Tag Archives: congo




Today’s feature was actually a significant financial success, which moviegoers of 1995 should be embarrassed about now. Here is arguably the least of Michael Crichton film adaptations, “Congo.”

“Congo” was directed by Frank Marshall, a prolific producer with over 100 credits (including “Back to the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) whose directing roles before “Congo” included “Alive” and “Arachnophobia.”

“Congo” is loosely based on a best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, who has done his fair share of screen writing and directing on top of writing countless treasured books like “Jurassic Park” and “The Andromeda Strain.” However, the screenplay for “Congo” was written by John Patrick Shanley, an Academy Award winning writer who was behind “Moonstruck” and “Doubt.” Reportedly, Shanley didn’t read the source material, and wrote the screenplay more or less based on a simple synopsis of the story.

The cinematography for “Congo” was provided by Allen Daviau, who was Steven Spielberg’s go-to director of photography earlier in his career, giving him credits on films like “Amblin,” “The Color Purple,” “E.T.,” and “Empire of the Sun.” He also provided cinematography for “Van Helsing,” another film I have covered here on the blog.

The music for “Congo” was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who worked on scores for films like “Supergirl,” “Mulan,” “Alien,” “Small Soldiers,” and “Gremlins,” among countless others.

Stan Winston was brought in to create the gorillas for “Congo,” specifically because of his impressive work on “Jurassic Park.” In fact, without his abilities showcased in “Jurassic Park,” “Congo” would likely have stayed in production limbo indefinitely, until effects could catch up enough to effectively replicate gorillas.

“Congo” features a pretty deep cast of actors, including Joe Don Baker (“Mitchell,” “Final Justice,” “Leonard Part 6”) Dylan Walsh (“Nip/Tuck”), Laura Linney (“The Truman Show”), Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”), and Tim Curry (“It,” “Clue,” “McHale’s Navy”). Beloved b-movie actor Bruce Campbell (“Evil Dead”) also makes a brief appearance in the opening of the movie, and absolutely kills it with his trademark charm before being dispatched by angry gorillas.

The complicated story behind “Congo” involves a number of plots that converge in an expedition into the jungles of the Congo. A team of scientists is seeking to reintroduce a gorilla into the wild, while a number of other parties piggy-back on the operation in search of diamonds, a mythical monument, and a missing loved one. As you would expect, things quickly go awry for the team.

congo5Famous singer Jimmy Buffett appears briefly in the movie, portraying a pilot. Buffett is actually a trained pilot in real life, which I suppose qualified him for the role.

The diamonds used in the production are actually quartz crystals called Herkimer Diamonds, which were the only believable and large enough stones available for the movie. They are very rare, and are only found in specific areas of New York. The crystal at the end of the film that is thrown away was reportedly actually lost, and is presumably still out there somewhere.

congo8“Congo” has a long production history, extending to before the novel was even published in 1980. The success and technical breakthroughs of “Jurassic Park” gave the incentive to get it off the ground, as previously there wasn’t enough confidence in the effects available to portray the apes. Unfortunately, the effects still weren’t advanced enough to handle portraying apes, due to the difficulties in replicating hair. So, ultimately, gorilla suits and models were used anyway.

“Congo” had a box office total of over $150 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $50 million, primarily because of the significant promotion of the film and the lingering hype over “Jurassic Park,” which was fanned by the advertising campaign which drew intentional comparisons between the two films. “Congo” was ultimately the #16 movie of 1995, coming ahead of critically lauded movies like “Braveheart,” “Heat,” “12 Monkeys,” and “Casino.”

The reception for the movie, however, was not so good. “Congo” currently has an IMDb score of 5.0, as well as Rotten Tomatoes rating of 22% (critics) and 29% (audience), making for a very poor reception across the board.

The ape suits clearly don’t match the impressive effects work in “Jurassic Park,” and have aged very poorly. However, there clearly weren’t any other viable options at the time for creating the apes. Realistically, the only thing that could have been done was to just shelve the movie, which would mean losing out on the coat-tails of “Jurassic Park,” which was the prime catalyst for the production to start with. So, I can excuse the ape suits here, at least from a production standpoint. Regardless, this is probably the most disappointing major creature work by Stan Winston outside of “Lake Placid.”

congo4“Congo” features a number of over-the-top accents which struck me as entirely unnecessary. Tim Curry is by far the worst offender, but his faux-Romanian accent is at least entertaining and hammy. Ernie Hudson puts on a bit of an English accent that is also a bit amusing, but perhaps even more unnecessary for his character than Curry’s near-offensive Romanian.

A number of the criticisms I have seen of “Congo” point out the apparently implied romance between Dylan Walsh and Amy the gorilla, which I think was intentional on some level. Both Amy and Walsh’s character were supposed to be sympathetic, and their bond was central to the story. However, particularly at the end of the film, it seemed like they pushed the relationship a bit too far and overt, and it just didn’t come off as well as hoped. Honestly, I think this is at least partly due to how Walsh played the character. I would be shocked if Campbell (who was also up for the role) wouldn’t have played the relationship as more brotherly or parental in comparison to Walsh’s teary-eyed romantic vibe.

congo3Speaking of which, I think “Congo” really suffers from not having enough Bruce Campbell or Joe Don Baker in the story. Both men have powerful presences and personalities, and steal every moment they are on screen. At the very least, having either of them on the main expedition would have made the film more entertaining to watch.

congo6I can’t very well not mention the diamond-powered “communication lasers” at the center of the plot. It obviously sounds fancy, interesting, and potentially insidious, but it just doesn’t make any sense. How exactly are lasers to be used for communication? Also, why are the lasers solely used as weapons when they are supposedly for “communications”? Was that intentional, and the purpose was to develop new military technology all along? It just isn’t clear.

This isn’t exactly a criticism as much as an observation, but the face in the lost city definitely reminded me of Olmec from the TV game show “Legend of the Hidden Temple.” Of course two stone faces are going to look similar, but just take a look for yourself:

congo7 congo9Overall, “Congo” is a pretty dull movie that is only somewhat redeemed by a handful of over-the-top performances. It isn’t good enough to be “Jurassic Park” and isn’t incompetent or goofy enough to be “Anaconda,” and exists in an uncomfortable limbo space in between the two. Realistically, it shouldn’t have been made when it was, and the quality was a costly casualty of a rushed cash-in on the back of “Jurassic Park.” I can still recommend this movie on the strengths of Tim Curry, Bruce Campbell, Joe Don Baker, and the power of nostalgia, but I would be lying if I said making a drinking game of this flick wouldn’t make the experience much easier.



Bargain Bin(ge), Part 1

One of my favorite hobbies as a bad movie aficionado is scrounging around used DVD bargain bins, searching for sufficiently horrible movies to watch. It is a fantastic way to come across unknown or forgotten b-movie relics, and sometimes I’ll luck out and discover something truly fantastic.

Since the beginning of the year (and the start of my IMDb Bottom 100 challenge), I’ve been doing quite a lot of sifting through bargain bins searching for the worst of the worst in the world of DVD releases. I think I’ve made some promising finds along the way, digging up movies either too obscure to make IMDb’s Bottom 100 list and/or are just generally terrible in appearance/concept. I haven’t watched through these yet, but I have built up quite a queue for when I do wrap up the Bottom 100. Here is the first in a number of entries chronicling what I’ve found.

For each movie, I’ll link the IMDb page, a trailer or clip, and some initial comments:


Max Magician and The Legend of the Rings

This looks like an absolute train-wreck.  I can’t wait to actually watch this thing, because I am struggling to find a competent aspect of it from those clips. At first glance, I assumed this would be a child-centric rip-off of “Lord of the Rings”, but it looks like something much more akin to “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” in intent. Honestly though, the movie I am most reminded of in these clips (at least in the acting department) is “Troll 2”. I could see that child actor pissing on some hospitality with that kind of performance.


Ultimate Prey

My initial, unbelievable reaction to the trailer is that this movie appears to be beneath Joe Estevez (oft-forgotten brother of Martin Sheen).  Also, I can’t help but wonder if this movie is trying to be a knock-off of “Deadly Prey”. I can’t hold that against it, because “Deadly Prey” is absolutely an awesome movie. However, it is itself a knock-off of “First Blood”. You aren’t supposed to get that many levels of knock-offs. That’s like a movie trying to rip off “ROTOR” instead of just going straight to “RoboCop”.


Android Insurrection

This seems like a fairly generic sci-fi horror movie, but people seem to really hate it. There is bound to be something more to the horribleness of this movie that isn’t let on in the trailer. As a side note, I did get a flashback to the evil robot animal thing from “Red Planet”, which I assume most people have forgotten about entirely by now. Also of some interest, the production company behind this (Pandora Machine) looks like an imitation of The Asylum, trying to capitalize on B-rate mockbusters (one of their other credits is a blatant “Prometheus” knock-off). They haven’t put out much, but the idea of a company trying to mimic The Asylum is absolutely hilarious to me.



I saw this thing in theaters as a kid. What a disastrously moronic movie! I haven’t watched it in years, but I have come across some recent B-movie reviews of it that have me very anxious to do a re-watch. I surprisingly haven’t seen many copies of this DVD floating around out there, especially given how big I seem to remember it being. I also completely forgot that Tim Curry was in this, something that I’m not sure is a positive or a negative here.


Night of the Wilding

No trailer on this one. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this movie, although the only thing that would shock me is if it is a decent watch. Even the IMDb page doesn’t provide much, apart from a handful of reviews. Even the poster has me confused: the synopsis says that he is a defense attorney, yet Estrada is looking distinctively cop-like on the poster. The plot reads like more of a bad lawyer drama than the action movie it seems to be marketed as, so I’m interested in seeing what it is actually like on screen.


The Exterminator

The only thing I know about this movie is what Red Letter Media told me, but when I saw it IRL, I had to pick it up. It sounds like a mostly boring watch, but the cover has me sold regardless. I’m hoping that there is more to get out of it than the Red Letter Media folks give it credit for. Still, I got it for about a buck. Hard to complain over that.



I am absolutely giddy about this one. There are so many archaic relics to check out in this trailer, and not just Harvey Keitel. The idea of a beeper-centric suspense story seems ridiculous and incredibly dated now, so there are bound to be a number of laughs hidden in here in hindsight and nostalgia alone. I also like that the beeper is apparently delivered via ninja, or so the trailer would have us believe. It begs the question: why not deliver other things via ninja? Surely there is more they can offer beyond death and beepers. Just from what I’ve seen in the trailer, I’m willing to bet those car chase scenes are a pretty damn sad sight as a cherry on top of it all. I have very high hopes for this one.


Omega Doom

This one interests me more as I learn more about it. Apparently humans are nearly extinct, and our robot conquistadors are trying to hunt down the last of us and take away the what is left of our guns. Apparently Rutger Hauerbot is on the side of the humans for some reason (or so it seems from the trailer), and there is some sort of civil war between the robots heating up. It sounds like there is a potentially interesting plot here, but I have a feeling that it isn’t going to flesh out well. I’m hoping for some solid, mindless, robot-slaying action in here. If I get some hilariously bad special effects in the process, I will be perfectly happy.


The Pandora Project

Can’t find a trailer, which means I am going into this one almost completely blind. I will point out that I did find the above selection on YouTube, which is apparently the film’s main theme. IMDb only has the following insight to the plot:

“A CIA agent has to stop a former associate who has stolen a weapon which kills people without harming buildings, all before he is to get married in a few days.”

Well, thank goodness it doesn’t harm the buildings! It must be a weaponized polar opposite of Roland Emmerich.


Land of College Prophets

Unlike the others here, this is more of a tribute B-movie. There is an interesting sort of underground community that is dedicated to making new B-movies, some with a comedic twist and others seeking to be authentic mimicry. I can recommend a few of them that find a good balance between the two (“Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” and “Black Dynamite” come to mind), but in general the others I have seen fall too far in one direction or the other to really enthrall me. I get the feeling off the bat that this movie is going to take itself too seriously, but it clearly got positive marks from some B-movie aficionados. I’m mostly surprised that I found this in a casual DVD shop, this seems like a bit of a deep cut to get any kind of wide release.