‘Fang and claw killers stalk the streets!’
Black Zoo is a 1963 American horror feature film directed by Robert Gordon (It Came from Beneath the Sea). It was produced and co-written by Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Werewolf; Trog; Craze) with Aben Kandel (Blood of Dracula; The Headless Ghost; Berserk) and released by Allied Artists.
Michael Conrad (Michael Gough) is a private zookeeper who owns Conrad’s Animal Kingdom. He leads a cult group who literally worship the animals he tends — especially the big cats: a lion, a lioness, a pair of cheetahs, a tiger, and a black panther; as well as a gorilla. Conrad plays organ music to the animals in his living room, and uses them to kill anyone who gets in his way…
” …features some truly deep end weirdness in a possible effort to avoid retreading earlier Cohen/Gough productions. Tremendous man-eating animals recline on sofas while the doting Conrad plays them instrumental serenades on a gothic pipe organ. One beautifully framed scene has the creatures gather around a mist-framed rocky outcropping in a funeral for one of their own.” Zack Carlson, Birth. Movies. Death.
“Black Zoo is just loony enough to function as fine junk; while it may resemble the more refined horror productions of the age, it feels more inelegant and clumsy thanks to its shaggy script and blunt force approach. In some ways, it’s an unholy union between 60s gothic horror and the previous decade’s penchant for nature-gone-amok films…” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!
” … besides the sadistic mayhem, Black Zoo also offers a unique scene where Gough and his family of both people and big cats walk in a funeral procession to a misty graveyard. Seeing lions and tigers among the gravestones, in a scene dominated by grandiose music, struck me as unique and inventive, largely due to the camerawork and lighting.” Black Hole
“Conrad is a really hiss-able post-Psycho villain, a madman who charms teenage visitors yet seemingly hates women. All of Conrad’s affection goes toward the big cats that he literally worships. The standard mystery scenes are fairly forgettable. Too much of the movie follows arguments in the Conrad kitchen and the relationship drama is weak.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk
“With Gough hamming it up against the dissimilar style of American actors, and the film’s overall kooky nature, this remains one of the star’s finest hours.” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
“The script is poor, Gough overacts and the whole movie fails to create any real horrific atmosphere.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
“Sadly, a lot of the film is taken up with lengthy conversations — between Conrad and his wife, between several police detectives and so on — that cause the film to drag for the second half. I blame this all on the script, which is a slow, clunky endeavor. With that said, there are a few great set pieces…” Satanic Pandemonium
Michael Conrad: “No woman leaves me alive!”
Cast and characters:
- Michael Gough … Michael Conrad – Konga
- Jeanne Cooper … Edna Conrad
- Rod Lauren … Carl
- Virginia Grey … Jenny
- Jerome Cowan … Jeffrey Stengle
- Elisha Cook Jr. … Joe – Salem’s Lot; Dead of Night; Messiah of Evil; Voodoo Island
- Warrene Ott … Mary Hogan
- Marianna Hill … Audrey
- Oren Curtis … Radu
- Eilene Janssen … Bride
- Eric Stone … Groom
- Dani Lynn … Art Student
- Susan Slavin … Art Student
- Edward Platt .. Detective Rivers
- Douglas Henderson as Lieutenant Duggan
- George Barrows [uncredited] … Victor, the Gorilla
The zoo was built at Raleigh Studio (formerly Producers Studio) on North Bronson in Hollywood, California. The entire zoo and a cemetery were interior sets.
Related: Going Ape! A Short History of Who’s Inside the Gorilla Suit – article