British botanist Dr. Charles Decker (Michael Gough) comes back from Africa after a year, presumed dead. During that year, he came across a way of growing plants and animals to an enormous size. He brings back a baby chimpanzee, Konga, to test out his theory. Decker goes insane after he discovers a serum that turns his chimpanzee subject into a ferocious gorilla-sized ape. To further his hideous experiments, he mesmerizes the ape and sends it to London to kill all his enemies who have more credit in the scientific community than he already has. Among his targets is Dean Foster (Austin Trevor) Professor Tagore (George Pastell) and Bob Kenton (Jess Conrad), the lover of Sandra Banks (Claire Gordon), the woman the doctor wants for himself.
After Konga strangles Bob Kenton to death, Decker attempts to make Sandra his own. This does not sit well with Margaret (Margo Johns), the botanist's assistant and current girlfriend, who attempts to get even by giving Konga an enormous amount of the strange serum and turns him into an enormous monster, although she becomes his first victim.
Just before going on a rampage, the super-sized ape grabs Decker in one of his enormous hands, while Sandra's arm is eaten by Decker's carnivorous plants. His rampage comes to a stop when he and Decker are killed by the British army. Upon his death, Konga changes back to a baby chimpanzee.
Following the incredible success of Herman Cohen's previous British made film Horrors of the Black Museum that also featured Michael Gough, Nat Cohen (who was no relation to Herman) of Anglo-Amalgamated asked Cohen for another exploitation film.
As Cohen had long admired King Kong he thought of a giant ape film shot in colour. Due to Cohen's success with his I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), AIP used "I Was a Teenage Gorilla" as the working title. Cohen paid RKO Pictures $25,000 for the rights to the name of Kong for exploitation purposes. Cohen recalled that the special effects for the film that was one of the first giant monster movies shot in colour (Eastmancolor) took 18 months to complete. The climatic scene in London streets was possible when the producer was able to convince a police precinct captain that the scenes could be effectively staged late at night on essentially empty streets. A combination of miniature sets, an actor in a gorilla suit and use of studio mattes also made the technical aspects of the production look better than its meagre budget would allow.
Konga appeared as part of a program double-bill with Master of the World (1961). The film was reviewed in The New York Times, where the film critic Eugene Archer noted it played to "misplaced guffaws" and was further described as: "... the British 'Konga' is nothing more than an overblown 'King Kong,' hammily played by Michael Gough and an improbable-looking ape."
In a later Time Out film review, Konga was considered: "Inept, silly, and ludicrously enjoyable monster movie, with Gough as the mad boffin who injects a chimp with a growth serum, only to see it turn into an uncredited actor in a gorilla suit. Thereafter the ape grabs a Michael Gough doll and heads for Big Ben. Deeply political."
Novel and comic series
A novelization of the film was released in paperback at the time of its original release (Konga by Dean Owen (Monarch, 1960)).
From 1960 to 1965 Charlton Comics published 23 issues of the comic Konga. It included work by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. The series was renamed Fantastic Giants with issue #24, which turned out to be the last issue of the series.
Konga also appeared in a three-issue mini-series that started off as The Return of Konga, before it was renamed Konga's Revenge with issue #2. The series ran from 1962-1964. This was followed by a one-shot reprint issue in 1968.
In 1990, Steve Ditko illustrated a back-up story in Web of Spider-Man Annual #6 called "Child Star". In this story, Captain Universe creates huge versions of toys based on Gorgo and Konga to battle giant monsters that are attacking the neighborhood. For copyright reasons Konga's name was altered to "Kongo". This sequence was Ditko paying homage to his earlier work with these characters from the 1960s Charlton Comics comic books.
Some of these issues were reprinted (in black and white) in a trade paperback in 2011 called Angry Apes n' Leapin Lizards.
In August 2013, IDW Publishing reprinted all the issues that artist Steve Ditko worked on (Konga #1 and #3-15 and Konga's Revenge #2) as a deluxe hardcover collection called Steve Ditko's Monsters: Konga.