SHOCK SCENES: KING KONG APPEARS!

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SHOCK SCENES:  KING KONG APPEARS! king kong 1933 poster

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at memorable scenes in horror movie history.

Up today is the big guy himself, King Kong.  With apologies to Godzilla, King Kong is the baddest monster on the planet.  Sure, Godzilla is known as the King of the Monsters, and he’s been in more movies than Kong, but Kong is King as well, and the one time they squared off in a movie, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), it was Kong who emerged victorious.

Today we’ll be focusing on King Kong’s entrance scenes, the scenes in his movies where he first makes his dramatic appearance.  We will concentrate mostly on the original KING KONG (1933) and its two remakes, but we will also look at the Japanese films and the awful KING KONG LIVES (1986).

KING KONG (1933) is the classic giant monster movie, one of the most exciting and well-made monster movies of all time.  It has aged remarkably well and still appeals to modern audiences.  The film is chock full of classic scenes, and Kong’s first entrance is no exception.

It starts when the Natives on Skull Island abduct Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and bring her back to the island where they plan to offer her as a bride for Kong.  With Max Steiner’s memorable music blaring, the Natives lead Ann beyond the great wall where they tie her up so she can await the arrival of Kong.

With the beats of a gong, the Natives summon their king, and moments later, he arrives.  First we hear his roar— the special effects department used a lion’s roar played backwards and at a lower speed for this effect— and then as he knocks a tree over, Kong makes his appearance, and we see Willis O’Brien’s remarkable stop-motion animation effects as Kong breaks through the trees and descends upon Ann.

King Kong discovers Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in KING KONG (1933)

King Kong discovers Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in KING KONG (1933)

We then see a close-up of his monstrous face, which was in reality a huge model of his head built by O’Brien’s special effects team.

As first entrances go, it’s a classic.  It’s fun to imagine what it must have been like for movie audiences back in 1933 seeing Kong for the first time.  It must have been awesome and frightening.

The special effects here work so well.  To see Kong standing there, with Ann Darrow, with the great wall behind her and the Natives standing on top of the wall, and it all looking so real, is truly astonishing.

KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) is a silly movie that is only notable for pitting these two legendary monsters together in one film.  Since Kong died at the end of the original KING KONG (1933) falling from the Empire State Building in probably the movie’s most enduring image, there really couldn’t be any sequels.  There was SON OF KONG (1933) which featured a younger cute and cuddly Kong Jr., but that was it.  There were plans for a Kong prequel of sorts, a story which would have taken place in the middle of the action in KING KONG, which would have been built around a storyline of the adventures of Carl Denham and the crew of the Venture on their way back to New York City with King Kong in tow on a raft, an adventure that would have seen Denham and company and Kong face off against a new threat, but that project never got off the ground.

Perhaps the worst looking Kong in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Perhaps the worst looking Kong in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

So decades passed before Toho, the Japanese movie studio which brought Godzilla to the world, secured the rights for the Kong character and made KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Kong’s first entrance in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA isn’t memorable at all.  We hear his roar first, and then suddenly he’s there, showing up at the Natives’ village to fight off a giant octopus.  Toho always used the man-in-suit method to create their giant monsters, and their Kong suit in this movie has to be the worst looking King Kong of all time.

KING KONG ESCAPES (1967) is yet another silly Toho movie, supposedly made to tie-in with the 1960s animated TV series KING KONG.  It certainly plays like a Saturday morning cartoon, which is the complete opposite of the original KING KONG which was much more akin to the relentless ferocity of JAWS (1975).  That being said, I have to confess, I like both Toho King Kong movies.

Kong to the rescue in KING KONG ESCAPES.

Kong to the rescue in KING KONG ESCAPES.

Still, KING KONG ESCAPES has nothing to offer in terms of Kong’s first appearance.  On Kong’s island a dinosaur shows up and scares young Susan (Linda Miller).  When she screams, the camera cuts away to a close-up of Kong’s face.  His eyes are closed.  He opens them to reveal eyes that look like they belong on a Sesame Street Muppet.  We then see him sitting in a cave.  He quickly gets up and races to the scene to protect the young woman from the dinosaur.  What a gentleman!

KING KONG (1976) the incredibly hyped remake by producer Dino De Laurentiis was a box office bomb and panned by both fans and critics alike.  It’s a pretty bad movie, but in spite of this, surprisingly, it does enjoy a few fine moments.  Kong’s initial entrance is one of them.  In fact, it’s so good that I’d argue that of all Kong’s entrances, it might be the best!  It’s certainly the only part of this 1976 film that even comes close to equaling anything done in the 1933 original.

This time, it’s Jessica Lange who’s captured and tied up as the Natives summon Kong.  I actually love the way director John Guillermin conceived this sequence.  We see trees being knocked over from Kong’s point of view, and we first see Kong through close-ups of his face, and it’s the best most authentic looking face to date, thanks to the incredible make-up of Rick Baker.  We see Kong’s eyes as he marches through the trees towards Jessica Lange.  Close-up, Kong looks as menacing as he’s ever looked on film.  It’s a thrilling sequence, probably the most original and thrilling part of this 1976 flick.

Kong's looking mighty ferocious in the 1976 KING KONG.

Kong’s looking mighty ferocious in the 1976 KING KONG.

It’s also helped along by John Barry’s music score, which as a whole, I don’t like at all.  But in this scene, it’s probably Barry’s best moment.

At this moment in the movie, the film truly captures the awe of King Kong.  The build-up—audiences hadn’t seen a serious Kong since the 1933 original, the anticipation, is wonderfully captured in this sequence.  And when the camera pulls back, and we see Kong’s entire body for the first time, Rick Baker in his ape suit, he’s awesome to behold, and when he roars, the film nails King Kong at this moment perhaps more effectively than any other moment in any other King Kong movie.

And then— it’s all downhill from there.

It’s amazing how quickly and how far this movie falls after this scene, which is the story for another article.   A lot of it is the silly script, but most of it is the special effects which to me has always been the main reason this 1976 film failed.  Rick Baker’s ape suit looks fine, and in terms of how he looks, he blows the Toho Kongs out of the water, but at the end of the day, it’s still a man-in-a-suit which has never ever been a completely satisfying way to make a giant monster.  The hype for the 1976 KING KONG was all about the giant mechanical robot of Kong that was built and was supposed to be the main special effect in this film, but a not-so-funny thing happened:  it never worked. It appears in two brief scenes in this film for a mere few seconds.

But Kong’s first entrance in this 1976 film— priceless.

 

 

 

KING KONG LIVES! (1986) is the horrible sequel to KING KONG (1976) that is believe it or not even worse than the 1976 film.  In this one, scientists bring Kong back to life after his fall from the World Trade Center so the first time we see Kong in this one he’s a patient in a laboratory.  Not very exciting.  Neither is this movie.

Kong the patient in KING KONG LIVES.

Kong the patient in KING KONG LIVES.

KING KONG (2005) is Peter Jackson’s homage to the 1933 original.  Jackson’s obviously a fan of the original Kong, and this was clearly a labor of love, but strangely, it’s a very uneven movie.  The scenes on Skull Island are exceptional and make this one worth watching for these scenes alone, but surrounding these scenes is a dull opening in New York City, and the climax which also takes place in New York also doesn’t really work.  Kong and Ann share a romantic moment in Central Park?  Seriously?

Now while I love the Skull Island scenes, I’m not so hot on Kong’s first entrance.  Why?  Because it’s oddly all very undramatic!  It’s Naomi Watts who’s abducted for Kong this time, and when Kong appears, he just sort of shows up, coming out of the jungle swinging his arms and roaring.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it plays much closer to the mundane first appearances in the Toho movies than the well-crafted and dramatic entrances in the 1933 and 1976 versions, making it yet another contribution to the reasons why the 2005 version is an uneven movie.

Kong looks impressive in the 2005 Peter Jackson KING KONG, but film is uneven.

Kong looks impressive in the 2005 Peter Jackson KING KONG, but film is uneven.

You can’t really argue that any other Kong movie is actually better than the 1933 original KING KONG.  It simply hasn’t been surpassed yet.

However, I can and will argue that in terms of first appearances, if any other film challenges Kong’s first entrance, surprisingly, it’s the 1976 version of KING KONG that does this.  Director John Guillermin pulls out all stops and creates an impressive and thrilling first Kong scene, combined with John Barry’s effective music—the only moment in the film where his music works—, as well as Rick Baker’s amazing make-up, makes this moment as good as Kong’s opening moment in the 1933 film, and way better than similar scenes in any of the other Kong movies, which is saying something, since the rest of the 1976 film is so bad.

So there you have it.  A look at King Kong’s first entrances in the KING KONG movies.

Hope you enjoyed today’s SHOCK SCENES.  I’ll see you again next time when I look at more classic scenes from other classic horror movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

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SHOCK SCENES: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

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SHOCK SCENES:  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at some of the more memorable scenes in horror movie history.

That’s right.  We’ll be scouring horror movies throughout the decades looking at some of the brightest- er, darkest moments they’ve had to offer.  It should be a fun trip.

First up, a look at the unmasking scenes in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.  Now, there have been a bunch of film versions of the famous Gaston Leroux tale— see my blog column THE HORROR JAR:  THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA MOVIES posted on September 12, 2014 for the complete list— but for today’s column, I’d like to concentrate on the first three film versions:  the 1925 Lon Chaney silent classic, the 1943 Universal remake starring Claude Rains, and the 1962 Hammer remake starring Herbert Lom.  These are the three best versions, as none of the remakes since have been as good.

Most surprisingly, however, is that the definitive and most impressive version of this horror tale remains the original 1925 silent Lon Chaney version.  I still find this difficult to believe.  The film was made in 1925.  It’s a silent movie.  And yet this is the best version.  No one since has been able to match it.  Unbelievable, but true.

Similarly, when you look at the famous unmasking scenes, again, it’s the Chaney version which stands above the rest, and seriously, it stands way above the rest.  No other version even comes close!

The Chaney version also is the most faithful version of the Gaston Leroux novel, and likewise, it handles its unmasking scene in a way that is most true to the book.  For starters, in the book, the Phantom is unmasked early on, as he is in the Chaney version.  For some reason, both the 1943 Universal remake and the 1962 Hammer remake chose to unmask the Phantom at the end of the movie.  Bad idea.

In the 1925 silent version, the first half of the movie, the Phantom (Lon Chaney) is exactly that:  a phantom.  We see only glimpses of him, a shadow, a hand, a silhouette, and he’s there wreaking havoc at the Paris Opera House for reasons we don’t know at the time.  The movie captures this brilliantly, and director Rupert Julian truly makes the unknown Phantom a threatening and menacing presence without the audience ever really seeing him.

When the Phantom shows interest in young Opera singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and secretly whisks her away from her dressing room, we see him for the first time, and he’s wearing a mask so neither Christine nor the audience can see his face.  In the famous unmasking scene, which occurs midway through the film, the Phantom plays the organ, while Christine sneaks up behind him and attempts to remove his mask.  In classic suspenseful fashion, she reaches for it but then backs off, afraid he’ll turn around, before finally ripping it off his face, exposing the horrific make-up by Lon Chaney.

This is one of the best scenes in the 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  In fact, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in horror movie history.  The same cannot be said for the unmasking scenes in the 1943 and 1962 versions.

Chaney’s Phantom opens his mouth in what looks like a shriek of terror, and then he turns on Christine with a viciousness that would make Mr. Hyde proud.  He physically attacks her, thrusting his face into hers, screaming at her to behold is ugliness, and then he laughs at her, in what we can only imagine to be an insane maniacal laugh.  It’s a terrifying and brutal scene.

Supposedly, Chaney shot most of this scene himself— he and director Julian were at odds throughout the production and Chaney directed most of his own scenes— and to get the desired reaction shots from Mary Philbin, Chaney hurled insults at her, and she was under the impression he was furious with her and disappointed with her acting abilities, and so her reaction here was based on real emotions.

Interestingly enough, more than one version of this scene exists— heck, various versions of this movie exist!  The history of this film reveals there were multiple cuts of the film upon its release, and over the years as it was re-released multiple times things didn’t get any simpler and different prints surfaced.  I’ve only seen one version, but supposedly there exists out there another version of the unmasking scene shot from different angles.

After this shocking scene, the Phantom lets Christina go, to return to the Paris Opera House, but later, when he spies her with her lover Raoul (Norman Kerry) he vows revenge and then brings his wrath down upon the Opera House one last time while abducting Christina once more in the film’s extremely exciting conclusion.

In the 1943 version, Claude Rains portrays a very different and much more sympathetic Phantom. His Phantom is a violinist who is ultimately wronged and then goes insane later in the movie, and so when this film starts, there is no Phantom haunting the Opera House since he’s a meek violinist at this point in the story.

The mask in this version is probably my favorite mask in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies, and it’s so prevalent in this movie that it becomes synonymous with the Phantom, much more than Chaney’s mask.  When you think of Lon Chaney as the Phantom, you see his terrifying make-up, but when you think of Claude Rains as the Phantom, you see his slick white mask.

The entire time Rains is the Phantom, he wears the white mask.  Unlike the 1925 version, the unmasking scene in the 1943 film doesn’t come until the end of the movie.  This scene just doesn’t have the same effect as the Chaney scene.  The mask comes off, and we see minimal make-up on Rains’ face, and then he promptly dies in the film’s conclusion.  Gone is the maniacal laughter, the threats to Christine, the essence of what made the character the evil Phantom.  I like the 1943 version a lot, but its unmasking scene and its abrupt anti-climactic finale are two of the weakest parts of this movie.

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

For some reason, Hammer Films chose to follow the style of the 1943 version instead of the 1925 version.  I’m guessing this decision was a financial one.  The 1925 version was an epic production, complete with a massive set of the Paris Opera House, and its enormous catacombs, which were used in a huge part of the movie, unlike the subsequent remakes which spent little time underneath the Paris Opera House.  Hammer probably didn’t have the budget to make a movie on the scale of the 1925 version.

Hammer’s 1962 version gets off to a rousing start, however, as the Phantom (Herbert Lom) is wreaking havoc immediately, and so in this regard Hammer did choose to follow the 1925 version.  And I’ve argued that the first half of the 1962 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is among Hammer’s and director Terence Fisher’s best work, but then things take a dramatic turn as we see via flashback the story of how the Phantom became the Phantom, and suddenly Herbert Lom’s Phantom becomes even more sympathetic— albeit, even heroic— a heroic Phantom?  Come on!— than Claude Rains’ Phantom.

And the unmasking scene in the 1962 version might be even weaker than the one in the 1943 version.  Again, it occurs at the end of the movie.  Again, there’s no insane rants by the Phantom, there’s nothing terrifying or frightening, as there was in the 1925 film.  Again, the make-up is inferior to the Chaney make-up.  There’s a little excitement involving a falling chandelier, but it’s so quick and abrupt that if you blink suddenly you’re reading “The End” on the screen.

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

The 1962 version by Hammer Films cries out for an additional 20 minutes where after the Phantom is unmasked, he whisks Christine into the catacombs beneath the Opera House while the heroes pursue them into the Phantom’s lair, where they must face all the traps set for them by the insane Phantom.  But alas this doesn’t exist.  The Hammer version simply ends with the unmasking.  The good news is this part of the story does exist in the 1925 silent version, and it’s one of the more exciting parts of that film.

The unmasking scene in the Lon Chaney 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is one of the most terrifying scenes in horror film history.  It’s not to be missed.  The unmasking scenes in the 1943 Universal Claude Rains version and the 1962 Hammer Films Herbert Lom version are both duds and strangely remain the weakest parts of both movies.  Go figure!

So, there you have it:  a look at the unmasking scenes in the three most prominent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies to date.

I hope you enjoyed this new column, SHOCK SCENES, and that you’ll join me again next time when I look at more classic scenes from classic horror movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.