DIRECTOR: John Guillermin

FEATURING: Peter Elliot, George Antoni, Brian Kerwin, Linda Hamilton

PLOT: As the title explains, Kong didn’t die at the end of the previous film, and this time round he gets a girlfriend—one his own size for a change. Do they live happily ever after? No, of course not. Mean-spirited people attack them with assorted military hardware. Much hilarity ensues!

Still from King Kong Lives (1986)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only weird thing about it is that somebody thought it was a good idea to spend $10,000,000 (and that’s in 1986 money) coiling out this howling clunker.

COMMENTS: The 1976 remake of King Kong was never exactly a masterpiece, but it cost $24,000,000 and made $80,000,000, and in Hollywood, that’s what counts. So, ten tears later, producer Dino De Laurentiis (whose industry nickname “Dino De Horrendous” wasn’t altogether unjust) gave the director of the first film, John Guillermin, a crack at the sequel. The catch? As attentive readers will have noticed, his budget was less than half what they gave him previously. Since it was universally agreed that one of the major failings of the first film was the inadequacy of the special effects used to portray the 50-foot ape, and this film starred two of them, how well was it ever going to pan out?

But even apart from the many, many dire effects shots featuring poorly-made model scenery, barely adequate ape suits, and a giant animatronic hand so stiff that Kong appears to have arthritis, just about everything in the movie is woefully misjudged somehow or other. In the film’s sole concession to realism, ten tears have passed between films, just as they have in reality (which conveniently allows them to forget about every character in the first film whose surname wasn’t Kong). Throughout this time Kong—who, you may recall, had been riddled with machine-gun bullets until, obviously dying, he fell off the World Trade Center—has been comatose, kept alive by a vast custom-built life-support system. Why? Don’t ask, and then you won’t mind when they don’t bother to tell you.

Equally obviously, if a huge animal falls a quarter of a mile onto a hard surface, its heart is the only bit that’ll suffer. Unfortunately, as Linda Hamilton’s veterinary surgeon character explains, that artificial heart the size of a Volkswagen they’ve worked so hard on is useless, because being in a coma for ten years means that Kong has lost a lot of blood (???), so the operation can’t be performed without a blood donor. “Only one thing can save him.” she solemnly intones: “A miracle!” Cut to Brian Kerwin wandering around Borneo for some unrelated reason, then literally stumbling across and effortlessly capturing a cute fifty-foot Lady Kong whom nobody had ever noticed before. Gosh, that was a lucky break!

(By the way, if you’re wondering why she’s called “Lady Kong” instead of the more logical “Queen Kong”, there was an existing movie with that title that’s even sillier than this one, though copies are very hard to come by.)

It has to be admitted that the early footage of Linda Hamilton conducting the transplant with enormous surgical instruments, including a sort of buzz-saw on a pole, are spectacularly surreal—the indelible image has to be Kong’s heart being lifted out with a crane. Sadly the rest of the film doesn’t come close to living up to them.

The apes fall in love, bad people mistreat them, they escape, she’s recaptured, but by now she’s pregnant. Will her tall, dark, handsome lover-boy come to the rescue, despite all those tanks…? Alas, the producers don’t understand a very basic point about this kind of movie; which is that, if you have two fifty-foot monsters, they really ought to fight, rather than coyly flirting accompanied by mawkish soundtrack music.

Since Kong is now unequivocally a good guy (and the budget is so much lower), his rampages cause very little mayhem until the final scenes, which is a major problem in a rampaging monster movie. What little death and destruction we do see is mostly inappropriately comic. The human characters are so one-dimensional as to make even the Kongs look convincing, and feisty-yet-fluffy Linda Hamilton’s nude scene should probably last more than one second (but maybe that’s just me).

This could have been a classic ridiculous movie. Sadly, it’s not quite expensive enough to give us the crazy ape action we paid to see, and not quite cheap enough to abandon all shame and just go for it anyway. Not really satisfying on any level, and for much of its running time, downright dull. That’s presumably why it grossed less than half its budget. As the young people say nowadays, meh.


“The problem with everyone in ‘King Kong Lives’ is that they’re in a boring movie, and they know they’re in a boring movie, and they just can’t stir themselves to make an effort.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

One thought on “CAPSULE: KING KONG LIVES (1986)”

  1. No Dino Dissing!!

    Sure, he brought us a lot of crap, but it was entertaining crap – BARBARELLA, MANDINGO, KING KONG, FLASH GORDON, DUNE, THE WHITE BUFFALO, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE; plus he helped bring Cronenberg and Lynch further into the Mainstream.

    “Nobody cry when Jaws die… when Monkey die, everybody cry.”

    Pure Hollywood wisdom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *