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How to write a mockbuster: Exclusive comments on “APE VS. MONSTER”

Monday, May 3, 2021 | Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

The Asylum tradition of imitative low-budget genre features continues with APE VS. MONSTER, which stomped into select theaters and onto VOD on Friday, in the wake of the epic GODZILLA VS. KONG. Starring Eric Roberts, Shayne Hartigan, Katie Sereika and Arianna Scott, it begins with an experimental space capsule crashing to Earth. An ape named Abraham that had been inside escapes and begins growing to massive size, as does a passing Gila monster that has drunk a substance leaking from the vessel. Soon they are both gigantic, and headed for a battle in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Lusko (TOP GUNNER) directed APE VS. MONSTER from a script by George Michael Phillips, who got in touch with RUE MORGUE to detail the process of writing one of Asylum’s “mockbusters.” “It was a classic Asylum proposition: ‘We need “Kong vs. something.” Can you do it?’ ” he says. “I knew the drill. It had to be cranked out right away, I needed a couple of bucks–not too far from the actual fee–and I’m a lifelong KING KONG nut…the 1933 version, of course, with additional fondness for Dino De Laurentiis’ remake. I still have George E. Turner and Orville Goldner’s book THE MAKING OF KING KONG, purchased with six months of allowance when I was a kid, proudly displayed on my bookshelf. I even own a collectible set of ’76 KONG drinking glasses! So the story came easily.

“Plus, I had an old concept for a video game about enraged space chimps returning to Earth that I could use as a jumping-off point,” he continues. “Mix in a little KONGA, which focused on a serum causing a normal-sized chimp to grow, and I had enough reasons for my giant ape to go bananas.”

While Phillips admits that Asylum’s impetus to make such movies is purely commercial, he notes that in his case, “For someone who truly loves the source material, and here I mean the original KING KONG, it was a chance to write a valentine. I originally titled it ASTRO-APE VS. SUPER-SCORPION, mixing in my love for THE BLACK SCORPION,” which, like KING KONG, features stop-motion effects by Willis O’Brien. “Ultimately, it was swapped for a giant Gila monster in a last-minute rewrite, in order to get visually closer to Godzilla. The scorpion woulda been cool, though.”

Beyond that change, Phillips says he had complete freedom when it came to writing the script. “I threw in as many over-the-top setpieces, animal-rights references and jet-black comedy as I could get away with,” he says. “I even wove in an alien-invasion subplot, which accounts for the ‘Intergalactic combat!’ line in the trailer. I set the finale in Washington because I’ve always loved the endings of THE DEADLY MANTIS and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. As a result, I had Abraham the ape scale the Washington Monument before it’s shot out from under him.”

Phillips wasn’t available to direct APE VS. MONSTER, and says that as of right now, “I haven’t actually seen the final film, only the trailer. It looks fun, and is definitely in the crazy spirit in which the movie was penned.” Check out that trailer below.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.