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Bonus Reviews: King Kong (1933) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 155
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of fun films that couldn’t be further apart in tone. First, we’ve got the original “King Kong” from way back in 1933. Does it hold up today? Then we'll look at the much-newer horror/fairy-tale, “Pan’s Labyrinth” from 2006.
Don’t forget, the first week of each month, we publish ALL our reviews, including the bonus content, in our monthly “Horror Bulletin” print magazine (also available as an ebook). If you don’t have time to read the website or email, here’s one more option for you! The February issue is available now!
King Kong (1933)
Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by James Ashmore Crewman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper
Stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Run Time: 1 Hour, 40 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A big ape falls in love, goes to the Big Apple, and makes a big splash. Spoiler-free on King Kong, really?
There’s a huge ship planning to do a job for a movie company. The ship and crew are far larger than an expedition of this sort needs. They’re also loaded with explosives and bigger weapons than they should need. They have to hurry as the Coast Guard will shut them down if they do an inspection. Carl Denham has a reputation for always “getting the film.”
Charles Weston, the publicist, wants to know why Denham wants to take a girl along with them for this film. He evades a clear answer, but says he needs one and doesn’t have one yet. Denham has to go out on the town and pick up a girl; he finds Ann Darrow about to get arrested for stealing food. He’s a fast talker, and soon convinces Ann to take the job.
The sailors make a big deal about having a woman on board. Denham is very vague and sketchy about their destination. He knows of an uncharted island. He talks about the natives having a giant wall that keeps… something out. “Did you ever hear of Kong?” He asks. The captain has heard the name. It’s supposed to be on that island.
They arrive at Skull Island and immediately hear drums. They see Skull Mountain and the wall. It’s all true! The natives are doing a dance dressed in what looks like ape costumes.
Once ashore, they find the natives quickly, and the captain is able to talk to the chief. The chief likes the “Golden Woman” and wants to buy her. They go back to the ship, and the Driscoll, the First Mate, tells Ann he loves her. The natives row out to the ship and kidnap Ann.
The Captain breaks out the rifles and plans to attack the islanders. The natives open the monster-sized door in the wall and tie Ann to the altar beyond. She’s going to be a “Bride of Kong.” They all go up atop the wall to watch what happens.
Kong shows up, and it turns out, he’s a giant ape— who knew? Ann sets eyes on him and screams her heart out, but Kong looks pleased with his new toy.
The sailors and film crew arrive late and don’t actually see Kong. They do see dinosaurs. They shoot one, and we get a good closeup of the thing. The men get chased further inland by the hostile wildlife and eventually catch up with Kong. Some of the deaths are pretty brutal for a film this old. Before Kong can kill all the men, he has to save Ann from a T-Rex.
Denham goes back to the boat for more gas bombs while Driscoll continues to search for Ann. While Kong battles monster after monster, Driscoll catches up and steals Ann away.
Denham and the rest of the ship’s crew are hanging out at the giant door as Driscoll and Ann make a run for it. Denham has a plan to lure in Kong there are the wall and hit him with a gas bomb. Kong breaks down the huge door and smashes the native village. Denham gasses Kong and loads him aboard the ship.
Denham markets Kong as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” on Broadway. Tickets cost twenty bucks! Denham does a whole “Beauty and the Beast” theme for the show.
The curtain goes up on Kong, and the audience is impressed. Kong is pretty subdued until they bring out Ann Darrow. The press come in to take pictures, and Kong doesn’t like the flashbulbs. Naturally, he breaks free and goes on a rampage in New York City.
Driscoll takes Ann up into a tall building to hide, but Kong climbs up after them. He reaches through the window and grabs her. He takes her up to the roof but then decides he needs a bigger building. In the meantime, he derails a commuter train. He starts to climb the Empire State Building, so they call out the airplanes.
Four biplanes with machine guns circle the top of the tower while Kong growls at them. Kong finally sets Ann down, and they let him have it. He smashes one of the planes, but the others wear him down until he falls to his death.
It’s got a huge cast of extras and the Skull Island sets look impressive. There was no CGI in this period obviously, and some of the sets of the wall were built full size. The vast majority of the film takes place on Skull Island, but all anyone ever remembers is the big city stuff, which fits into the final twenty minutes.
The stop-motion ape and dinosaurs don’t show up until around 45 minutes in. The animation looks pretty dated and jerky by today’s standards, but it was cutting-edge stuff at the time this was made and was extremely effective. The level of detail in Kong’s movements and mannerisms are really well considered and implemented.
The 1925 film, “The Lost World” is considered the first giant-monster film with it’s dinosaurs. This was the second of the type, and clearly the more successful. It’s got a loads of action, excellent pacing, and we get a lot of the monsters, not just a lazy reveal at the end. If you can look past the primitive animation, it all holds up surprisingly well.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro
Stars Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi Lopez
Run Time: 1 Hour, 58 Minutes
We begin in Spain, 1944. Men are fighting the new fascist regime, but the military is working overtime to stamp out the resistance.
The narrator explains that a long time ago, in the Underground Realm, there had been a princess who escaped to the outside world and forgot all about her home. Eventually, she died, but the king understood that her soul would return, perhaps in a human body. He could wait…
We shift to Ofelia and her mother in a car. They’re moving to the countryside. Her mother is obviously very ill with her pregnancy, and she has to get out to be sick. She fixes a broken statue and a huge insect crawls out. She says it’s a fairy. Her mother, Carmen, explains they have to get home to see “The Captain,” and Ofelia needs to start calling him “Father.” Ofelia explains that her real father died in the war. The strange bug flies after them.
They arrive, and Captain Vidal is cold and mean. Ofelia follows the bug into an old maze, and the servant, Mercedes, explains that it’s very old, even from before the house was there. Vidal is mostly only concerned about his coming son; he won’t even consider that the baby could be a girl. Vidal casually kills a few farmers that might have been traitors.
That night, Ofelia sees the giant insect in her room. She shows it a picture of a fairy, and it becomes one. It wants her to follow it out into the labyrinthine maze outside. She follows the fairy through the maze and finds a portal that leads downward into a dark place.
At the bottom, she meets the faun, a big magical creature who says, “You’ve returned!” He believes she is Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld, returned at last. He explains that she has to prove she is not mortal by completing three tasks before the full moon. He gives her a book with instructions, and then he vanishes. Ofelia asks Mercedes if she believes in fairies, but everyone thinks she’s too old for that sort of thing.
We see that the captain has moved a bunch of supplies into the barn and locked it up; Mercedes is very interested in that fact. We also see her stealing a knife, so she’s probably in the resistance.
Ofelia starts her quest. She has to put three magic stones inside a giant toad’s mouth to save an old tree. She finds the huge old toad and poisons it as instructed. She finds that it had a key inside. Unfortunately, she has to crawl through the mud under the fig tree and get filthy in the process, just before the captain’s big party. The adults are… disappointed.
She takes the key down into the labyrinth and Faun gives her a piece of chalk. Ofelia starts to wonder if the Faun is lying to her or using her for something else. Carmen’s health takes a turn for the worse, and the doctor wants to keep her sedated until the birth.
Mercedes and the doctor go out that night to meet Pedro, her brother, who is in the resistance. The doctor has to amputate a wounded man’s leg. We see that the captain isn’t entirely stable, mentally.
The faun gives Ofelia some mandrake root to put under her mother’s bed; he instructs her to feed it two drops of blood every morning. It’s a nasty looking, squirmy little human-shaped root that squeaks and cries like a baby. Carmen’s health starts to improve due to the magic. Ophelia promises the baby that she'll take him to her kingdom if he doesn’t hurt her mother.
He then explains that her next journey will be to a place with a great feast, but she should not eat anything. She uses the chalk to draw a door, which then opens and lets her inside. She finds a feast-table with a strange, pale man sitting there with his eyes on a plate. There are many paintings of the pale man doing unspeakable things to children. She puts her key in the keyhole and finds a big dagger. On the way out, she eats a grape, which is a big mistake. The pale man wakes up and chases her; he also eats two of her fairy friends. She barely escapes.
The resistance attacks and steals the supplies. The lock has been opened, so Vidal suspects it was Mercedes. They capture her brother’s friend and bring him back for interrogation. The captain really excels at torture. He figures out that the doctor is with the resistance too, just as the doctor kills the prisoner. The doctor doesn’t live long after that.
When Faun hears about the grapes, he gets irate and tells her that she can never come back; she’ll die mortal. He then vanishes. Vidal finds the mandrake and throws it out, so Carmen starts to deteriorate. Carmen yells that magic isn’t real, and then collapses in pain. She starts giving birth, and it’s a horrible, bloody mess. The baby survives, but Carmen doesn’t.
Mercedes knows that Vidal is onto her, so she tells Ofelia that she has to leave. Captain Vidal catches them in the woods. He thinks Ofelia was in on it too. He prepares to torture her, but she pulls out her hidden knife and slashes his face after stabbing him. She’s then rescued by the resistance fighters. The captain stitches up his own face. The men then tell the captain that they are outnumbered.
Meanwhile, the little fairy and Faun return to Ofelia. He warns that this is her last chance. “Fetch your brother and take him to the labyrinth as quickly as you can.” Before she goes, she spikes the captain’s drink and steals the baby. The house is under attack, but he chases after Ofelia and the baby instead of helping his soldiers.
Ofelia runs to the labyrinth and goes straight down to the underworld, but the captain is right behind her. She finds the faun, who wants to sacrifice the baby to open the portal, as only the blood of an innocent will do the job. She refuses. Vidal catches up to them, but he doesn’t see the faun, only the two children.
Vidal then takes the baby and shoots Ofelia. He walks out of the labyrinth to find himself surrounded by angry villagers. He hands the baby over to Mercedes before they kill him.
Ofelia lays there and bleeds to death, but her blood drips down into the underworld. The king of the underworld finally comes for her. She’s passed the tests; the faun was telling the truth all along. Upstairs, in the real world, she dies.
There are so many thousands of World War II movies, yet almost none of them take place in Franco’s Spain. This setting is different, but in a still-familiar way, which is interesting in itself. It becomes clear as the film progresses who the real monsters are. The war between the captain and the resistance takes us away from the fantasy side of the story, but it gives a glimpse into the lives of the various characters and also lets us see how bleak Ophelia’s situation really is.
The makeup, creature effects, and strange settings have held up extremely well. This is a beautiful-looking film, very atmospheric. The cinematography, colors, oversaturated lighting, and sound all work together flawlessly here to me the perfect grown-up fairy tale. The faun and the pale man are terrifyingly detailed and realistic.
It’s more “dark fantasy” than horror, but it’s still got all the horror elements. It’s nearly a perfect film for either genre.
Stay tuned for more regular and bonus reviews next week!
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