Up until a few weeks ago, if you’d asked me what the “best worst movie” ever made was, I’d say, without hesitation, Road House. And why not? Patrick Swayze, at the zenith of his popularity, stars as James Dalton, a philosophy major turned cooler (super-bouncer) who shows up at the Double Deuce, a bar in Jasper, Missouri. The Double Deuce is the kind of place where the janitors are just as likely to find eyeballs on the floor as spare change and lost sets of keys. Ben Gazzara stars as Brad Wesley, the town’s resident Evil Rich White Guy™… whose relatives and associates work at the Double Deuce and are fired by Dalton. Wesley also owns the liquor distributorship, so he has the Double Deuce (and Dalton) in a bind. Kelly Lynch stars as Elizabeth Clay, the too-pretty-to-be-real doctor who sews up Dalton’s cuts and falls in love with him, and Jeff Healey and his band appear as the house band in the film.
It’s all great cheesy fun. And every time Road House shows up on TV I have to stop and watch it. Seriously: if I was having a three-way with Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson and somehow found out that Road House was on TNT… sorry ladies: I want to be nice, but now it’s time to not be nice.
But all that changed a few weeks ago. I was hanging out at Snug Harbor here in Charlotte, ostensibly to see a popular local band. But my friend William and I were mesmerized by a movie they were showing on the TVs there. I went home and did some googling and found out that it’s a 1967 Japanese film called Kingu Kongu no Gyakush?, or King Kong Escapes in the English-speaking world.
As I say, it’s Japanese. It’s from the late 1960s. It has campy goodness written all over it. It’s obvious that the film had a tiny budget, and not only are the special effects laughable to modern eyes, the scale of them is all wrong (sometimes Kong appears to be 50 feet tall; other times he’s not much bigger than a modern linebacker). And there’s one scene where the camera pans across some military equipment (Jeeps and such) and it’s painfully obvious that they’re the same Revell models I put together as a kid, with some of those fake trees used on model railroads. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s a Japanese film with white people in it, too!
The plot is simple: an evil genius named Dr. Hu (get it? Dr Who?) has created a robotic King Kong which he wants to use to mine “Element X”, a highly radioactive substance which Hu can use to… make weapons? Blackmail or extort governments for huge sums of money? Hell, I forget. But while this is going on, a delegation from the UN is in a submarine doing peaceful research when engine trouble forces them to stop at the mythical Mondo Island, home of the real King Kong. When they go to investigate Kong’s existence, Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller, voice provided by Akiko Santou) is attacked by Gorosaurus, a Godzilla-like creature. Kong kills Gorosaurus, allowing his new love to escape, but not before Kong battles a sea serpent that’s attacking the submarine. Hu ends up kidnapping both Kong and the submarine, and he hypnotizes Kong into digging for Element X. But Kong snaps out of it and escapes, swimming off to Tokyo. Hu tracks them down, and Mechani-Kong (yep, that’s his name) picks up Watson and carries her to the top of the Tokyo Tower. And then the real Kong takes care of business by saving Watson, killing Mechani-Kong, killing Hu, and then swimming for home. The end!
What I love most about this movie is the shotgun approach the makers took with the film. It’s as if they held a focus group of 8 year-old boys that went something like this:
Focus Group Leader: “So… what would you like to see in a new King Kong film?”
Kid 1: “Submarines!”
Kid 2: “Godzilla!”
Kid 3: “Pretty blonde American women!”
Kid 1: “Helicopters!”
Kid 4: “Sea Serpents!”
Kid 5: “A James Bond style mega-villain… only Japanese and with a bad haircut!”
Kid 1: “More helicopters!”
Kid 6: “OMG! A ROBOT King Kong!”
Focus Group Leader: “So… uh… what if we used all those things in the same movie?”
It’s a really horrible film. I mean, seriously. It’s bad. I don’t know how it will hold up over repeat viewings (something tells me that Road House will win out in the long run). But still… this is one awesome bad movie! Walk – don’t run – to add it to your Netflix queue… NOW! You won’t regret it.