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Konga (1961) starring Michael Gough, Margo Johns
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Konga (1961) starring Michael Gough, Margo Johns

In Konga  – a doctor returns from Uganda with a carnivorous plant that he can use to enlarge animals – Konga, the chimpanzee, that he turns into a gorilla — and his own personal tool for murder.

Konga begins with Dr. Charles Decker (Michael Gough) seemingly perishing in a fiery plane crash in Uganda. A year later, he unexpectedly turns up alive, having escaped from the wreck and living with native villagers, who eventually help him return to western civilization, bringing with him a chimpanzee that led him to the village — named Konga.

Back home

Back home, he explains to his housekeeper/secretary/personal assistant Margaret (Margo Johns) of the discovery that he made there — the tribe’s witch doctor had a plant that he used to increase the size of animals — the doctor has brought samples of the plant back with him, and plans to grow them in his greenhouse — callously throwing out the plants that Margaret has been cultivating. It’s obvious to the audience that she has a long-time crush on the doctor — and that the doctor doesn’t reciprocate.

Shortly after, he is making his first extract from the plants, when Margaret’s kitty walks into the room, and starts to lick up the solution — and so the doctor shoots it with a pistol, not wanting a tiger-sized cat walking around the neighborhood.

Growth Spurt

Soon, the carnivorous plants are grown, and they’re feeding them some raw meat — and harvesting the leaves that are ready. Shortly afterward, the doctor injects Konga with a dose of the growth serum — his first dose. And Konga grows (with some rather cheesy special effects).

The doctor resumes lecturing, showing footage of the natives that he lived with, and afterward, he spends time with a pretty young lady that he wants to be his … personal assistant. The eager young student Sandra (Claire Gordon) thinks that he plans only to tutor her.  Soon, the doctor is having a not-quite-reprimand from the dean of the university (Austin Trevor), resulting from his interview with reporters on his return, about a close connection between plant and human evolution. The doctor’s sense of superiority doesn’t take well to this, and he leaves angrily.

Gorilla my dreams

A well-trained Konga brings a tray of tea down the stairs to Margaret, with the perturbed doctor snapping at her. Margaret tries to be soothing, but the doctor won’t hear of it.  And he’s determined to prove his theories to the Dean, and prepares to give Konga his next injection. After another cheesy special effect, Kong is now a full-sized gorilla — clearly a man in a gorilla suit, who frankly doesn’t know how to imitate a gorilla. The doctor uses a penlight to condition, and control, Konga. And he plans to use Konga to commit murder. “Tonight I’m taking Konga on his first test of obedience.”

First murder

Sure enough, later that night Konga breaks into the Dean’s office and murders him. Scotland Yard is soon on the case, and realizes that the raw death was done by an arm.  But an arm too powerful to be human. And they’ve found some black hairs on the back of the dead man’s neck …

Margaret soon confronts the doctor, accusing him of murder. “We killed Dean Foster. What are you going to do about it?” Margaret is so love-sick, that even with this knowledge, she can’t turn on him. The doctor goes on to justify the murder, equivocating the death of the Dean to the death of guinea pigs in scientific labs … since he wanted to test the ability of the serum to control the injected subject. What does Margaret want in exchange for her silence? Marriage. And the doctor agrees … at the end of the semester. And until then, she has to continue the pretense …

Second murder

The doctor bluffs his way through an interview with Scotland Yard as part of their investigation into the Dean’s death, and that evening he and Margaret host a dinner party. The doctor speaks with a fellow botanist, who as been working on similar lines, and goes to visit him after the party — at midnight. The jealous Dr. Decker is bound to hold onto the glory of his discovery for himself, and after a few moments of discussion, Konga’s arms reach behind and murder the unfortunate botanist, and proceed to trash his laboratory.  Then the mad scientist and his gorilla leave.

The following morning, after a pleasant breakfast with Margaret, Dr. Decker takes his class on a field trip, with all of the students crammed into the back of the van.  Except for Sandra, who sits up from with him, which Sandra’s boyfriend, Bob (Jess Conrad), doesn’t appreciate. In the front, the doctor attempts to let Sandra know he thinks of here as “more than a student,” which she doesn’t outwardly react to.  After they arrive, the doctor lectures on ferns, as Bob looks suspiciously at Sandra.  He is getting quite jealous, and asks Dr. Decker to leave Sandra alone. This leads to a private fight between them — and clearly, Bob is now on the doctor’s list of murder subjects.

Third murder

Later, Bob has dinner with his family, only to leave for his date with Sandra. As he’s preparing to leave on his motor scooter, Konga attacks, leaving the young man dead as his family rushes out. Konga runs off, and runs to the safety of the doctor’s van, eluding policemen. Scotland Yard investigates this latest murder, where they’re connecting the three murders connected to the university. At breakfast, Margaret confronts the doctor with his latest murder.

Margaret: [to Dr. Decker over breakfast] What are you having with your poached egg? Murder?

Despite the murders, Margaret still loves the doctor too much, and won’t leave him, or tell the police. Having been convinced of his personal danger — when the police finally catch him — Dr. Decker decides to destroy Konga.  Then he and Margaret can go back to Uganda and continue his experiments. In fact, he plans to go to Bob’s funeral … and “console” Sandra.

Hell hath no fury …

He takes Sandra to his greenhouse, where he is clearly wanting to take her away with him — as Margaret watches clandestinely. The phrase, “Hell has no fury as a woman scorned” comes to pass.  As Dr. Decker tries to force his affection on Sandra, while Margaret conditions Konga. As Sandra screams for help, Margaret injects Konga with a large dose of the growth serum, and sends him off to enact his revenge. After another cheesy special effect, Konga grows to approximately twelve feet large, trashes the laboratory, throws Margaret to her death, and then grows until he breaks out of the two-story house.  Next he breaks into the greenhouse, and seizes Dr. Decker, as poor Sandra gets her arm caught in the mouth of the carnivorous plant. It should be noted that cheesy special effects rule these scenes.

At this point,  Konga turns into a poor imitation of King Kong, with poor special effects, as the now-giant Konga standing by Big Ben, frightening civilians, etc. while Scotland Yard contacts the military, who responds to the report of a giant gorilla with lightning speed. Dr. Decker is dropped to his well-deserved death, and Konga is killed by a lot of gunfire, returning to his chimpanzee size — in what was obviously a doll.

In conclusion

In all, Konga wasn’t a bad movie at all.  Ignoring the bad special effects, it was interesting to watch the amoral Dr. Decker — he was frankly reminiscent of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Baron Frankenstein. And I felt sorry for poor Margaret, even after she became a love-blinded accessory to murder. The ending of the movie, however, was such a blatant rip-off of King Kong, with worse effects, that’s it’s only enjoyable to mock it as you’re watching.

Cast of characters

  • Michael Gough (Batman (1989)) … Dr. Charles Decker
  • Margo Johns … Margaret
  • Jess Conrad … Bob Kenton
  • Claire Gordon … Sandra Banks
  • Austin Trevor … Dean Foster
  • Jack Watson (The Gorgon) … Superintendent Brown
  • George Pastell The Mummy (1959) … Professor Tagore
  • Vanda Godsell … Bob’s Mother
  • Stanley Morgan … Inspector Lawson
  • Grace Arnold … Miss Barnesdell
  • Leonard Sachs … Bob’s Father
  • Nicholas Bennett … Daniel
  • Kim Tracy … Mary
  • Rupert Osborne … Eric
  • Waveney Lee … Janet
  • John Welsh … Commissioner Garland

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