King Kong (1933)
Today’s movie isn’t necessarily what many, including myself, would consider a true ‘horror movie’…it’s more of a fantasy horror if anything but I thought I’d include it because it’s another example of the genius of Universal Pictures at this time and it gave us one of the most recognisable movie monsters ever…it is of course, Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong!!
Unlike the other ‘horror’ films I’ve mentioned on this journey so far, King Kong isn’t that atmospheric. It’s much more of a fun, entertaining thrill ride and while still having its tense and rather frightening moments, such as the famous scene in which the natives of Skull Island capture Miss Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and offer her as sacrifice to Kong, the dark tone of these scenes are overshadowed by the thrilling tone of the rest of the film.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story of King Kong so there shouldn’t be any spoilers here.
Kong himself is such a well known creation for a reason…you’ll struggle to find any movie monster that the audience changes its attitude towards so drastically over the course of a film. We start, like the characters when on the island, in fear of Kong, or the myth of him but over the course of the film, we develop compassion for him due to his protective and loving nature towards Ann Darrow and grow sympathetic when he is misinterpreted as a raving monster who kills all he sees by Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) and co.
The narrative, for those unfamiliar, follows an ambitious filmmaker who takes his crew and new found star, Ann Darrow to a newly discovered island in order to film, upon which, they run into a native ritual and learn of the giant ape, Kong, who protects the native’s island in exchange for sacrifice. The natives take an interest in Ann and that night, raid the boat on which the film crew sleeps and capture Ann, offering her as sacrifice to Kong. Kong and Ann develop an emotional bond with each other however, and after figuring out she is missing, the rest of the film crew go out to try and save her from certain death. They eventually capture Kong and transport him back to New York to be a sell out attraction, making Denham a star, however Kong longs for Ann and manages to escape his shackles during the opening show and sets out looking for her. He finds her and eventually comes to climbing up to the top of the Empire State Building, one of the most famous climactic scenes in cinema history.
Theres no complexity to the narrative here, it’s a simple story of an ape who falls for a beautiful woman and is heavily misinterpreted…in this sense, King Kong is rather similar to Frankenstein’s monster but substitute love for innocence in that case.
The performances are nothing special but they work. The true showstealer is Kong himself but Fay Wray as Ann is also worth more than a mention as she became the definitive ‘scream queen’ after this role, a horror movie position in which many women would follow. It probably wasn’t a difficult role to play for Wray but it’s gone down in cinema history.
The true beauty of the film, along with the love story, is the locations and sets, as well as the stop motion effects of Kong. Skull Island is both beautiful and menacing, deadly and delightful, the deadly side coming across with its multiple prehistoric inhabitants (also stop motion) which threaten the lives of both the film crew and Ann and prove for some brilliantly animated battles between Kong and the dinosaurs.
For any lover of stop motion animation, of which I am one, it’s undeniable that you have to see this film. Some may consider this animation style to look incredibly dated but if you look past that, you’ll see the amount of work that was out into these effects and I’m sure it will grow on you. And going back onto the aesthetic qualities of the film, the battle with the airplanes atop the Empire State Building speaks for itself I think.
A wonderful achievement of filmmaking for 1933 and a film which I’m a big fan of, while definitely more of a fantasy horror than a frightening horror, I couldn’t leave it out of this journey…an iconic movie.
Tomorrow we’re back with Karloff, in a 1935 sequel that many consider better than the original.
Let me know your thoughts on this film in the comments and contact me at email@example.com if you have any inquiries or suggestions for improvements to posts!
The Journey Continues Tomorrow