Prime-Apes!!!

My Fave Planet of the Apes Knockoffs

Best of the Bunch:

Jack Kirby‘s Kamandi #16 (April 1974)—“The Animals Have Taken Over the World!”

So began one of Jack Kirby‘s liveliest spins on Pierre Boulle‘s Planet of the Apes, spiced with Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry‘s inks and Kirby‘s revelations of precisely what lay behind “the Great Disaster” that turned evolution on its ear. It was all spelled out in the diary of one “Michael Grant” and involved a genetic stimulant named Cortexin, and I still remember first picking this up on the newsstand and reading and rereading the issue in my bedroom in Colbyville, VT the winter before I started college (at Johnson State College, Johnson, VT). So, top of the list, without hesitation!

“The Gorilla World!” in Strange Adventures #45 (June 1954)—My coverless copy of this venerable DC “gorilla cover” gem is well-worn and well-read. I’ve had it for over 40 years! This DC science-fiction corker may be just one of almost countless DC comics sporting apes and gorillas to perk sales, but it predates Pierre Boulle‘s original novel La Planète Des Singes / Planet of the Apes (1963) by damn near a full decade, and lays the groundwork for just about everything in the Boulle novel and the beloved film series that followed. Hence, I love it, and must include it here.

(PS: FYI, just ten issues later, Strange Adventures #55 offered “The Gorilla Who Challenged the World!”—sigh. #55, out in 1955, the year of my birth. APEril of 1955, to be precise, meaning it was on the stands when I was born!)

Amando de Ossorio‘s La Noche Del Terror Ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971) was, incredibly, actually released in some US markets in slightly edited form as a Planet of the Apes “sequel.” Really.

The definitive 2005 Blue Underground DVD release included the new pre-title narration (claiming that the Blind Dead were long-dead apes resurrected to exact revenge on the human species that ravaged their society and destroyed their kind) and title for this stunning feat of hucksterism, and this only expanded my already almost unbelievable affection for de Ossorio‘s fantastic film tenfold. Now, that’s showmanship!

While some have questioned whether this was a prank on the part of Blue Underground, such was not the case. I’d heard about this version from friends in the 1980s who claimed to have seen it at drive-ins, and the above ad (compliments of Temple of Schlock) provides further evidence of its theatrical life; the DVD footage Blue Underground spiced their DVD release with was courtesy of collector Harry Guerro. Here’s the title frame:

Kiyo Sumi Fukazawa and Atsuo Okunaka‘s SFドラマ 猿の軍団 (“Army of Apes: A SF Drama”) / Saru No Gundan / Time of the Apes (1974, 26 episodes; US version: edited to 97 minutes by Sandy Frank, 1987) has burned a little hole in my brain and coiled itself in there like some fuzzy grub. I can’t shake it; I love it.

First, let us remember what little Johnny (Masaaki Kaji), exclaimed after being warned about possible cataclysmic earth tremors: “I don’t care!”

Because, you see, I don’t, either.

So, siblings Johnny (Masaaki Kaji) and Caroline (pig-tailed Hiroko Saito in a schoolgirl outfit) drop in to visit Johnny‘s Uncle Charlie in his amazing lab. While his shapely lab ass’t Catherine (Reiko Tokunaga) gives them the tour and they’re standing next to the cryogenic tubes, an earthquake hammers the facility —so they duck into the tubes (!) and falling debris hits the switch (!!) and they end up trapped in an alternate future Earth (!!!) where war-mongering apes dominate what’s left of mankind,

It turns out they’re all apparently under the iron thumb of UECOM, an evil supercomputer (which Catherine learns of via telepathic communication with a completely inexplicable flying saucer that appears for no apparent reason amid the hubbub).

The interminable escape/capture/escape/flee/capture antics prominently features actors in immobile facsimiles of John Chambers‘s Academy-Award-winning Planet of the Apes simian makeups zipping around in 1974 and 1860s Civil War (!!!!) garb, behind the wheels of obvious 1970s model Buicks and Jeeps, carrying and occasionally mock-firing M1 Carbines at the hapless human stooges.

This drives Catherine, Johnny, and Caroline screaming into the tropical “Green Mountain,” a “forbidden zone” to the simians, where they stumble upon a turtle-neck-wearing human hermit Godo (Tetsuya Ushio), who pulls their sorry asses out of more chases and scrapes.

They’re also aided on occasion by the sympathetic ape-lad Pepe (Kazue Takita) and the UFO commander (Wataru Omae), but it’s all for naught. They end up thanklessly having to choose between staying stuck thousands of years in the future where apes rule and turtle-necked men hide in the jungle, or chance going further into the future.

Most folks caught this via the Mystery Science Theater 3000 broadcasts (they mocked it twice: in 1989, and later in 1991), where much fun was had at the expense of ape Police Chief Gebar (Baku Hatakeyama)’s name, as in “Gay Bar.”

I would pay dearly to see subtitled copies of the original 26 episodes; I first saw it via the 1987 Sandy Frank FHE (Family Home Entertainment) video release Time of the Apes (see box art, above left), which is still how I prefer to screen it. Sandy Frank was the fellow behind the 1980s releases and re-releases (with new cuts/dubs) of the Gamera films; Time of the Apes hit video amid those FHE releases.

I’m tempted to mention Spectreman right now, too, but… no. I won’t. I didn’t. No!


Honorable mentions:

The Gold Key comicbook adaptation of Ted Post‘s Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) was among my favorite Gold Key movie comics. I think it’s still in my collection, but I haven’t looked for it or read it in years… I may have lost it amid the many moves (as I did my Gold Key Astroboy and Yellow Submarine comicbooks). Alberto Giolitti‘s studio did the artwork, and I no longer have the insert poster cuz I tacked it up on my bedroom wall the afternoon I bought the comic at Vincent’s Pharmacy in Waterbury, VT.

This was the first authorized Planet of the Apes comic published, so I reckon it doesn’t really belong on this list, but what the hell. I dug it, I dig it, hence its honorary status and position in this completely nonsensical list.

Another “What the fuck?” Planet of the Apes knock-off cinematic confection of undefinable origin, evidenced solely by old newspaper ads. Based on the last title listed in this ad—placing this most likely in 1968, the very year Planet of the Apes was such a boxoffice smash—I’d even argue this is the first-ever rip-off of Planet of the Apes: a retitling of a re-released action movie, luring unwary movie-goers in under false pretenses!

The ad graphics are lifted from artist Frank McCarthy‘s stunning ad art for Cy Endfield‘s remarkable, forgotten Sands of the Kalahari (1965, below), and the credits visible in this ad seem to indicate that’s precisely the film that was being double-billed with キングコング対ゴジラ / Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira / King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962/1963), though the shysters who cobbled this together tossed in elements from the exquisite MGM campaign for I Criminali Della Galassia / Wild, Wild Planet (1965, also below), a dash of Ursula Andress from Hammer‘s She (1965), and a Ray Harryhausen flying saucer from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)  to sweeten the allure. Man, they must have had quite a pressbook collection in their files to cobble this apeshit together.

I also love the Hang ‘Em High (1968) showing slipped in for Christmas (FYI, Apes movie mavens, that was Ted Post‘s first theatrical director credit): break out the mistletoe, but mind the rope burns!

This was another delicious discovery of the kingpins of the Temple of Schlock website, to whom all due glory must go.

  • Worship there regularly, as I do.

  • PS: It’s worth mentioning that Jack Kirby wasn’t just riffing off Planet of the Apes by way of Gold Key’s The Mighty Samson when he created and launched Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth at then-DC-publisher Carmine Infantino‘s request. Kirby had attempted to sell a Kamandi caveman-type strip in the late 1950s (sporting the name Kamandi, if memory serves), right around the time he drew the science-fiction story “The Last Enemy!” for Harvey Comics‘s Alarming Tales #1 (September, 1957, sample page below).

    Like DC’s “The Gorilla World!,” Kirby was tapping that post-apocalyptic topsy-turvy conceit of humanoid mammals unseating man’s domination in the future long before Pierre Boulle‘s novel even existed!

    Wait—No! YES! I must mention Spectreman!!!

    Producer Souji Ushio‘s スペクトルマン / Supekutoruman / Spectreman (1971-72) was also known (for its first 21 episodes) as 宇宙猿人ゴリ / Uchû Enjin Gori / Space Apeman Gori and 宇宙猿人ゴリ対スペクトルマン / Uchû Enjin Gori tai Supekutoruman / Space Apeman Gori Vs. Spectreman (episodes 22-39), which places its albino alien ape villain Gori in the spotlight and arguably makes this classic crazy shit an honorable Planet of the Apes knockoff extraordinaire.

    Mel Welles (“Gravis Mushnick” in Roger Corman‘s immortal 1960 classic Little Shop of Horrors) handled the dubbing of the American version, which was released to TV and video as a series, and Welles made it all even funnier and more entertaining than it already was. Must-see, must-experience entertainment!

    After being exiled from the peaceful simian Planet E, the mad simian scientist Dr. Gori and his boneheaded assistant Karras were the staple villains of Spectreman. Here ya go, just a peek…


    Discussion (8) ¬

    1. Rich Handley

      Excellent article, Steve! I had no idea you were a Planet of the Apes fan, too. I’ll send you a copy of my next book, Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes (due out in a week or two). :)

      Sincerely,
      Rich Handley

    2. srbissette

      I saw PLANET OF THE APES opening weekend at the (now long gone) Strong Theater in Burlington, VT with my Dad. It floored both of us (and he’s not a sf lover at all), and I’ve been an APESaholic ever since, Rich.

      I’d love to see your book, and will happily review it here once it’s in my hands.

    3. Rich Handley

      That’d be great–thanks, Steve!

      I grew up an Apesaholic as well, thanks to The 4:30 Movie, back in the 1970s.

    4. Roger Green

      i saw all five of the Planet of the Apes movies in one sitting, sometime in the mid-1970s. well, “saw” isn’t quite true; I’m pretty sure I fell asleep at some point in the middle of the boring 5th film.

    5. Mark Masztal

      Planet of the Apes and Kamandi! Now Kamandi is a storyline waiting to be brought to a theater or a cable TV mini-series (The Walking Dead). I just got the Kamandi hardcovers from DC. Beautiful books. Kirby was the King!

    6. Michael Whitty

      Love the article, and your work. I would also like to send you something I think you will enjoy – The Forbidden Zine (POTA Fanzine). Email me your details if you would like a copy!

      Regards

      Michael Whitty

    7. Devlin Thompson

      Sometime around 1978, I went to the Market Place Cinema in Anderson, SC (now a senior citizens’ activity center) to see a movie listed on the marquee as “REVENGE PLANET APE”. I had never been all that into the whole POTA phenomenon, but I figured I might like to see one in a theater, so I had my grandfather drop me off (he would sometimes come with me, but not in this instance… probably just as well). I was NOT amused at the bait-and-switch; I’ve never revisited it since to see how I’d feel about it on its own terms. It was also around that same time that I jumped at the chance to see a new Christopher Lee “Dracula” movie in a theater (at that point, as a ten-or-eleven-year-old, Lee was pretty much just a face in FAMOUS MONSTERS to me), only to be confronted with the massive disappointment of DRACULA AND SON.

    8. Chris

      “Man, they must have had quite a pressbook collection in their files to cobble this apeshit together”

      Did anyone else notice that the word ‘Apes’ (with the ‘E’ and the ‘S’ connected) is exactly the same font as was used on the posters for the first three POTA films? My guess is that the POTA pressbooks were in their collection as well.

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