It’s awful, it’s terrible, it’s difficult to watch — but it’s finally available in its original 3-D, in the improved Space-Vision process. A giant monkey attacks Seoul, trashing cardboard buildings, toy boats and a dead shark (and it’s not shamming). Keep a good movie on hand to rinse this one away immediately afterwards. Not recommended for people taking prescription medication. If simians persist, consult your doctor.
KL Studio Classics
1976 / Color / 2:35 widescreen 3-D / 87 min. / ‘Attacking Primate monstEr’ / Street Date February 28, 2017 / 29.95
Starring Joanna Kerns, Alex Nicol, Rod Arrants, Nak-hun Lee.
Cinematography Tony Francis, Daniel L. Symmes
Editor Paul Leder
Original Music Bruce McRae
Written byPaul Leder, Reuben Leder
Produced by Paul Leder, K.M. Leung
Directed by Paul Leder
They say home video 3-D is in trouble, but viewers properly equipped are presently experiencing a renaissance in retrofitted and refurbished 3-D features. Although a couple of studios have dabbled in 3-D for older titles, the pre-eminent purveyors of class act 3-D restoration are Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz at the agreeably obsessive 3-D Film Archive. I believe that film expert and exhibitor Jack Theakston is involved as well. The 3DFA has been responsible for restoring and adapting scores of vintage features and short subjects to today’s 3-D Blu-ray format, working for small companies and big studios alike. Furmanek and Kintz can talk one’s ears off about the various ways to align old left/right 3-D pairs. They can explain why Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon disc is superb on dry land but a little lacking in the underwater footage. They’ve also rendered in excellent Polaroid 3-D features seen before only in inferior Anaglyphic red-green 3-D, like Kino’s The Mask.
I’ve felt burned by some theatrical 3-D experiences, where even some Los Angeles exhibitors were soon cutting down on the brightness of screens. Movie 3-D now seems limited to animated cartoons and comic book sagas where the depth is confected as part of the visual effects process. One of the good things about older 3-D pictures is that the depth illusion is organic, created with simple optics. Movies like Inferno and even a cheapie like GOG impress us with depth images with ’rounded’ characters, where the 3-D is more than flat cards stacked in a diorama box. It’s the alignment that makes the difference, and the 3DFA boys pride themselves on fixing misaligned shots. Sometimes, the negative cutters on a 3-D film would somehow reverse the left and right ‘eyes’ for a brief shot, giving the 3-D restorers an opportunity for a big fix.
The newest 3-D home systems have been a revelation, with passive 3-D glasses the same as used in theaters, at a price of $15 or so for four pair. The alignment and brightness is excellent, and there’s none of the frail technical complexity had in older, heavier ‘active’ glasses with battery operated shutters.
Once upon a time we had to wait for rare 3-D screenings and then hope that the engineers had good luck aligning the projectors. Nope, home 3-D users can really enjoy the format now.
This brings us to the feature film at hand. Remember the true story about South Korean actors kidnapped by the dictator of North Korea, and forced to perform in films for him? Maybe that’s just a cover story, and the actors were just trying to get out of their commitment to appear in this movie.
Kukje Movies and Lee Ming Film Co.’s A*P*E didn’t wait for the 3-D boom of the early ’80s but was instead concocted to cash in on the De Laurentiis King Kong, imitating the ploy of remora-like Italian productions that were presently ripping off Spielberg’s Jaws. I remember seeing a giant trade show ad for A*P*E in 1976 and wondering if it were a joke. I don’t remember the film ever being released here.
The world doesn’t need me to sound the alert that A*P*E isn’t a good picture… it’s bad, awful and genuinely stinkeroo in almost every department. The producers were wise to hire the Space-Vision 3-D system, for without it nobody would have given the movie a chance. Even with what looks like middling cooperation from the South Korean military, the show still comes off as a backyard production, with terrible writing, direction, acting and dialogue. Somebody seems to have had the idea that military men have to say ‘shit’ a lot to sound real, and most of the lines in this movie grate on the ears like sandpaper. The Anglo actors on the whole come off worse than the Korean nationals. Guest star Alex Nicol is the only name; his acting is so nervous and erratic that we theorize that the producers were holding his children for ransom.
The story is a generic giant ape monster movie bore. The big gorilla is being transported by toy boat (his origin is fumbled in some bad back-story exposition) when he escapes in the dark and wanders ashore. We then spend the next 80 minutes watching frustrated military forces try to keep up with the big monkey. What’s his thespic motivation? He’s enamored of Marilyn Baker (Joanne Kerns), a U.S. movie star making a film in Korea, and follows her from the countryside right into Seoul. Various foes and obstacles block his path — a giant snake, a giant shark, jets, tanks — but nothing stops him. He’s finally cornered for a drawn-out finale. Very drawn out, as in interminable.
The live-action production might be okay if the film were competently directed or edited, but what we see are slow-paced dialogue scenes, and lots of footage where military men arrive at a town or bridge, look through field glasses, and regret that they aren’t ready to engage in combat.
The monkey suit looks like a hand-me-down, perhaps imported from Japan and not like any I’ve seen in a stateside movie. The reddish brown fur looks matted, as if it’s been in storage awhile, giving the whole ape the look of a stained bathroom floor mat we should have thrown out years ago. The actor’s eyes in the suit’s eye holes are so obvious, that we expect Alec Nicol’s Colonel Davis to report that he’s tracking the Amazing Colossal Man, who for some reason is wearing a Halloween costume. The ape actor isn’t billed, but his performance during action scenes has only two phases — stepping on cardboard buildings in the most bored way possible, and waving his arms like crazy. During the film’s lo-o-ong finale he waves those arms non-stop, prompting me to think of backing him with ’60s go-go discotheque music — he really appears to be doing the Swim and the Hully Gully.
At one point the monkey monster claps his hands in joy at the sight of a hang-glider (toy) that flies over his head. And later, he gives his pursuers the finger in an unmistakable gesture. Art-film aficionados may be moved by the symbolism of this iconic, seminal, downright rude moment: the monkey is doing to the army what the filmmakers are doing to their audience.
The basic filmmaking effort expended on A*P*E is so lacking that at one point after a dialogue exchange we hear the word “okay..” just before a scene change. The sound editor left in the first half of the director saying, “okay, cut.” Unbelievable.
Alex Nicol looks lost, and star Joanna Kerns is just terrible as the Fay Wray substitute; I’m happy to report that this first assignment didn’t keep her from having a busy career. Ditto Rod Arrants, who turns out not be a fake name but a real actor with scores of TV credits. Rod’s hero Tom Rose basically chases around with the ROK boys in green, looking concerned at all times. He also dashes in to rescue the actress once or twice, when the big ape puts her down. He basically follows the same direction given to Danish actor Bent Mejding in the old monster movie Reptilicus — “look good, don’t pick your nose, and stare off-screen a lot with a serious look on your face.” Joanna Kerns’ best moment sees her screaming in the grip of the monkey, pausing just long enough to say, “Be tender, big fella,” and then screaming again.
The effects are basic miniatures work that doesn’t blend at all with the live action. I mentioned the toy boats up front, but this ape also tangles with the body of a (dead?) shark and an unimpressive snake. The producers mock up a lot of miniature-golf hills and landscapes, but the monkey doesn’t react with them well, and the camera angles chosen often emphasize the fakery. When the ape invades towns we see many miniature buildings that fill the screen but look exactly like what they are. We can see that a lot of work was involved, but when the ape takes to smashing them they fold and break up just like they were hollow cardboard boxes. Elsewhere the monkey man is pelted with fireworks and powder explosions that look painful but not dynamic or exciting. There doesn’t appear to be any high-speed 3-D work, to give the monkey scale. The worst effects show the ape bashing toy helicopters and jets. The resulting effects look almost exactly like my 6th grade home movies, smashing model kits in 8mm.
This brings us to the 3-D, which is technically good although hampered again by a lack of direction, dynamic blocking, exciting compositions, etc. The 3DFA informs us that the producers hired the superior Space-Vision 3-D rig developed by Colonel Robert V. Bernier for use in Arch Oboler’s 1966 The Bubble. A single-system rig, it laid down a pair of stacked widescreen images only two perfs tall, just like Techniscope except that the frames alternate between the left and right eye views. What might be lost in sharpness is gained in stability, with the two images locked together.
The problem comes in the miniature scenes. There’s little or no depth of field except in bright broad daylight, but more telling is the way the 3-D system used betrays the real scale of what’s in front of the camera. When we look down a street with a low angle past the miniature buildings, the visual clues tell us that we’re seeing a view just a couple of feet across, as if we were peeking past a desk at ankle level. In other words, we don’t for a minute have a chance of believing anything we’re seeing, even on a theoretical plane. A satire trying to look fake couldn’t do worse than this. But the subject isn’t really worth an argument – fine points of effects don’t matter when the filming is this poor. In one shot the ape monster steps over what is obviously a toy cow.
The director does make sure that things are constantly being poked at the camera, a trick that the excellent Space-Vision optics do even better than the rigs used on old movies like House of Wax. In my screening I experienced real eyestrain in the final scene, when the director chose to alternate angles on the monkey, with shots in which soldiers poke their gun muzzles right up to the lens. Each time the barrel approached I felt my eyes cross and my toes curl. And the &%#*@ director does it at least four or five times in a row. It’s ‘Enhanced Interrogation 3-D.’
KL Studio Classics’ 3-D Blu-ray of A*P*E: Attacking Primate monstEr is a solid presentation of this for-laughs-only aberration in the history of giant monster fantasy. It’s obviously for 3-D enthusiasts that want to see everything, but also for fantasy completists, ape fetishists and masochists.
Bob Furmanek doesn’t need to be defensive about his team’s work, as the 3-D in A*P*E is quite good. He and Greg Kintz re-aligned the ‘eyes’ to optimize the depth, and brought back most of the faded color. They applied some tricks to minimize the fat splice marks, but could do only so much with the storm of surface blemishes, splice glue stains, bubbles that might be under splicing tape, etc. They aren’t obtrusive and only make the movie look more organic.
We were shocked to see that the main title sequence has the titles printed only on one eye — they disappear when that eye is closed. And for some reason the frequent ‘hair in the gate’ camera flaws all appear to be just on one side as well — we were going to give that camera crew a low performance review until we realized that there’s only one camera and one strip of film. Maybe the hairs got caught in the mirrors and prisms of Space-Vision’s ‘trioptiscope lens.’ A great deal more about the development of the camera rig can be read at the 3DFA’s article on The Bubble.
Kino gives A*P*E a commentary by Chris Alexander, whose earlier track for Curse of the Faceless Man didn’t appeal. This track is more of the same. Chris starts with a detailed rundown of his resume, gets the very first special effect wrong (sheesh, they’re both toy boats!) and then drifts around for the rest of the running time with info from the IMDB, sketchy explanations of 3-D and frequent admissions that he doesn’t know much about the movie. Alexander’s guest commentator is film collector Hilary Hess. She tries to defend the movie as worthy, and sounds sincere when she argues its merit as a fine example of ‘reflexive cinema.’ Ms. Hess does explain quite well the technical reason why this 3-D lens doesn’t work with miniatures — with Space-Vision, the distance between the left and right eye is fixed and can’t be scaled down. I have to agree that any viewer expecting a meaningful commentary for A*P*E deserves what they get, but this track mostly kills what fun can be derived from watching this show.
In the realm of international genre filmmaking A*P*E isn’t all that embarrassing until we compare it to better quality work. Just the same, A*P*E is pretty bad. Kino’s disc hasn’t much of a chance of winning awards, but the 3-D restoration we see shows real dedication.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A*P*E 3-D Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Awful — Leonard Pinth Garnel awful
Video: Very Good
3-D: Good when they’re not sticking things in your eyes
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Chris Alexander and Hilary Hess; extra trailers for 3-D discs from Kino.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: February 1, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson