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- Published on Amazon.com
THE APE is a badly made and badly written film, but one which I am happy to report is actually entertaining. It's badness makes it fun, which -- despite the existence of the phrase "so bad it's good" -- is actually a rare phenomenon in my experience.
To begin with, this is the first horror movie I've ever encountered that displayed the opening credits accompanied by happy, cheerful circus clown music. Forget dark, ominous, atmospheric orchestration which can set the mood immediately. Disregard all attempts to initially set the viewer in mind of deep hopelessness, imminent despair and slow lingering death. Play clown music! You're trying to scare me, but all I can think about are guys with big shiny pants jumping through rings of fire.
Anyway, the movie is about Boris Karloff as a mad scientist (he wears a white coat, has loads of test tubes and kills in the name of science), and his desperate search to find a cure for polio, the affliction which has prematurely ended the lives of his wife and daughter. He's working feverishly to cure the paralyzed eighteen-year-old woman next door -- Frances -- who reminds him of his deceased daughter.
But there's an interruption to Karloff's work. A big, mean, angry ape has killed its trainer and run away from the nearby circus (hence the goof-ball music in the opening credits). This disagreeable primate is killing and maiming loads of folks in this small town, and the bodies are making they way through Karloff's lab (he's the town's doctor, even though almost everyone thinks he's a nut). Karloff takes advantage of his good fortune by using these patients for experimentation purposes.
Soon, the ape breaks into Karloff's lab and things start getting really odd. Karloff kills the ape in self-defense. Then, realizing that his supply of corpses will dry up, he hollows out the body of the ape, wears it like a suit, and continues the ape's killing spree.
Now, depending on what you expect from bad movies you can either throw your hands up in complete disgust, or you can accept the movie's wonderfully goofy premise. Personally, I dug it, precisely because it's so fundamentally hokey. I know you don't need me to tell you this, but you simply cannot hollow out an entire ape and wear it like a Halloween costume. I mean, okay, maybe you can, but you wouldn't look like an ape. You'd look like a giant jackass with bits of dead ape wrapped around him. (Forgive me for assuming the male gender in that last sentence, but I'm thinking that the whole hollowing out an ape and draping yourself in its carcass is definitely a guy thing.)
I won't discuss any more of the plot. Partially, because I'd then be getting into spoiler territory, but mostly because the movie doesn't have any plot left. There are just a few annoying things left that I wish to mention.
Francis' boyfriend actually dislikes the idea of his girlfriend being cured because he doesn't want her to stop being dependent on him and also because, as he says, "I don't like things I don't understand."
Um, wow. I mean, I fully grok the natural suspicion one has towards new advances, but isn't the blanket rejection of all things he doesn't understand going a bit far? ("Sorry, can't drive into town; I don't understand that fangled internal combustion engine! ... No, no email for me; I never did get the hang of binary! ... What? A pickle? No, I can't eat them; I never figured out how they work either.")
And I'm sure his viewpoint was a great source of comfort to any members of the audience who actually were themselves stricken by polio. There shouldn't be a cure in the future, because there isn't a cure in the present? Forcing people to be dependent on other people is fine? They must have been outraged. They'd have walked out of the movie before the end if they'd been able to walk. (Sorry.)
There are some painfully sloppy moments throughout and many of them could have been corrected so easily that it gives the impression that the filmmakers simply didn't care. Take, for example, what is (very) arguably the film's most ludicrous scene. Karloff has just discovered a potion which is the cure for paralysis. He places the only drops of this previous fluid in a small, fragile test-tube. Which he sits down flat on its side onto an ordinary tabletop in his lab. Which then rolls off said table and smashes into tiny pieces on the floor.
As hilariously inept as this scene is (and you have to see the look on the faces of the actors to really appreciate it), it could easily have been fixed. You see, the very next scene at the lab is a sequence where the ape breaks in and smashes most of it before being killed. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have the ape itself smash up the test tube? (And it would have made the desecration of the monkey's corpse a little easier to understand too.)
Also, as a complete aside, I wish to question Karloff's credentials as a physician. During his early experiments with animals, he injects a paralyzed dog with a solution and then confidently states, "You'll be chasing bones in the morning."
I'm no dog expert, but dogs generally chew bones and chase cars. If a dog is chasing a bone, then either he's A) still paralyzed or B) left his bone in the glove compartment. (A third possibility exists, which is that the bone is still in the possession of its original owner, but I don't think this is something Karloff should be encouraging in his pets.)
The Digiview Productions version of this movie is not in good shape. The image is mostly decent, but the picture keeps jumping and the sound cuts off. It almost seems like three or four frames every few minutes just went completely AWOL. This problem affects some scenes more than others. Most of the movie is acceptable, but some passages are almost unwatchable.
Before leaving this movie, I'm going to reveal myself as a complete softy and say that the final scene between Karloff and his young patient is actually quite touching. (Ignoring the monkey costume, of course.) But in any event, I do recommend this as the proverbial fun, bad movie. Boris Karloff, guys in ape costumes, stupid townsfolk -- this movie's got 'em all!