Nobody Will See Him Coming

The Invisible Man (1933) is the greatest science fiction horror movie I’ve never seen. I literally didn’t see the original Invisible Man until the remake was announced. Even though it was always part of the official lineup of classic Universal monsters. The Invisible Man has black & white cinematography and an easily identifiable monster, but it’s very different compared to Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Mummy. H. G. Wells established himself as a true science fiction master when he wrote The Invisible Man in 1897. Frankenstein director James Whale lent his vision to a mostly faithful adaptation, but Boris Karloff never fully committed to the unseen title role. Newcomer Claude Rains makes an impression by only using his voice.

Dr. Jack Griffin is an ordinary scientist who experimented with chemicals and turned himself invisible. Though he can’t be seen, a pair of dark goggles and a face wrapped in bandages make him iconic. Griffin attempts to finish his work in an English Inn, but constant interruptions cause him to snap. An Invisible Man is a terrifying thought, because he really can rule the world if he was as insane as Griffin. The Invisible Man is groundbreaking thanks to early 30’s special effects that are still convincing today. Griffin’s invisibility was achieved through the impressive use of compositing shots filmed against black velvet. Objects are moved and clothing can walk on its own.

The Invisible Man is also unique for its dark comedy. Griffin has a silly laugh and plays harmless pranks on English villagers. Then he becomes a genuinely sinister threat who murders a lot more people than you might expect. Henry Travers plays Dr. Cranley, the scientist who realizes Griffin’s madness is linked to a chemical he used to become invisible. A very young Gloria Stewart plays Jack’s concerned fiancée Flora. Since every monster movie needs a love story. William Harrigan plays Dr. Kemp, the unwilling visible partner of the Invisible Man. Staying totally invisible is a lot more complicated than it seems. A manhunt is placed on Griffin, but he’s too smart to make mistakes. Griffin’s face is only seen at the end when the police finally manage to outsmart him. The Invisible Man is a boundary pushing ghost story with a science fiction twist.

7. The Invisible Man

Jack Griffin, the Invisible Man

Followed by: The Invisible Man Returns

The Scroll of Thoth

The Mummy (1932) is the original slow moving terror. Universal monster movies had a perfect winning streak that started with Dracula followed by Frankenstein. Mummies were never my all time favorite monster, but it’s hard to deny their impact on horror. Universal chose to center their next film around Ancient Egypt even though there wasn’t a book to work with. The movie was inspired by Cagliostro, Egyptian gods, and myths. Like the monster itself, The Mummy (1932) isn’t the fast paced adventure my generation grew up with. Although I was still young at the time, I saw The Mummy (1932) many years after the 1999 remake from my childhood. It’s difficult to compare a classic to something you have a personal attachment to.

The Mummy (1932) has more black & white horror atmosphere thanks to cinematographer turned director Karl Freund. Although taking place in Egypt, more time is spent in the confined Cairo Museum. Boris Karloff became the first actor to play multiple monsters. Imhotep is very different from Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy’s trademark bandages and decomposed skin are only seen once in the entire movie. Archeologists Sir Joseph Whemple and Dr. Muller played by Arthur Byron and Edward Van Sloan respectively, unearth the cursed body of Imhotep. They make the mistake of reading the “Scroll of Thoth” and a third member of their party dies laughing when the Mummy walks off.

10 years later, Imhotep has become the sophisticated, yet mysterious Ardeth Bay. Although it’s the bandages that are iconic, Imhotep’s sunken face is creepy enough on its own. Imhotep is a less hands on monster who uses ancient spells to control or kill those who cross him. The Mummy (1932) is a love story between Imhotep and his forbidden lover Anck-su-namun. Imhotep seeks to find his mummy bride in order to make her immortal. Exotic beauty Zita Johann plays the half Egyptian object of Imhotep and Frank Whemple’s affection (this would be the second concerned lover that David Manners plays). Helen Grosvenor is the reincarnated Princess Anck-su-namun whom Imhotep manipulates in order to sacrifice her. Only the outlandish power of Isis is enough to stop him. The Mummy (1932) may have put me to sleep the first time, but it’s that same restraint that made it impactful.

6. The Mummy

The Mummy Imhotep

Followed by: The Mummy’s Hand

It’s Alive!

Frankenstein (1931) is the definitive take on the man who created a monster. Based on Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel has been called the earliest science fiction story ever written. Although she didn’t always get the credit she deserved, Shelley proved women could horrorify just as well as men. Shelley was inspired by themes of renewed life. One of the most common misconceptions is that Frankenstein refers to the Monster. It actually refers to his creator Dr. Frankenstein.

The Modern Prometheus refers to the Greek Titan who created man. Unlike his fellow monsters, the unnamed creature isn’t a stock monster. Every portrayal needs a mad scientist who brings life to a reanimated corpse. Frankenstein has been adapted and parodied a countless number of times. After the success of Dracula, Universal released Frankenstein the same year. It has been my favorite Universal monster movie since childhood. The story was easy to follow and I really connected with the misunderstood monster. Frankenstein is an enduring classic that’s just as scary now as it was back then…

4. Frankenstein

Frankenstein’s Monster

Frankenstein (1931) took just as many creative liberties as Dracula (1931). Mary Shelley’s original book is quite different than the story we’re used to. Dr. Victor Frankenstein uses ambiguous scientific methods to bring life to a body that he constructs himself. Frankenstein shuns the hideous creature and he wanders the land until a blind man teaches him to act more human. Despite his well-meaning nature, the creature swears revenge on all those who wronged him. A 1927 play and other early adaptations maintain the original narrative. Really it’s the 1931 film that made Frankenstein what it is today. The story is so shocking that Edward Van Sloan warns the audience about what they’re about to witness.

The first change is renaming Dr. Frankenstein Henry instead of Victor. I’m not sure why since the name Victor is simply given to a close friend. Another more iconic change is Frankenstein fashioning a body out of corpses that he steals from graveyards. Colin Clive perfectly captures Dr. Frankenstein as a mad scientist who tows the line between brilliance and insanity. After proving himself as Renfield, Dwight Frye became the earliest depiction of a hunchback assistant. This character is named Fritz since Igor wasn’t fully developed until much later. Fritz accidentally steals an abnormal brain from Frankenstein’s former professor Dr. Waldman. After taking on Dracula as Van Helsing, Van Sloan inadvertently gave life to another monster.

Dr. Waldman, Victor, and Henry’s lovely fiancée Elizabeth Lavenza bear witness to his creation over concern for his sanity. Castle Frankenstein is just as iconic as Castle Dracula. Frankenstein’s laboratory is filled with tesla coils hooked up to a body given life when it’s struck by lightning. With the faintest movement, Dr. Frankenstein shouts one of the most iconic lines in movie history, “It’s alive!” Followed by another declaration that I always found a little blasphemous. Frankenstein will always be the most famous example of man meddling with nature. Bela Lugosi initially wanted the role of Dr. Frankenstein, but he was originally cast as the monster instead. Until he was replaced by an initially uncredited Boris Karloff.

As soon as he makes his silent introduction, the world forever associated Frankenstein’s Monster with a flat top, prominent brow, stitched together skin, and bolts in his neck. Karloff is also made to look enormous with large boots and a loose fitting black coat. His green skin didn’t become part of the look until later adaptations. Replacement director James Whale uses black & white to great effect. The cinematography is both haunting and spectacular. The Monster only grunts when confronted with fire. His biggest fear and the closest thing he has to a weakness. Dr. Waldman presents Frankenstein with the notion that the abnormal brain of a criminal can only create a monster. Even though the Monster only kills when Fritz torments him. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Monster as he cries out while chained up. Elizabeth and Frankenstein’s father talk sense into Henry who orders Waldman to destroy his creation. When he breaks free, the Monster wanders the wilderness as his creator prepares to be married.

Frankenstein is another classic horror movie that was censored upon release. The biggest reason being the infamous scene with Maria. The Monster innocently plays with the little girl by tossing flowers into the water. When they run out, he unintentionally drowns her. The scene is just as disturbing as when I saw it as a kid. More traumatizing is Maria’s father carrying her lifeless body through a joyful celebration. When the village learns about the Monster, they form an angry mob armed with torches. Henry goes searching for the Monster who confronts his bride Elizabeth. Mae Clarke is excellent as both a concerned fiancée and a genuinely terrified damsel. The Monster is chased by the mob until he comes face to face with his creator. They fight at an abandoned windmill that catches on fire. In the end, the Monster’s fate is left unknown, but Dr. Frankenstein survives. Frankenstein gave the Monster life better than any film since.

5. Frankenstein

Dr. Frankenstein confronts his creation

Followed by: Bride of Frankenstein

I Bid You Welcome

Dracula (1931) is the definitive take on the most famous vampire ever made. Created by Irish author Bram Stoker as far back as 1897, Dracula is one of the most famous books ever written. It has been terrifying readers for generations, but the printed word couldn’t contain the bloodthirsty monster. Count Dracula has appeared in every form of media there is. Books, movies, TV, video games, stage plays, and even breakfast cereal. I’m actually eating Count Chocula cereal as I write this review. I consider myself a vampire expert since they’ve had more exposure than any other monster.

Dracula is practically vampire royalty. Most people believe Vlad the Impaler to be his primary inspiration. Stoker mostly drew from Transylvanian folklore and vampire legend. His story inspired the famously unauthorized silent film Nosferatu. Universal monsters all began when the studio properly obtained the rights to the character. Although I never knew a Spanish film was also made by Universal in 1931. The English version of Dracula was a major step forward as a Hollywood horror movie that was consistently scary throughout. Although I admired Dracula when I watched it as a child, I never appreciated it as much as I do as an adult…

2. Dracula

“I am Dracula”

Dracula (1931) is the definitive portrayal, but it isn’t the most faithful. The movie is actually inspired by both the Bram Stoker novel and a 1924 play. Dracula is the first depiction of the vampire as anything other than a hideous monster. Even Nosferatu maintained a mostly accurate book description. The image of Dracula was forever changed with the casting of Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. Turning Count Dracula into a handsome and charming vampire with dark slicked back hair who could more convincingly manipulate his victims. Dracula notably wears a suit with a theatrical high collar cape. Although black & white, the color red is very much implied.

Unlike the book, Renfield is the solicitor traveling to Transylvania instead of Jonathan Harker. Much like the village in the movie, Transylvania has forever been associated with vampires. Ignoring all warnings, Renfield heads to Dracula’s castle driven by the Count himself. Vampires are known for there many strengths and weaknesses. The film uses any method it can to portray them. Everyone knows Dracula can turn into a bat, but only true experts know he can become a wolf or even mist. The latter two are implied, while the former is only done off-screen. Bats are achieved with crude puppetry. Count Dracula makes his iconic introduction when he awakens from a coffin. He’s joined by his beautiful unnamed brides who have a very small part in the movie.

Dracula is made even more eerie with the complete absence of a score. Director Tod Browning was more known for silent films, but the real reason is cost. Only in the late 90’s did composer Philip Glass score the movie. Dracula famously bids Reinfield welcome and poetically points out the music made by the “children of the night.” Reinfield helps Dracula move from Transylvania to London since vampires can’t survive in the sunlight. His thirst is first depicted when Reinfield cuts his finger, but the almighty cross compels him. Reinfield only becomes a mindless slave when he drinks the wine that Dracula gives him. Hypnotism is depicted with haunting closeups on Lugosi’s eyes.

Dwight Frye is the perfect raving lunatic who makes Reinfield just as creepy as the Count. Dracula drinks the blood of innocent women in London, but his fangs are never shown. He continues to manipulate Reinfield as he’s locked in a sanitarium for wanting to consume flies, spiders, and rats. Other primary characters are altered with the renamed John Harker being given a less central role. Though David Manners does a fine job as the concerned fiancée of Mina Harker. Another change is making Mina the daughter of asylum owner Dr. Seward. Dracula creepily preys on Lucy Weston as she sleeps and she becomes a vampire off-screen.

Edward Van Sloan confidently takes on the role of famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. As Dracula’s archenemy, Van Helsing is a professor who figures out the vampire’s secret and prepares himself with all necessary weapons. Wolfsbane replaces garlic as a repellent, but holy objects like a cross will always work best. Van Helsing also uses a small mirror, shot to look like Dracula has no reflection. None of it is enough to keep Dracula away from Mina. Helen Chandler is excellent at portraying Mina’s innocence as a human and her uncontrollable thirst as a vampire. John and Van Helsing track Dracula to his London castle where they drive a stake through his heart. Ending the curse on Mina since you have to kill the head vampire. Although Bela Lugosi hated being typecast, his depiction of Dracula is a cinematic icon. Dracula is a sophisticated horror movie legend.

3. Dracula

Van Helsing fends off Dracula

Followed by: Dracula’s Daughter

A Face to Fear

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is the original face of horror. After Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera is the second most influential silent era monster movie. Based on Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by French author Gaston Leroux, Universal Pictures made the most faithful adaptation ever filmed. Although not officially part of the lineup, the 1925 film was a major influence of the classic Universal monster movies. The Phantom is probably the monster I knew the least about. I only knew he was a man who lived beneath an opera house, played the pipe organ, and wore a mask to hide his disfigured face.

What better actor to play him than “The Man of a Thousand Faces” himself Lon Chaney. After transforming into Quasimodo for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chaney created an even more terrifying monster. As described in the novel, The Phantom has a skull face that shocked 1920’s audiences and even made me shudder. The Phantom of the Opera had a difficult production with director Rupert Julian being difficult to work with, several endings being shot, the inclusion of sound footage, and more. The version I saw was 1 hour & 19 minutes with color tinting.

The story concerns the Paris Opera House and the ghostly figure that haunts it. The Phantom falls in love with singer Christine Daaé and demands she replace prima donna Carlotta. Christine is torn between her masked admirer and her lover Viscount Raoul de Chagny. The Phantom named Erik is at first poetic, then ruthless when his face is revealed. He hangs stagehand Joseph Buquet and tortures Raoul and the Persian in an intricate dungeon of horrors. Although given a traditional ending for a monster movie, The Phantom of the Opera inspired generations.

1. The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom haunts Christine Daaé

P.S. Being public domain, I’ve supplied the full movie underneath.

Survival is an Instinct

Mighty Joe Young (1998) brought the lovable 15 foot tall gorilla back when ape movies were all the rage. The 90’s saw the development of another King Kong remake, a Planet of the Apes remake, and of course Mighty Joe Young. Disney obtained the rights, but the defunct RKO Pictures still have their name on it. Terry Moore and Ray Harryhausen even make cameos. Like many family films released in the late 90’s, I have vague childhood memories of watching the movie. I might of even seen Mighty Joe Young (1998) in theaters, but I never got a straight answer. I didn’t realize it was a remake until I saw my parents watching the original.

Creature effects from the legendary Rick Baker are literally the biggest draw. Joe’s enormous size is addressed as a form of gigantism. He was achieved through a combination of stuntman John Alexander in a realistic gorilla suit, very convincing animatronics, and DreamQuest CGI to blend it all together. It was of course nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards, but the rest of the movie doesn’t compare. Director Ron Underwood has a very hit or miss track record. Mighty Joe Young (1998) is more environmental with Joe never performing in shows. Joe is only ever taken to an L.A. nature preserve.

Jill Young is now orphaned the same day as Joe by a ruthless poacher that was also added to the remake. Charlize Theron was born to play Jill since she is in fact South African. Bill Paxton is a fine zoologist version of Gregg with more of a romantic subplot. Joe causes a rampage while enclosed and on the city streets, but he proves himself a hero similar to the original. It’s just a burning carnival instead of an orphanage. Mighty Joe Young (1998) is a harmless live-action Disney movie, but it’s not quite as spectacular as the 1949 classic.

Mighty Joe Young 1998

Joe Young in Africa with Jill Young

Remake of: Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Beautiful Dreamer

Mighty Joe Young is more than just an imitation of King Kong. I always assumed it was, but it was actually made by the exact same production team. Mighty Joe Young was distributed by RKO Pictures, directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, produced by Merian C. Cooper, stars Robert Armstrong, and was even written by Son of Kong screenwriter Ruth Rose. The similarities are undeniable, but Mr. Joseph Young is perfectly lovable all on his own. Unlike Kong, it was beauty domesticated the beast. Jill Young is an adorable caucasian girl living in Africa with her father. One day she adopts a baby gorilla from African locals.

12 years later, the ape named Joe Young becomes larger than an average gorilla, but significantly smaller than King Kong. Stop-motion artist Willis O’Brien lent his assistance, but all animation was handled by his legendary protégé Ray Harryhausen. Despite being his first film, Joe Young is so charming that the movie won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Joe only attacks when provoked, but luckily he has Jill to calm him down. “Beautiful Dreamer” is especially calming for him. Terry Moore is a feisty leading lady who’s very different from Ann Darrow. Unlike Kong, Joe’s chance for fame isn’t forced upon him.

Rodeo performer Ben Johnson plays the friendly Gregg who helps convince Jill to bring Joe to Hollywood. Armstrong’s Max O’Hara is similar to Carl Denham, but he’s an honest nightclub owner who comes around near the end. Joe performs on stage until his act becomes increasingly humiliating. A bunch of idiots get him drunk and he goes on a rampage. The effects are especially impressive when Joe tosses around actual lions. Even more impressive is a red filter climax where Joe heroically saves orphans from a burning building. Unlike Kong, everyone cares enough to take Joe back where he belongs. Mighty Joe Young is a refreshing giant ape movie with a heartwarming payoff.

Mighty Joe Young

Joe Young on stage with Jill Young

It Was Beauty Killed the Beast

King Kong (2005) is the most affectionate remake I’ve ever seen. After the immense success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, everyone wondered what Oscar winning director Peter Jackson would do next. I don’t think anyone was expecting the third remake of a 1933 classic. As I said in my King Kong (1976) review, the rights were split between two seperate studios. Universal first approached Jackson with a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake in the 90’s, but changed their strategy when they learned King Kong (1933) was his favorite movie of all time. Even as a child Jackson had nothing but sympathy for the big ape. Skull Island is actually referenced in his movie Braindead.

When Godzilla (1998) failed and other ape remakes started to come out, production was halted. Until The Return of the King made Jackson the most bankable director in Hollywood. King Kong (2005) is a rare passionate remake made with nothing but love and respect for the original. All Jackson did was give it the same level of dedication he did with The Lord of the Rings. Detail in every frame, breathtaking special effects, three-dimensional characters, and a lengthy 3 hour & 21 minute runtime. King Kong (2005) was a major obsession for my brother and I growing up. After our mom showed us the original, the three us saw the remake in theaters and fell in love with it. I had a Kong doll, a Skull Island field guide, and my brother was especially obsessed with completing the official tie-in video game…

7. King Kong 2005

King Kong holds Ann Darrow

King Kong (2005) is part homage, part epic. Only Peter Jackson could take an hour and a half film and make it three hours. Even though there are several new additions that could’ve been trimmed down or removed, I can safely say I was never bored. The perfect three-act structure is maintained with each act being roughly an hour long. That means more than an hour until we finally get a glimpse of Kong. In the meantime, an almost excessive amount of time is spent in New York and on a very long boat ride. Unlike the 1976 remake, King Kong (2005) is a period piece set in 1933 like the original. Basic ideas are either elaborated upon or given added depth. Ann Darrow is now a struggling vaudeville actress who falls on hard times during the Great Depression. Naomi Watts looks the part of the classic beautiful blonde woman, but Ann is more than just a pretty face. Her motivation for accepting a movie role is much more understandable.

Carl Denham has the same passionate motivation to complete his picture on Skull Island, but his recklessness gets him blacklisted and nearly arrested. Casting singer/comedian Jack Black as the iconic 1930’s director is one of the most bizzare casting choices of all time. Most of the time I can accept his Orson Welles-esque performance, but other times it feels like he could go full School of Rock any minute. Denham hires Ann with the promise that she’ll meet her favorite playwright. Rather than a strapping first mate action hero, Jack Driscoll is now an average screenwriter forced to stay on the Venture. Adrien Brody is more than capable of playing the charming love interest and the unlikely hero. The Venture is full of mystery and a crew with far more characterization.

Captain Englehorn is now a nonsense hands on German ship captain played by Thomas Kretschmann. Colin Hanks plays Carl’s undervalued personal assistant Preston. Jamie Bell is given an entire subplot as a troublemaking teenager named Jimmy who wants to prove himself. Evan Parke plays his African American mentor Hayes who has World War I training. Andy Serkis does double duty by physically playing the crusty ship’s cook Lumpy. Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore originally returned before he was replaced by James Newton Howard. The role of strapping action hero is literally filled by Kyle Chandler as famous actor Bruce Baxter. Some of the more sexist dialogue from the original is cleverly worked into the remake as a scene in Denham’s picture. Jack has nothing but respect for Ann as he writes her a play and they fall in love. When they finally reach Skull Island, Englehorn is adamant about turning back.

Denham leads a small crew through what appears to be the ruins of a lost civilization. The always necessary island natives are a no win situation no matter the interpretation. These natives are much more tribal and savage. Their skin is dark brown, but each native is actually portrayed by a variety of non-white ethnicities. They kill crew members before returning to capture Ann. Her sacrifice is grander with a complex bridge extending from their great wall. Kong is at first veiled in shadow, but his first full appearance doesn’t disappoint. Kong is often labeled a monster due to his burly upright appearance. Jackson instead made the creative decision to focus on a Kong that was essentially a massive 25 foot tall silverback gorilla. This Kong is still a little monstrous with black fur, sharp teeth, and many battle scars. My very in-depth Skull Island field guide explains Kong’s origin as a 100 year old Megaprimatus who is the last of his kind.

This is by far the most sympathetic King Kong ever put to film. His relationship with Ann is more than mere infatuation. Ann screams at first, but they come to form a deep mutual understanding. She even surprisingly makes him laugh by performing her vaudeville routine. Kong’s lifelike ape mannerisms are thanks to the always brilliant stop-motion work of Andy Serkis. After Gollum, Serkis was sure to bring just as much dedication to even the most subtle gorilla movements. The CGI is absolutely stunning on Kong, Skull Island, and a 1930’s New York. It’s part of the reason King Kong (2005) was the most expensive movie made at the time. Just as much detail is given to the dinosaurs that inhabit Skull Island. Each with a fictional name like Vastatosaurus rex that separates it a bit from something like Jurassic Park.

The only iffy effect is a herd of stampeding Brontosaurus baxteri that Denham and his crew are somehow able to survive. They’re also chased by raptor-like Venatosaurus saevidicus. Other terrifying creatures like the Piranhadon didn’t make the final cut. What did make the final cut was a scene that was originally intended for the 1933 original. After Kong overturns a log with the crew, they fall into a disturbing pit full of giant insects. The Carnictis worm thing that eats Lumpy is particularly icky. King Kong (2005) doesn’t recreate everything, but the fight between Kong and a T-Rex was an absolute must. The primal fight is increased big time with not one, not two, but three V. Rexes against Kong. It’s a truly exciting match that sees Kong juggle Ann from his hands to his feet in a desperate attempt to fend of the beasts. Each are killed one by one until Kong breaks the last ones jaw just like the original. Concluding with a satisfying chest pound.

Ann willingly stays with Kong and even teaches him the sign for beautiful. She’s still rescued by Jack when Kong is distracted by attacking rat-bats called Terapusmordax. Although I still wouldn’t label him a villain, Denham does begin to make rash decisions when his camera is destroyed. He lures Kong to the wall where the natives are nowhere to be seen. Not that Kong doesn’t kill a few of the attacking crewmembers. When stunned by chloroform, Denham makes his classic declaration to put “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” on broadway. The New York show has all the familiar beats of Denham making a statement, Kong chained up on stage, and everyone in town coming to see it. Since Ann feels for Kong, she doesn’t take part in the show. A stage number pays homage to the dancing natives, but Kong breaking loose is now caused by another actress playing Ann. Kong rampages through the city with most of his anger focused on Jack. Kong does grab blonde women that look like Ann, but he drops them from a safer distance.

Unlike any other interpretation, Ann walks directly to Kong and they enjoy a moment together before the military arrives. Kong makes his way to an epic climax atop the Empire State Building. The sequence honors the original by having Peter Jackson cameo as an airplane pilot. The fight is both thrilling and emotional. Much like the V. Rex battle, Kong manages to take out three airplanes instead of one. Ann desperately pleading for them to stop and Kong falling to his death makes me cry everytime. In fact, Jackson loves Kong so much that he created an alternate ending where he survives just for the video game. Unfortunately, Kong meets his iconic fate and Denham delivers his final line that “It wasn’t the airplanes, It was Beauty killed the Beast.” Something Fay Wray nearly said before passing away. Although not the same kind of Academy Awards favorite as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005) nevertheless won 3 Oscars. Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and of course Visual Effects. King Kong (2005) is a larger than life companion piece that appreciates cinematic history.

8. King Kong 2005

King Kong vs. the V. Rex

Remake of: King Kong (1933)

Gorilla Warfare

King Kong Lives gave the fallen ape the second chance he never needed. King Kong has been resurrected before, but it’s kind of hard to survive a fall from two of the tallest buildings in New York. Former producer Dino De Laurentiis couldn’t settle on a single method that made sense. Director John Guillermin returned 10 years later in 1986, but King Kong Lives was hated by audiences, bombed at the box office, and holds a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Proving that even an icon as big as Kong needs a good story to back him up.

King Kong Lives is practically a lost film that I couldn’t find anywhere. My only option was to buy a cheap copy on eBay. Despite a runtime closer to the 1933 original, King Kong Lives is almost torture to sit through. Most of the 1976 climax is shown before the opening credits. Followed by the nonsensical revelation that Kong has somehow been in a coma for 10 years. Post-Terminator Linda Hamilton is a more reserved beautiful woman who isn’t the object of Kong’s affection. Not that she doesn’t get topless despite the PG-13 rating. She plays Dr. Amy Franklin, a surgeon who brings back Kong with a giant artificial heart.

More ridiculous is lesser known actor Brian Kerwin as adventurer Hank Mitchell discovering a Lady Kong. Basically King Kong with boobs. The sight of Kong interacting with a lady his own size is almost so bad it’s good. When seperated, Kong is forced to face an aggressive military and a band of hillbillies in more rural areas. Sometimes the ape suits look fine, but most of the time they look cheaper. The sequel ends exactly the way I assumed it would, with the birth of a new Son of Kong. King Kong Lives kept the franchise on life support.

6. King Kong Lives

King Kong escapes

Preceded by: King Kong (1976)

Monkey Suit

King Kong (1976) isn’t the remake the great ape deserved. Since monsters as iconic as King Kong never truly die, a reimagining of the classic 1933 film wasn’t entirely out of the question. Kong remained relevant throughout the 60’s thanks to being licensed in Japan. Toho made King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. Meanwhile, the rights to Kong in America were split between two seperate studios. The idea for a remake was pitched to both Paramount and Universal. Since RKO Pictures barely existed anymore, the rights were basically public domain.

There was apparently a big legal battle that allowed Paramount to make their version before Universal (29 years later in 2005). While I do have my mom to thank for introducing my brother and I to the original, I can’t say the same for the 1976 remake. I didn’t watch it because she warned me it wasn’t very good. King Kong (1976) is different, but bad is a strong word. 1933’s King Kong is an old fashioned larger than life adventure, while 1976’s King Kong is a contemporary light hearted romp. King Kong (1976) takes the basic structure we’re familiar with and changes it enough to be mostly memorable…

4. King Kong 1976

King Kong looks at Dwan

King Kong (1976) was developed by major Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. Directing a movie that involved an enormous skyscraper wasn’t exactly new for him after The Towering Inferno. Their goal was always to make something different, but familiar to the original. It’s so different that you never know what iconic scenes will be kept, altered, or removed entirely. The biggest change was setting events in present day 1970’s. Rather than follow a film crew on a mysterious voyage to Skull Island, King Kong (1976) takes advantage of the current energy crisis. A decision that doesn’t always make as much sense as simply wanting to capture exotic wildlife. Carl Denham is replaced by Charles Grodin as equally reckless Petrox Oil executive Fred Wilson. He mounts an expedition to Skull Island with the belief that it’s rich with oil. Jack Driscoll is replaced by a very young Jeff Bridges as hippie primate paleontologist Jack Prescott. He stows away on the boat just to warn them against disturbing the giant creature that lives there. They ignore his pleas, but keep him aboard anyway as a photographer.

Since a Beast is only as good as his Beauty, a beautiful blonde woman literally drifts onto their ship. Ann Darrow is replaced by Jessica Lange in her very first film role. Although calling her Dwan instead of Dawn is dumb regardless of explanation, she is right about being memorable. Unlike the original crew, everybody loves Dwan’s fun loving personality. Despite being PG, I can’t blame them for giving her partially obscured nude scenes. Jack falls in love with Dwan and becomes her hero similar to the original. The build up to Kong is even longer, but it doesn’t drag too much. Skull Island natives are almost exactly the same with grand rituals and a desire to trade their women for Dwan. She’s quickly kidnapped and sacrificed nearly an hour into the 2 hour & 14 minute movie. Kong is slowly revealed with a signature chest pound, but his appearance is a mixed bag. Although often depicted as brown on posters or in Toho productions, black & white has always made him appear black.

This Kong stands upright with dark brown fur worn by a stunt performer. An ape suit can’t beat the meticulous effort of stop-motion, but he is expressive and it is impressive to see him in the same frame as the humans. Kong lumbers around at an even bigger 55 feet tall. A lot more attention is given to Kong’s love of Dwan. Their romance has less subtle sexual undertones shown when Kong bathes and undresses her. Dwan isn’t exactly afraid of Kong, but she doesn’t want to stay with him either. Their relationship feels like a screwball comedy at times. Kong protects Dwan by overturning a log like the original, but the remake’s lamest decision is leaving out all of the dinosaurs. The only creature Kong has to fight is a giant snake. Kong doesn’t even terrorize the native village when he crashes through their wall.

Another change is actually seeing Kong’s boat trip to New York. Wilson makes the unusual decision to use Kong as a promotional tool to sell oil. Dwan wants to be a star, but she and Jack can’t help but feel sorry for Kong. In fact, Dwan is actually split between her two loves. She comforts Kong when he gets rowdy, but still participates in the show. Kong is instead locked in a giant cage with a crown on his head. He escapes captivity and steps on Wilson. A train is destroyed and a woman thought to be Dwan is tossed aside, but the most major deviation is Kong scaling the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building. You can imagine the changes that were made to the poster after 9/11.

Kong takes Dwan to the Twin Towers where Jack thinks he’ll be netted by helicopters. Little does he know they plan to shoot him down. The change in venue only succeeds in giving Kong 2 buildings to jump from. Otherwise, Kong meets an even bloodier fate after barely defending himself at all. Dwan cries for Kong since an attempt was made to make him more sympathetic. The iconic final line is replaced by Jack unable to approach Dwan in a sea of photographers. Although critics were split, King Kong (1976) was a rare successful remake with another Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. King Kong (1976) left its footprint on cinema regardless of quality or personal opinion.

5. King Kong 1976

King Kong prepares to climb the Twin Towers

Remake of: King Kong (1933) & Followed by: King Kong Lives