A*P*E (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Paul Leder
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

The 1976 KING KONG is not out on domestic Blu-ray yet, but that's OK 'cause we now have A*P*E. Made in 1976 in anticipation of Dino De Laurentiis' well-publicized, big budget remake of the 1933 RKO “Kong”, A*P*E was shot in Korea by the director who gave us I DISMEMBER MAMA, and presented by Jack H. Harris (who also did the same for John Landis' SCHLOCK). It's terrible, but it's terribly fun at the same time.

The film's gripping poster promised all sorts of sensational thrills (even making reference to JAWS), but in the first few minutes, a guy in a cut-rate gorilla suit escapes the prison den of a toy boat, only to do battle with (or actually dance with) a lifeless shark (Ah, that would make it “giant” too, wouldn’t it? Scaling issues prevail throughout) in a dark swimming pool. The 36-foot simian then makes his way to the shores of Seoul, crushing cardboard buildings, terrifying a bunch of hoodlum kids breaking into an amusement park, tossing a harmless snake (in order to live up to the poster's promise of "See A*P*E… vanquish Monster Reptile") and disrupting the shooting of the latest cheapo martial arts flick. In the meantime, blonde Hollywood actress Marilyn Baker (lovely Joanna DeVarona, later known as Joanna Kerns of TV’s "Growing Pains" fame) is in town to make a movie (usually shooting scenes where she’s chased and about to be raped), but is literally swept off her feet by the overstuffed monkey so she can scream at the top off her lungs and do her best Fay Wray impersonation ("be gentle big fella").

Soap star Rod Arrants (LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT) plays a macho reporter who wants to marry Marilyn, and the late Alex Nicol (he directed and starred in THE SCREAMING SKULL) is Colonel Davis, a cranky American military man stationed in Korea. Nicol (seen mostly yelling at other officials on the telephone from his paneled office) shouts lines like "...kill that hairy son of a bitch" and "Let’s see him dance for his organ grinder now!" You wonder if the movie is meant to be a spoof or if they just added snickers at the last minute, realizing how shoddy this was going to turn out. There are references to King Kong and Charlton Heston, the ape flips the bird to the military (after smacking around some helicopters) and a director in the film (played by Leder, who resembles comic character actor Herb Edelman) is called Dino (get it?). But that's not nearly as funny as hundreds of Korean extras running (from nothing) through the streets of Seoul (reminiscent of earlier Japanese Toho romps, or more like Korea’s own YONGARY), the ape peeping through a window at a Korean prostitute and her American businessman John, and pitiful rear projection that makes the ape resemble a giant ink blotch. Since the film was originally shot in 3D, we get to witness Tonka tanks, boulders, shooting missiles, etc., hurdled towards the camera (on highly noticeable wires) in an erratic manner.

Image Entertainment first released A*P*E on DVD way back in 2001, and now in the age of 3D Blu-rays, Kino has picked up the film for Blu-ray in both 3-D and 2-D presentations. There is enough three dimensional shenanigans on the screen to be had here, and much of it would make SCTV’s Dr. Tongue and Bruno blush. We are not able to screen the 3-D version since we only have a standard setup at present, but here’s the rundown on the 2-D version: it’s presented in 1080p in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is no hiding that this is a very cheaply made movie (reportedly $23,000 if that’s even possible!) but detail is good, colors are acceptable (a bit faded on occasion) and grain is healthy and filmic, with only some slight wear on the source print. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and sounds serviceable enough, as the poor production values results in popping, camera cranking noise and you can even hear the director yelling “cut” at the end of one scene! No subtitle options are offered.

Extras include an audio commentary with film buffs Chris Alexander and Hillary Hess. Alexander (watching a non 3-D print while doing the commentary) mentions that the non-actors playing the sailors in the opening scene were drunk (and had their voices re-dubbed), describes how the film nondescriptly made the cover of Famous Monsters in 1978, and points out the film's overall ineptness throughout. Hess, a champion of the original KING KONG, briefly joins the conversation about 30 minutes in, telling of the discovery of a 35mm 3-D print and how the film is much more intriguing in the (Spacevision) 3-D format. Alexander then comes back and talks about how the film originally ran under an hour (and was padded out to make the proper running time), how he tried to get in touch with director Leder’s daughter Mimi (who was assistant director on the film) before the commentary was conducted and stretches the conversation (which goes a bit in circles) as best he can. The original A*P*E trailer is included (1080p and 1.78:1) which tells us “Not to be confused with KING KONG”, as well as trailers for some of Kino’s other 3-D Blu-ray releases: THE BUBBLE, GOG, THE MASK and the upcoming SEPTEMBER STORM. (George R. Reis)