Crooks and Coronets 1969
Django il bastardo
Black Zoo
The Headless Ghost
Horrors of the Black Museum
How to Make a Monster
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
I Was a Teenage Werewolf
Crime of Passion
Blood of Dracula
The Brass Legend
Dance With Me Henry
Magnificent Roughnecks
River Beat
Target Earth
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
Battles of Chief Pontiac
The Bushwhackers
Kid Monk Baroni
Bride of the Gorilla



I Was A Teenage Werewolf. Teenage Frankenstein. How To Make A Monster. There are very few 1950s horror films that are as well remembered as these near-legendary titles, and they represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in the amazing career of writer-producer Herman Cohen. The Deroit-born Cohen made his first films (including Bride of the Gorilla) in the early 1950s during his association with Realart Pictures honcho Jack Broder, and he continued to specialize in horror right up through the 1970s; today he operates (with partner Didier Chatelain) Cobra Media, which also leans heavily toward the horrific in its roster of titles. In the late 1950s, Cohen shifted his base of operations to England, turning out titles such as The Headless Ghost and Horrors of the Black Museum -- and one of the finer examples of Simian Cinema you're likely to come across: Konga!

TOM WEAVER: Whose idea was Konga?

HERMAN COHEN: Nat and Stuart Levy were so excited about the business that Horrors of the Black Museum did in England and in Europe (it was a very big hit there), they said, "Herm, can you do another exploitation type of picture?" Well, I had always flipped over King Kong and Mighty Joe Young and all that, so I came up with Konga and Aben Kandel and I started writing the script.

Q: Konga involved a lot more special effects than any of your other pictures.

HERMAN: We did a tremendous amount of special effects with Rank Labs. I supervised them myself, all these effects. For the scenes where Konga's a giant, the head of special effects at Rank labs, a wonderfully clever guy named Victor Marguetti, developed a traveling matte technique that employed yellow sodium lights; Konga was the first picture that they used it on. Some of the effects of Konga, when he's big, are really good, rock steady. Konga only cost about $500,000, in color, but the effects were so good that people thought the picture cost millions.

Q: How long did it take to supervise the effects on Konga?

HERMAN: Eighteen months - over a year-and-a-half to get those bloody special effects done perfect. It just went on and on and on, 'cause it was trial and error. AIP was after me constantly -- "Where's the picture? When are we gonna get the picture?" They didn't realize how much F___king work was involved, 'cause they never used special effects at that time.

Q: The closest AIP came to special effects pictures prior to Konga were th Bert I. Gordon jobs.

HERMAN: Yes, but Konga was in color, and that's a whole different bag of beans. To have Konga hold Michael Gough, what I had to do there was matte five different scenes on one frame.

Q: I assumed that you built a giant ape arm.

HERMAN: Are you kidding? We didn't have money to build a giant putz at that time [laughs].

Q: You also had the actor in the ape suit on miniature sets, just as he was starting to grow.

HERMAN: For a cheap picture, those miniature sets that we built were pretty good. I worked my ass off. In fact, I don't think I ever worked harder on a picture than I did on Konga. And don't forget those giant plants that we had in the greenhouse scene. My art director Wilfred Arnold and I did a lot of research on those plants -- I had to go to all kinds of places with him, in the Kew Gardens, here and there. They were based on actual carnivorous plants. We had them made at Shepperton Studios. But it was exciting to do this on spit. We had to use a lot of ingenuity in place of money. Luckily, I had an enthusiastic crew with me.

I almost got thrown out of England 'cause of Konga. Once Konga grew into the giant ape, I needed to shoot the streets of London from the embankment. Jack Greenwood and [production manager] Jim O'Connolly told me, "Herm, we can't get permission. The Metropolitan Police will shut us down." I was also told you can't bribe an English bobby; unlike in New York, Chicago, Detroit or L.A., it won't work. So I had to take things in hand. I went to meet the inspector in charge of the precinct in Croyden, which is the jurisdiction of the Embankment area. I sat and visited with him for a long time, talked about all different subjects, on and on. Then we got to talking about television, and he said, "Oh, I wish I could afford a color television set." That was my opening -- I went and bought him a color television set, and I had it sent to his home. And suddenly I got permission to shoot on the streets in London! The thing that I didn't mention to him was that, at the finale, all hell was going to break loose -- that we were going to shoot submachine guns, bazookas, etc., etc. I purposely didn't tell him that [laughs]!

Q: It's always easier to get forgiveness than permission.

HERMAN: That's what I figured. We had permission to shoot from 12 midnight until five in the morning, each night for four or five nights. And on the last night, the night when we were going to shoot the finale, who should come out but the inspector, to have biscuits and a cup of tea with me and see how everything was going! I said, "Gee, it's awfully late for you to be up, it's like two o'clock in the morning." I wanted to get rid of him, but there were also a couple of sergeants that were with me all the time -- I didn't tell them what was going to happen either!

Anyway, comes the final scene and we blaze away: I had told all my people, "Have the trucks ready, 'cause when we're done, we gotta split!" Which we did! Well, the 999 emergency number got something like 300 phone calls -- people thought London was being invaded [laughs]! This was only 15 years or so after World War II, and they were still worried. I had a lot of apologies to make -- a lot! There were a few old women who claimed that the excitement affected their health, all kinds of shit. The Metropolitan Police gave me the addresses of the ones who were threatening to go to the Consul and what have you, and I had to go visit each one of them in person and charm the bejesus out of them, which I did, fortunately. Jack Greenwood Jim O'Connelly and I went and bought like 20 boxes of chocolates, which are terribly expensive in England, flowers, all sorts of crap for them. They took the candy and flowers and kissed me goodbye [laughs]!

Q: With a title like Konga, people started making comparisons to King Kong.

HERMAN: Which was fine -- which was what I wanted! We paid RKO so that we could use in our ads the line, "Not since King Kong ... has the screen thundered to so much mighty excitement!" I paid RKO because I didn't want them to think we were stealing it. We paid 'em $25,000 so there would not be any lawsuit.

Q: After Konga, you came back to Hollywood and made Black Zoo.

HERMAN: That was an original idea of mine, and then I hired Aben Kandel to work with me and we wrote the script together, I built the zoo right here at Raleigh Studio [formerly Producers Studio] on North Bronson -- the entire zoo that you saw in that picture was an interior set.

Q: You must have an animal anecdote or two.

HERMAN: Well, one of our lions escaped during the shooting of the picture, and we had front page headlines in all the papers! Everybody said I must have done it as a publicity stunt, but it actually happened. A full-grown American mountain lion named Chico, three hundred pounds, broke loose and dashed out through a door. We immediately removed the cast and crew from the set, and someone was broadcasting warnings over loudspeakers for all the various studio personnel to take cover -- this all happened just before lunch, and everybody was told to stay in their offices. The police were called and they surrounded the studio, and there was also a helicopter announcing over a loudspeaker, telling the children at the nearby schools to get off the playgrounds and back inside the buildings! More than 50 police officers with their cars blocked off streets and were searching for him. And the lion's owner, Ralph Helfer, was asking 'em not to shoot the thing. This went on for an hour or so before they recaptured him -- he had squeezed himself into a sub-basement under the soundstage, down through an electrician's crawl-hole in the stage floor. And he was scared stiff, the poor thing. Well [laughs], at least we got a lot of publicity out of it!

Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

Every horror you've seen on the screen grows pale
beside the horror of ..."
The Black Scorpion

"You'll see it tear a city apart!"
Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

"Remember that the screams you hear will be your own!"
Revenge of Frankenstein

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