Somewhere in Africa, is there still a community of early hominids, ancestors of homo sapiens? And can they fall in love? Yes, according to 1979's Mistress of the Apes, they can. The story of an amazing anthropological discovery by a few Americans, it’s such a terrifically bad movie. It’s really fabulous.
Susan (Jenny Neumann) accompanies the sleazy David (Walt Robin), the 19th century explorer stereotype Paul (Garth Pillsbury), and the speaker of random feminist sound-bites, Laura (Barbara Leigh), on an expedition to Nairobi to follow up on something Susan’s husband discovered: a bona fide missing link.
Things don’t go well. Once in the bush, the four travellers are preyed on by a pair of American poachers who eventually turn out to be cohorts of David’s. Paul and Laura are held captive and tortured but they both shrug off the trauma to retaliate with a series of goofy pranks like putting a snake in a coffee pot. Meanwhile, Susan goes embedded with the ape men, resulting in the film’s best moment, a scene where Susan tries to assimilate with the hunter-gatherers by using sexy vaudevillian monkey-gestures. All the while, a song called “Ape Lady” plays on the soundtrack.
There’s a kind of exquisite lousiness to it. If you can watch the above clip without grinning once I’d be very impressed.
I watched Mistress of the Apes on Amazon Prime a few days ago but it’s become unavailable there. The whole thing is on YouTube, though.