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Russell James Goes Ape for King Kong

Russell R. James writes, “monster books.” These cross the genres of horror, thriller, and sci-fi. “Monster books are the most fun,” he says. Since James knows monsters, King Kong is one of his favorites.

James has a “sentimental” place for King Kong. The love affair with the giant gorilla started during childhood. He says that the movie introduced him stop-motion movie making. “I fell in love with it,” he says. James reminiscences that during his childhood in New York, a local TV station showed King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young back to back on Thanksgiving. “I looked forward to Thanksgiving more for that than the food.”

King Kong finds himself on the shelf with other movie monsters, like the Gillman from Creature from the Black Lagoon. He is a natural “monster,” who is not inherently evil. “He’s just an up-scaled gorilla,” James says. “Kong is a tragic figure in every version.” Speaking of the different versions of King Kong, James states that every remake or revision of the movie changes to “reflect the times.” In the original 1933 RKO film, Skull Island, King Kong’s home, is exploited for the benefit of the adventurers. James notes that the film takes place in a time when “trophy hunting” is something people see as part of upward social movement. He states that nothing on Skull Island is recognized for its “scientific” breakthroughs. Things like dinosaurs are treated like elephants on safari with the main villain, Denham, killing several with no repercussions or expectations that the audience would “condemn” the character for it.

By the 1976 remake, the movie focuses on money-grubbing executives who go to Skull Island looking for oil. When there is none, they take King Kong to “save their bottom line.” In the mid-seventies, audiences see Kong as a completely sympathetic character instead of some mindless killing machine. “The bad guys are bad, and they die for their efforts.” This movie even has Jessica Lange begging King Kong to not put her down for his own safety. King Kong takes another giant character change for the recent Kong: Skull Island film. In this movie, the giant gorilla is no longer exploited by humans. He becomes the protector of the humans. This means that King Kong is “physically” monstrous, but “emotionally, he can be sympathetic.”

James believes that King Kong’s sympathy factor sets him apart from other giant monsters. He has “an expressive face with human characteristics. You never know what Godzilla is thinking, or what emotions are churning within Mothra. Their faces are fixed.” James says that Kong tells the viewer everything that he is feeling with a “twitch of an eyebrow or tilt of his head.”

King Kong is such an essential creature to James that he has used it and other giant monster movies like Valley of Gwangi and The Lost World (not the Jurassic Park sequel) to draw upon for inspiration for his books that could be called creature features. Despite how much James loves King Kong, he feels like the original RKO film’s time might be passing. “I think the nostalgia factor works for the Boomer generation and a bit beyond. But I’m not sure if you plant a six-year-old in front of a black-and-white anything that you’ll get their attention. I’m afraid that means this classic’s life span may be waning.” Even if the classic movie fades into obscurity, King Kong will continue to live on in humanity’s collective unconscious.

As mentioned, several times, James writes monster books. His latest is called Forest of Fire. It’s about paleontologist Grant Coleman’s attempt to find his missing mentor. You can check the book out here:

Please check out more about Russell R. James at his website:

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