King Kong Lives (1986) – Review

The year is 1986 and it’s been ten years since we were treated to the big budget remake of King Kong, and the eagerly awaited sequel has finally made it to the big screen…okay maybe not so eagerly awaited, and maybe what memories we have of the 1976 remake aren’t all that fond, but they’d get it right this time…wouldn’t they? In the director’s chair again is John Guillermin, and we ask ourselves did he learn anything in those ten years between Kongs? (The answer is a big no) My guess is he really needed another paying gig after Sheena did so well for him. I’m just confused as to the reasoning behind the choice of stories for this outing, why make a sequel were Kong survived the 110 story plunge from the World Trade Center, because if you want to make ridiculous and campy story about a giant ape why not remake Son of Kong? As it is King Kong Lives gives the Toho productions of King Kong Vs Godzilla and King Kong Escapes a run for their money in sheer goofiness, aside from a better ape suit there really isn’t anything that makes this movie stand apart from its Japanese cousins.

Is this poster seriously referencing the divine spark from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel?

The movie starts with recapping the last few minutes of the 1976 film; we see Kong climbing the Twin Towers, Kong getting gunned down by helicopters, and then falling 1,368 feet to the streets below.  We hear Kong’s heart thudding as the screen fades to black, very dramatic, and then we jump ahead ten years to the Atlanta Institute in Georgia where Kong has apparently been having a nice long nap. The steady beating heart we hear tells us that yes Kong is alive if not well.

That a vertebrate could fall that height and the result be just a coma is a little on the remarkable side, and it would have been nice if they’d mentioned that in the intervening years the team of doctors and scientist had some how managed to repair broken bones, perform simian brain surgery, all the things that would be required to get Kong up on his feet.  But according to this film all you need to recover from such a high fall is an artificial heart.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h07m18s078“And this thing is powered by a Yamaha engine.”

The head of the Kong medical team is Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton), mankind’s last hope, and we see her quickly brief her superiors with some bad news, though the 7 million dollar artificial heart that had constructed works fine Kong has been in a coma to long, and his blood has gotten to weak for him to survive the surgery. So he needs a blood transfusion and being there is no other species on the planet like Kong he is doomed. “Only one thing can save Kong,” Amy states. “A miracle.” Or a complete ridiculous plot contrivance, which if course is what we get as we are whisked away to the jungles of Borneo where we meet our hero Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) as he decides to take a break from his hiking through dense tropical bush by unsuspectingly taking a nap in the hand of a forty foot ape.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h20m43s618All giant apes are bit grabby.

Luckily he is blonde, this does seem to be a weakness amongst giant simians, and the big ape falls for him, literally as he is saved by some blow gun toting natives (If only she spoke Hovitos), and keels over as she is riddled with poison darts. No big surprise here that this Kong turns out to be a female of the species, but when he tries to sell the ape to the Atlanta Institute Amy almost ruins the deal as she thinks having a girl ape around could complicate Kong’s recovery. She is of course overruled and Lady Kong is flown to Georgia on plane that looks barely big enough to carry Mighty Joe Young, and certainly not big enough for a Kong sized beast.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h35m05s559That’s what you get for flying economy.

Let’s take a break here and ask the all important question, what does a university want with a giant ape?  Is this something that will get the school bigger grants and larger donations from their alumni? Will have Kong bring such prestige to this university that student will turn down scholarships to Harvard, Princeton or Yale because those schools don’t have a huge simian?   Dr. Andrew Ingersoll (Peter Michael Goetz) tells the press, “This acquisition establishes beyond question the scientific preeminence of the Atlantic Institute.”   I’m sure all those other institutes of learning are just green with envy when they find out they’ve fallen behind in the giant ape category.

The operation is a success, with of course some overly dramatic moments, but soon King Kong is on the road to recovery. Trouble begins to brew immediately upon Kong awakening when he smells Lady Kong, who is being housed in a warehouse a mile away, and he goes right into “must mate mode.” What makes no sense is that Lady Kong suddenly starts sniffing for her male counterpart, as if she wasn’t able to catch his sent before.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h39m52s400“Doctor, his horny readings are off the charts!”

Kong starts jumping at the skylight, giving his cardiac system quite the work out, until Amy orders them to sedate him. That they have him restrained with wrist manacles on thirty foot long chains seem rather on the “unsafe” side and causes me to lose a little faith in this “scientific institute.”  Amy races over to complain to her superiors that Lady Kong must be moved as they can’t keep sedating Kong in his weakened condition. They tell her that within 48 hours Lady Kong will be in her new habitat but when it does come time to move her things do not go well. They try to use bulldozers and cargo nets to wrangle her onto a flatbed truck, but all that does is spook her, and she frantically tries to break free. Meanwhile Kong has awoken, snaps his chains as easily as he did ten years ago (you’d think they might have looked into a stronger method of holding him), and sensing Lady Kong’s distress heads to her rescue.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h51m51s953“Honey, let’s book it!”

Kong tears into the warehouse and starts kicking butt and taking names. While tearing Lady Kong free of the cargo nets someone gets the bright idea to have the bulldozers charge him.  Kong tosses them around like Tonka toys, and is aided by Mitchell who drop kicks one of the drivers. Then the army opens fire on Kong so Mitchell drives a jeep into them. Both Mitchell and Amy break the law so many times in this movie that they shouldn’t see the light of day for at least fifty years. After making goo-goo eyes at each other amidst the chaos the two apes make their escape, with Kong sweeping his lady of her feet.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h52m16s529Lookout, they’re eloping!

Dr. Ingersoll runs up to Mitchell and yells, “Ignorant bastard, we could have stopped them!” Mitchell responds with, “Stopped them? You would have killed them!” So Mitchell accepts full responsibility for letting two giant apes just wander off into the world. What’s it to him if they cause untold damages and death.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h54m24s517So this guy’s our hero?

With the army mobilized to take down the escaped apes Amy and Mitchell team up to save them. Amy tells Mitchell that the army man in charge, a cigar chomping Colonel Nevitt (John Ashton), has orders to shoot anyone who crosses the perimeter.  That seems rather extreme and I’m pretty sure the army is not allowed to shoot civilians unless martial law has been declared, but then again I’m just a Canadian what do I know. Colonel Nevitt orders gas mask be given to all his men as they plan to gas the big apes, a rather rational solution, and one I’m not sure our heroes could argue with.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-21h57m19s329Hi, I’m the film’s stock military asshole.

Meanwhile up in the hills it’s monkey courtship time. Kong tries to win over his lady with offers a trees and a nice little snake (going by the scale of course the snake in his hand would have to be an anaconda, not something you’d expect to see in the hills of Georgia), but Lady Kong is playing hard to get. Kong then goes for the sympathy angle and starts to limp and point at his injured leg. This works and while being tended to Kong even manages to cop a feel.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h00m21s812Monkey Love.

After evading army roadblocks, patrols, and helicopters (in a scene I hope they didn’t purposely intend to resemble Close Encounters of the Third Kind) our heroes finally catch up to the apes. Night has fallen and both couples decide to hunker done until morning, because an army outfitted with trained rangers and air support shouldn’t be able to find a pair of forty foot apes. I’m really not sure what plans Mitchell and Amy have come up with, maybe sneaking the two Kongs out dressed as the Jolly Green Giant and Mrs. Green Giant?

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h03m06s264More monkeying around.

After a night of hot monkey love (both Kong and Mitchell get lucky) Kong, while getting breakfast for his mate, spots the army as they move in and gas Lady Kong.  This is certainly nicer treatment than what the army has used in the past against big apes in the past.  Kong sees his lady love pass out, and about to be carried away in a big net, so he charges the army in all his aped out fury. More choppers drop gas on Kong, but to no effect, and then grenades are lobbed in front of him to give the troops time to airlift Lady Kong away. The army then returns to form and move in to kill Kong.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h10m56s836Note: It is never explained why the army wanted to capture Lady Kong but kill the male.

They corner Kong atop a hill overlooking a river chasm while our heroes steal an army jeep (Will their reign of terror never cease?), but they are quickly captured (Yeah!). Just as Colonel Nevitt orders his men to open fire Kong leaps into the chasm and after bashing his head on a rock he disappears under the raging water. Amy’s remote heart monitor confirms that Kong is dead.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h15m23s713Double Rainbows!

Many months later we find Lady Kong under guard at a military base in what looks like a missile silo. She won’t eat and just sits around moaning. When Amy is finally allowed to see her, the reason Lady Kong is upset is made clear, “She feels something. Kong is alive.” When Nevitt says that’s crazy, she responds with, “I feel it too.” This, in my opinion, makes her crazy. Her colleague informs her that Kong would need a thousand pounds of food a day, and out of his natural habitat or captivity he just couldn’t survive.  Of course Amy is right, but what has Kong been eating all these months? Well apparently alligators (in the wide shots they used a cute baby alligator for the guy in the ape suit to pick up, and then cut to a close up of an adult gators ugly puss), though that can’t be his whole diet as I’m not sure that the glades could support a thousand pound a day gator habit.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h20m58s571Kong totally decimates the local alligator population.

Then one night, while resting amongst a pile of alligator bones, he hears the call of his lost love.  Mitch himself hasn’t been idle as he returns with a deed to wildlife preserve in Borneo that should solve all their problems, but the army doesn’t want to turn the ape over, and they can’t even get in to see Colonel Nevitt. When refused entry into the base Mitch knocks the guard aside and storms in only to be quickly beaten into submission by a couple of soldiers.  Once again our heroes don’t really go for the well thought out plan route.  I’m not sure what he was going to do if he made all the way to Lady Kong.  Sneak out under his coat?  Now is he arrested for assault and for trespassing on a military base? Nope, just escorted back to their truck.  I guess the military has a soft spot for morons.

Finally Kong can no longer withstand the distant moaning of his mate and he becomes Ape-of-Action. Heading out of the swamp the big lug has to peak in a window to watch a couple of teen-agers making (maybe he’s looking for tips), but this result in alerting the community, and soon he’s up to his neck in redneck hunting parties…or more accurately up to his neck in rocks as one drunk hunting group dynamites a rock slide, burying Kong in rubble. Then in a scene reminiscent of the original Mighty Joe Young they give Kong liquor and try to burn him. The results are the same, one really pissed off giant ape as he tears one of the hunters in two and eats the other.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h26m07s359At no point do I see our plan going badly.

Unfortunately a diet of gators and drunken rednecks, plus having a mountain dropped on him, has not done Kong any good, and his heart won’t last a day. Now Colonel Nevitt isn’t one to wait around for Kong to die of a heat attack, and he ignores orders to capture Kong alive and sends his many to head off Kong and kill the big ape.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h29m44s015Note: There is one brilliant bit in this movie, and that is when Kong wanders on to a golf course and gets hit in the head with a golf ball. Which must be a homage to the gorilla in The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

That night Kong sneaks up and ambushes the army (who knew forty foot apes could be so stealthy), while our heroes sneak into the base to rescue Lady Kong. Mitch and Amy are able to make their way down to Lady Kong’s silo, with only a couple if idiot guards to knock unconscious, where they are shocked to find the ape to be pregnant. They activate the platform that serves as the base of the silo and slowly bring Lady Kong to the surface, but just then one of the guards stops the platform and begins to close the silo doors. Panicking Lady Kong picks up Mitch and howls with sorrow, but before the silo door can shut completely Kong arrives, tears it open, and helps his lady love out. The two apes take off for the hills with Amy in hot pursuit (in a stolen army truck which she drives through the perimeter fence), because her boyfriend is still in Lady Kong’s hand and there is no telling how jealous a forty foot age could get.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h33m54s435Kong ole pal, we’re just friends.

The Kongs crash a square-dance/family reunion, and Lady Kong plops down into the barn to give birth. While in labor the army arrives and Kong rushes out to defend his lady. The battle is pretty brutal with the army just ripping bloody chunks out of Kong, but the big guy does get in a few licks of his own as he tosses tanks and jeeps every witch way, and this is where Nevitt meets his end under Kong’s fist.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h37m20s856That he pounds him into the ground in a graveyard is kind of funny.

Kong’s heart finally gives out and he collapses next to the barn but he lives long enough to see the birth of his son. Now the scale here is completely whacked as the son is smaller Kong’s hand.  It’s comparable to a woman giving birth to a baby the size of a Barbie doll.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h40m54s970I think a paternity test would prove this little guy is Mitch’s son.

Kong dies, sad music plays, and our two heroes walk off into the sunrise. We then cut to Borneo where Kong Junior is swinging on a vine through the jungle like Tarzan and then the credits roll. What I wanted was another epilogue showing Amy and Mitchell getting arrested as I’m sure breaking into a military base and assaulting the personnel is not taken lightly.

vlcsnap-2016-05-07-22h46m18s898Maybe our heroes are hiding out in the jungle with Son of Kong.

Why ten years after the 1976 remake the producers thought we needed to see more adventures of Kong is truly a mystery to me, and if they were going to go with such an idiotic and goofy a script they could have at least made it more fun by adding a fire breathing monster or possibly a robot Kong. It certainly couldn’t have hurt.

Mike Brooks

Mike Brooks

Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.