FEATURE: Sequel! - King Kong Lives

Everyone, please give a hearty welcome to Charlie, joining us at Assorted Buffery to share his love for all things sequels. There'll be laughter, there'll be tears, there'll be unbound enthusiasm.


Sequels! Everyone loves them. Okay, maybe they don't. But I am a massive fan, probably too much. I love them to bits, even the really stupid ones, and I can't deny that, or put it down to a silly "guilty pleasure" excuse. That said, some of them are really dreadful, but I wanted to start writing about some of these movies, good or bad, and see if you can't catch some of my enthusiasm. Or at least if that happens, you can call me a jerk in the comments. Today's sequel is a corker, a sequel to a film nobody really likes, that itself was a remake of a beloved classic. Get ready for terrible dialogue, even worse characterisation, and one giant monkey heart, because King Kong LIVES.


John Guillermin's King Kong Lives came out in 1986, and was a surprise to everyone, not least because the distributors spent very little effort on marketing it, but also because it's called King Kong Lives. Lives. King Kong, the famous tragic ape who fell to his death after falling in love with a human. What next, Romeo & Juliet Are Alive? Now the box for King Kong Lives has various quotes from websites saying how it's so bad that it's good, and DVD label Scanbox are totally playing this up, which is a big red flag. There are many other red flags to warn you about this movie along the way, so if you miss one, don't worry, another will be along shortly.

One of the red flags here is the menu screen, which tries to pretend is from a far better movie. The actual DVD cover has a reasonably cool image of the Kong suit from the film grabbing a jeep, but when you fire the disc up, you get the same image, only the Kong suit has been replaced by the ape from Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of Kong. Brazen copyright theft ahoy! At least it's thematic. The next red flag is the opening logo, which belongs to DEG aka De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, which is movie language for stay the fuck away from this movie. While infamous Italian megaproducer De Laurentiis is famous for making films with Fellini, he spent decades after that putting out films like, well, King Kong Lives.

The film opens with a recap of the end of the 1976 remake of King Kong, starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges and directed by Guillermin, showing him get downed by attack helicopters while Jeff Bridges looks on in horror, probably because he looked in the mirror and saw that he'd been made up like Teen Wolf. I've made my peace with the '76 film, but I still realise it pretty much sucks, so you wonder how much worse can King Kong Lives be? 

Hmm. Well, the first movie had a giant ape who terrorised New York, even though he didn't really do much throughout the whole film. This movie has apes that make googly eyes and kissyfaces at each other. You do the math. It also features Sgt Taggart from Beverly Hills Cop as its major antagonist, an army dude named Archie. Seriously. KKL's leads are Brian Kerwin - who I have never heard of beyond this movie - and Linda Hamilton. Yep, Sarah Connor. I have this theory that Hamilton actually believes in killer cyborgs, because she has been absolutely unconvincing in every other movie she has been in that wasn't called Terminator. Here she's a surgeon in charge of giving Kong a heart transplant with a giant robot heart, but she needs fresh blood for a transfusion. By an amazing coincidence, Kerwin is a rough jungle type who finds a giant female ape - credited as Lady Kong - and sells her to the institute where Hamilton works.

So they ship her back to the US, and Kong gets a new heart. This is actually the best scene in the film, just through sheer absurdity. They show all these surgeons and nurses with giant forceps and sponges, and there's a twenty-foot blood bag which had me cracking up with laughter, just from the very concept. Hamilton opens Kong up with the kind of surgical saw that would give Leatherface a full-on robot chubby, and it's almost a horror homage as the blood sprays on her as she cuts the poor bastard opens. Then they pull the heart out, and wow, it's an actual GIANT APE HEART. The effects at this point are pretty good, and you can believe you're watching a hairy Gulliver get a new heart from the Lilliputians. The robot heart is brought in, and it looks like one of the hearts from the faux-advert in RoboCop. But it's installed safely - there are shots from inside Kong as the heart is brought in which made me fall in love a bit with this movie in a really strange way - and he's back to business.

Unfortunately, he really needs to get laid. The tagline for this movie was 'America's Biggest Hero Is Back... and He Is Not Happy', when instead it should have ended with '... and He Is Uber-Horny'. You see, the idiot science people have placed the female far too close to Kong, and he can smell her and wants what she's cooking, so he busts out of his house and smashes down the warehouse she's been stored in, and this is when you find out that King Kong Lives is one of those movies where a car will fall on its side and instantly explode into a giant fireball. As Kong tries to rescue Lady Kong from the evil people, a bunch of constructicons and other vehicles try and fence them in and shoot them, only for the apes to, well, go ape. I swear, every shot in this scene has a car exploding, it's like the Rosetta Stone for Michael Bay.

The apes run for the hills, with the army and Hamilton and Kerwin in hot pursuit. It's worth noting that this movie from now on in gets a thousand times more excruciating due to the two romance plots - Kong and Lady Kong, and Hamilton and Kerwin. The former is at least a little bit less sickening, but I suppose it's a bit more palatable to see humans fuck than giant apes. After Lady Kong washes a boo-boo on Kong's leg and they make all kinds of weird faces, Kong wanders off and the female is captured by evil army man Sgt Taggart. Sadly, Rosewood is not around to calm him down and he ends up just wanting to exterminate the apes for no reason other than the plot demands an antagonist.

This is the thing - in this movie, Kong is our hero. To be fair, he's way more dimensional than any of the human characters, although I can't get behind him when he steps on a beautiful Lamborghini Countach. Dude, I know they took your chick, but really, let's think things through. 

Thanks to Den of Geek for this particularly fine screenshot

Taggart pens up Lady Kong in this silo and inevitably Kong comes along and busts her out, and while they're on the run, Hamilton pops up with a massive shocked look and says OMG SHE'S PREGNANT. Of course, we all figured this out an hour ago. So Kong not only has a lady to look out for, but also his bloodline. After kicking around with some rednecks, they crash a square dance (seriously) so Lady Kong can use the barn to give birth. Of course, Taggart shows up and he and Kong have their final confrontation in a cemetary, which ends with Taggart smashed into someone's grave. The poor guy (the dead guy, not Taggart).

Unfortunately, Kong was fatally wounded, but is kept alive long enough for Kong Jr. to be born. The death scene is so weird, he's cuddling his kid, then suddenly lies down and dies. I don't know if they thought 'well we made such a fuss of him dying last time and then he went and got a robot heart, so fuck it', but it's very odd. The film ends with The Widow Kong and her son in Borneo, showing that indeed, life will find a way, assuming you have the millions of dollars it takes to finance a heart transplant for a giant ape.
King Kong Lives is terrible in just about every way. The acting sucks, with Taggart the only person in the film who seems to recognise the kind of film he's making. Sorry, only human, as both Kong and Lady Kong do okay. It's hard to say exactly what is the worst thing about the film, it's inept in every way, from the booooring photography to the writing to the hilariously out of place score, which treats every moment as if it's the climax of E.T. In fact, I know what's the worst thing - it's that they have two giant apes, and yet everything is so dull. This should be wall-to-wall killer ape action, but instead it's the primate equivalent of 50 First Dates

So good things, good things... Um. Well, as I mentioned earlier the heart transplant scene is pretty cool, mainly because it has King Kong getting a heart transplant. To be fair to Peter and George, the actors playing the two apes, they actually make a vague attempt to make the apes apelike, including walking on their knuckles in scenes. I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or not, but when Kong goes on a rampage it gets pretty violent, with him biting heads off. Saying that, there's a scene where he eats an alligator, and it's the worst case of bait and switch since the mum in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka being replaced by a dude with a tache. Basically he picks up a baby alligator, and then it cuts to a close-up where it's an adult, then back to the baby as he munches down. This scene kind of sums up this film really. It tries every trick in the book to be as cheap as possible, and manages this pretty easily.

So yeah, there are very few things to recommend about King Kong Lives. It's a dreadful movie, and while I laughed a few times at its ineptitude, I was thoroughly bored. Really, if you're going to spend two hours on a movie, there are thousands of better choices. Even if you want a kaiju movie, just watch one of the many Godzilla movies, even the worst is better than this shit. That's right - Even Zilla '98 is better than King Kong Lives. And that movie has P Diddy on the soundtrack.

- Charlie

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