Phil Fasso’s “Hell of Fame” Inductee: KING KONG

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*Editor’s note: For Icons of Fright‘s ten year anniversary, we’ve extended our hands to have former members of Icons contribute something, if they so desired. Phil Fasso wrote for Icons and was steering the ship for a bit some years back, and he took us up on that offer. So, read Phil’s piece on King Kong, and visit his new site: Death Ensemble.  Thanks Fright Fiends! -Jerry

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Hell of Fame Inductee:  King Kong

BEHOLD!  THE GREAT AND MIGHTY KONG!

Like the fearful natives who live beyond the gate on his Skull Island, I’ve been enthralled with King Kong for as long as I can remember.  I couldn’t have been much more than four or five the first time I watched KING KONG on or local Channel 9, on a Thanksgiving afternoon.  From the very first scenes on the shores of his home, I fell into a state of wonderment  Beyond that massive gate lie a world of fantasy, where dinosaurs roamed, man was an outsider, and Kong ruled as King.  Once the movie took me through that barrier, I was amazed at what I would find.

My sense of amazement rose to its greatest heights with Kong himself.  The ape knows how to make an entrance.  As Ann Darrow stands tied between two posts, the natives lined up on the high wall, two savages beating a gong behind the decoratively dressed chief, a roar breaks the ceremony.  Branches snap and for the first time I see Kong through the thick branches of two trees.  He shatters the trees and steps forward to take his bride.  His fanged snarl turns into a smile as he takes his bride in hand and goes off into the night, and also into the greatest adventure ever put to film.

On his primordial isle, Kong is the truest essence of the primal beast.  He’s all hair and fangs and muscle.  The high spot of this part of the film is his brawl with a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  The prehistoric reptile is likely just looking to make dinner out of Ann.  Kong takes offense, and the two rip, tear, punch and bite their way through a knock down, drag out fight that would make any professional wrestler proud.  Kong’s first instinct is always to battle, and he smokes anyone who gets in his way.  He’s the supreme beast, the king of this savage place.

Had he stayed on Skull Island, he may still be ruling there today.  And here’s the misconception:  movie director Carl Denham says at the end of the film that beauty killed the beast, but technology really did the deed.  Taken captive, paraded before an audience of thousands of socialites, Kong only breaks free when the paparazzi start to take pictures.  Their flashes remind him of the bombs that Denham used to take him out on the shores of Skull Island.  Once he escapes and finds Ann, he does what his primal instinct suggests:  he climbs to the highest place he can find, the top of the world’s tallest building at the time, the Empire State Building.  A fatal confrontation with some biplanes brings him to his end.  It’s key that Denham is a director, a symbol of a burgeoning technology that had by 1933 already started to demystify the world with its own celluloid magic.  But it’s also film that made Kong immortal.  80 plus years later, children still find wonderment in Kong.  I know this firsthand, because five years ago I showed my then four-year-old nephew the film for the first time, and got to share his first time beholding the mighty Kong.

These are all reasons I revere King Kong so much.  But most of all, I love Kong because he has personality.  He’s like a curious child, exploring everything new to him.  In his quieter moments, when he’s fingering Ann Darrow’s dress, examining his bleeding finger, or flopping open and shut the jaw of the Tyrannosaurus he’s just bested, his primal curiosity is a balance to his primal rage.  Credit stop motion animator Willis O’Brien for making Kong more than just a one-dimensional monster.  O’Brien does such a captivating job with Kong’s face in these scenes that it becomes easy to forget for a second that Kong is a brute. These scenes humanize him and make him not only a sympathetic beast, but a likable one.  His size and ferocity belie it, but deep down, Kong is a sensitive guy.

What amazed me when I watched KING KONG recently is that it held the same sense of wonderment for me at 41 as it did at 4 or 5.  Even knowing scene-by-scene what was to come, Skull Island is still a place of mystery, the dinosaurs are still fantastic, and Kong still rules.  He’s the don mega of giant monsters, the alpha male, the ground zero. I proudly induct him into the Hell of Fame, where he rules over his own island.  The gates couldn’t hold him away from the shores of Skull Island, and the Gates of Hell cannot keep him out of the Hell of Fame, where he rules as King.

 

How the Hall of Icons Became the Hell of Fame

The very first piece I posted on Death Ensemble was, in fact, not one I wrote.  Instead, I chose to open with T.D. Clark’s wickedly brilliant entry for Leatherface in the Hell of Fame.  Written as a first-person narrative from the chainsaw wielding maniac, Clark’s piece opened the doors to Death Ensemble, and the gates to the Hell of Fame.  But what few outside of myself and T.D. know is that the piece, and the HOF itself, owes a debt to Icons of Fright.

It goes like this:  At a critical juncture for me as an internet horror blogger, Mike Cucinotta gave me the opportunity to become Icons’ editor-in-chief.  At the time, I was brimming with a lot of progressive ideas on how to take IOF in a new direction.  As the new editor, I knew I had to recruit fresh writers, as I was scripting the majority of Icons’ articles myself.  So I put out an invitation, and the entries flooded in.  From these, I selected five that impressed me (and I don’t impress easy).  Phase 2 would be the proof of whether these writers would be welcome to the Icons staff.  It would have to be tougher than Phase 1, and it would have to show some creativity.

One of those ideas I had brimming was an Icons of Fright Hall of Fame.  Years earlier, I’d found an obscure horror site with its own version of a HOF.  The idea stuck, and it seemed a comfortable fit on Icons.  After all, what better way could there be to honor the titans, the stalwarts, the Icons, then to have their own revered section of IOF?

And so I developed what I then called the Hall of Icons (initially I debated going with the Icons of Fame, but it didn’t ring right, and the idea of a Hall grounded it in the real world).  It was my foremost idea in the reconstruction of Icons, and if worked right, it would be truly Iconic.

It would also work as a testing ground for my five survivors from Phase 1.  They all clearly loved horror, so I instructed them to choose some character, or movie, or book, or anything else horror-related and write a Hall of Icons piece for the inductee.  The responses couldn’t be more varied, in choice of inductee or style of presentation.  I liked them all, and after some discussion with Mike, we invited all five writers to our staff.  I was jazzed.  As the next step, I intended to publish each entry as the initial five inductees in the Hall of Icons.

It didn’t work out that way.

To explain the details would be to drudge up old feuds, and it would detract from the point of this article.  Suffice it to say, eventually I left Icons of Fright and started Death Ensemble.  A number of the ideas I’d had for Icons never went into play, but the Hall of Icons wouldn’t get itself out of my head.  If I couldn’t honor the stalwarts, the titans, the most worthy at Icons, I most definitely could at DE.  T.D. Clark had also departed Icons, which was a boon for me.  He was cerebral and had a style all his own, two qualities I loved in his writing.  And he’d already written a Hall of Icons piece.

As I prepared to present DE to the world, I knew if I wanted to captivate an audience I had to start out strong.  And Clark’s piece had the power to be a home run out of the box.  I asked him to brush it up a bit, and told him he would serve in history as the writer of Death Ensemble’s inaugural piece.  And also the very first entry in the Hell of Fame.

It’s just a shade over three years since I debuted Leatherface’s Hell of Fame induction on Death Ensemble.  Every so often I read it over again.  It’s a great piece, and it reminds me of the spirit that DE embodies, the vital source for interesting perspectives on horror.  When Rob G emailed me last week to invite me back this month to celebrate Icons of Fright’s 10th anniversary, it also reminded me of where it all began as the Hall of Icons. So to honor that, you faithful Icons of Fright readers will find the next Hell of Fame inductee here before you find him at DE.  Consider this article a prelude to the induction of King Kong… a truly Iconic monster if ever there was one.

–Phil Fasso

Founder and editor-in-chief at www.deathensemble.com

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