably better than it really deserves to be, and they even went the extra mile to provide the preferred 3D version in addition to the flat version. The results are actually quite spectacular. The film image is sharp and colorful, revealing probably more detail than anyone really wanted, including a tear in the gorilla suit revealing the performer’s T-shirt underneath. And the 3D is actually quite spectacular for a movie of this vintage with no budget, using the new process of the time that employed a special prism lens that split the image into left and right on the same piece of film, making it cheaper to produce than a 1950s 3D movie that required two of everything (this method was later employed for the brief 3D fad in the mid-80s on movies like Friday the 13th Part III and Amityville 3D). There are some wonky 3D moments — for some reason the opening credits appear only on the left eye, and close-ups of faces give the heads much more depth than normal (a problem in the original shooting process, not with the disk presentation) — but overall, if you’re going to watch A*P*E, 3D is the way to go.
And as the film has more shots of the ape just standing around while people ignore him (kids on a playground seem to not notice the giant creature standing right there) or the military is throwing toy helicopters at him, dialog is sparse. The best way to watch A*P*E is in 3D with the bonus audio commentary (also available with the 2D version) from cult film authority Chris Alexander and historian Hillary Hess. Alexander does the bulk of the heavy lifting here, giving us some really valuable information about the director, the film’s production history, and some of his own disbelief at what he, and the viewers, are seeing on screen (Alexander helpfully points out that tear in the ape costume). Alexander’s commentary makes what could be unbearable much more enjoyable to watch and experience. One interesting point Alexander makes about the director Paul Leder is that he is the father of director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact), who acted as a second unit director on A*P*E. Hopefully Alexander will get his wish one day to speak with Ms. Leder about this film. The commentary is a valuable addition to this disk.
Unfortunately there are no other bonues pertaining to A*P*E on the disk. Instead, there are trailers for A*P*E and other 3D titles in their catalog including The Bubble, Gog, The Mask and September Storm. Unfortunately, none of the trailers are in 3D.
A*P*E may be a hard sell to the general consumer, but if you’re a real film buff and just enjoy movies no matter how good or bad they may be, or are a collector of 3D movies on Blu-ray, then this is a movie you should add to your collection.
Kino Lorber generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray copy of the film for reviewing purposes.