“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to my animal kingdom.”
Michael Conrad (Michael Gough) and his wife Edna (Jeanne Cooper) run a tiny zoo in Hollywood, California. Most of the animals are various types of big cats; tiger (Baron), lion (King), black leopard (Kwan). He also has a gorilla and some chimpanzees. Carl (Rod Lauren), a mute, and another attendant Joe (Elisha Cook Jr.) help run the place and look after the animals.
Conrad is insane so no one is happy. He calls his cats his children and lets them parade into the living room where he plays the organ for them. They lounge around on couches and stools and listen as he serenades them. He has a rapport with them. Conrad is good to his animals, but horrible to everyone else. He is abusive to his wife and to Carl.
Jerry Stengel (Jerome Cowan) wants to buy Conrad’s zoo. Actually he wants the land. He wants to build houses on it. He threatens to have the land re-zoned and take it by force. Conrad is not someone you threaten. Conrad goes to Stengel’s home and introduces him to King.
Joe holds a grudge against Baron. Once Baron clawed him and scarred his face. When Joe teases and abuses him Joe gets clawed again. Joe shoots and kills Baron. Conrad gives Joe to King as a snack. It seems that everyone that angers Conrad ends up as cat chow. The same thing happened to a reporter not too long ago.
But there’s more to Conrad than just being a cat person. He worships them. He belongs to a cult called “The True Believers”. They believe they can transfer the soul of one dead animal to the body of a young animal. They have a special ceremony to transfer Baron’s soul to a new cub. They give the new cub to Conrad. He welcomes it into his family.
“Black Zoo” was released in 1963 and was directed by Robert Gordon. The animals were provided by Ralph Helfer, a well known animal behaviorist and creator of Marine World/Africa USA. Victor the gorilla is played by George Barrows, noted gorilla impersonator. His gorilla suit was used for Konga; however, he was not in it at the time. He was not pleased at how it was treated during that film.
This is Michael Gough’s third time playing a murderous, insane misogynistic Svengali, type person. He’ll do it again in “Crucible of Horror”. The first two were “Murder in the Black Museum” and “Konga”.
The movie had some surreal moments that were cool. When they have the funeral for Baron the tiger and all the cats are walking through the mist in the cemetery. Then they all sit around, like mourners at a real funeral. Also seeing a bunch of large cats walking single file into the living room to listen to music was another dreamlike situation. OK, yes, and it was over the top but it was still really cool. I had a good time watching this one. Gough is one of my favorite bad guys and of course…there were cats.