ORIGINALLY POSTED 3-9-2010
You would think that anyone with a passion as singular as mine would have a deep and abiding affection for all things gorilla suit but the truth is, my love for the profession wanes somewhat once you look past the work of Bob Burns. With the arrival of effects wunderkind Rick Baker in the seventies , the 'gorilla suit' would eventually become indistinguishable from the real flesh and blood animal it is meant to depict. I love the film and images of Golden Age Hollywood Gorillas because of their evocations of the idea of a mighty jungle beast . Why this preamble to a review of a cheesy ribald tribute to serials of old? Bill Black's new short THE RETURN OF NYOKA THE JUNGLE GIRL not only celebrates and pokes fun at the classic Saturday matinee cliffhanger but it also features a Modern Gorilla Man, Chris Casteel, who would not look out of place alongside Gemora, Corrigan or Van Horn in his guise as The Mighty Bongo. Not to confuse names, but Bongo appears as the fearsome ape Satan, played by Emil Van Horn in the original serials.
NYOKA is naturally patterned after the classic source material with other twists thrown in, namely the appearance of the Crimson Skull who has resurrected the devil ape Satan with the mystical Amulet of Vultura (the gorilla's former master). The story unfolds with Satan on the lam and Nyoka Gordon in possession of the charmed bauble. It's not long before our comely heroine is in dire straits at the hands of the Crimson Skull and his simple minded henchmen. Fisticuffs, firefights and fearsome fur on flesh action follows!
One clear difference 50 plus years make from one incarnation of Nyoka to another - Kay Aldridge, the last jungle girl, never looked so shapely. Bill Black obviously has a penchant for well endowed women. His selection of other original offerings at Cult Retro are unmistakably cleavage oriented and I am unashamed to admit it certainly got me interested in forking over the $11.95 to download the flick. Where Black's material distinguishes itself is the execution of a simple premise with a flair, humour and style that I found surprising for what could have been a dreary retread with boobs. A major challenge faced with any tribute work, big budget or no budget, is establishing a psychological bridge to the beloved original. The usage of the classic music cues and sound effects of the 40's production immediately had me engaged - a thrifty and effective choice. The 30 minute 'Chapter' has a lively pace with a decent allotment of shots and cuts, always keeping the viewer engaged, and I also found the action and dialogue to be pretty damn snappy for a home grown effort. NYOKA features a surprising number of laughs as the cast skewer Serial touchstones like not sticking around to witness the hero/heroine done in by the death trap of the day or through the delightfully hammy delivery of their lines. Did I mention breasts yet? I'm a weak, red blooded male and I would be a damn dirty liar if I didn't admit to enjoying Nicola Rae jiggling about while tussling with the villains. What makes Nicola all the more enjoyable is her capable performance that keeps your eyes above her shoulders - most of the time. I will note however that the outtakes at the conclusion of the serial, reveal Nicola's natural, youthful charm and I hope she can further tap into that for future returns as Nyoka.
And what of the ape you say? Chris Casteel's performance as Satan feels torn from the celluloid of old. The suit appearing in NYOKA is a recent construction that looks impressive in action and the ape's visage is a curious amalgam of gorilla mugs familiar to fans, a bit of Bob Burns, a shade of Barrows, but with a personality that is singular and distinct. For me it is gratifying to see a lost art embraced and represented so effectively. Satan has a presence in NYOKA that nearly outshines his buxom co-star.
Put simply THE RETURN OF NYOKA THE JUNGLE GIRL is fun. Bill Black's home studio production bears up to repeat viewings because it's true to roots of it's premise but also has a naughty playful attitude that will beckon to me again and again. And it's got a gorilla, so there - it's just about perfect!
Where will The Mighty Bongo appear next? Well, I'm pleased to report that shooting will commence on another chapter of Nyoka later this month. I'm curious to see what Bill and his players have in store for us and wish them all the best.
You may have noticed the addition of The Mighty Bongo underneath ol' Kong on the sidebar as GORILLA MEN's official Gorilla Man - I'm thrilled to have Bongo's acceptance of this humble honour and eagerly anticipate sharing his lifelong quest to tread in the footsteps of Gemora and his brethren in posts yet to come. In the meantime download or order THE RETURN OF NYOKA THE JUNGLE GIRL - it's GORILLA MEN ape-proved.