Friday, 9 November 2012


Produced by Herman Cohen, starring Michael Gough, ‘Black Zoo’ is superbly silly stuff, full of violence and shock and death by wild animal. In its quieter moments, it also creates a sickly, unhealthy atmosphere in which odd family units are formed, then broken apart. It also finds a use for the old ‘Konga’ monkey suit, which more or less guarantees a good time.

Gough plays Michael Conrad, a private zoo keeper in Los Angeles. Gough excels at playing uptight psychotic types, driven men who are so certain of their destiny that murder is simply a way of getting there quicker. In his spare time, he attends meetings of a bizarre animal worshipping cult, and although this thread doesn’t really go anywhere, it quickly establishes his priorities: human life is cheap, it’s the animals that count. In the evenings he and his mute teenage son gather the animals around them – a lion, a tiger, a puma, a leopard – and Conrad plays the organ to them all. It’s all pretty eerie, especially as he quite often ends the get togethers by issuing the creatures their orders, which normally involve taking out some busy body or land developer that is impinging on their weird way of life.

After a while, the mute son realises that he can’t speak because he was traumatised as a child by something awful Daddy did to Mummy and it all comes tumbling down, but only after several heads have been clamped in several sets of jaws, and a lady has her skull smashed by a swipe of a massive simian paw (this bit is brilliant: a man in the ‘Konga’ suit does the dirty deed and, when he hears a police siren, starts hopping from foot to foot, flapping his hands around like he’s trying to think what to do next. I’m sure David Attenborough would have something to say about it).

Full of energy and unsettling moments (midnight tiger funeral, anyone?), ‘Black Zoo’ is full pelt early sixties horror – dripping with sensationalism but, over fifty years on, endearingly innocent and quaint. It’s grrreat.

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