In this episode of Pop Culture Beast’s Halloween Horror Picks, I talk about a nearly forgotten horror obscurity that is so strange it almost defies classification – Black Zoo (1963)!
Produced by Herman Cohen and directed by Robert Gordon, Black Zoo stars Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren, Virginia Grey, Elisha Cook Jr., Edward Platt, and George Barrows (who sure got a lot of roles out of that gorilla suit!).
It features the special effects of FX pioneer Pat Dinga, and the animal supervision of wild animal trainer Ralph “Affection Training” Helfer.
Michael Conrad (Gough) is a sadistic zookeeper and animal-worshiping cultist who terrorizes his wife and employees, and murders his enemies by feeding them to his lions and tigers! Conrad’s insane dominance begins to unravel when his wife (Cooper) and mute servant (Lauren) attempt to break away from his abusive stranglehold.
Black Zoo is so weird that it’s difficult to comprehend why no one has seen it. Perhaps one reason the film remains largely unseen is because it was only finally released for home viewing when Warner Bros. added it to their made-on-demand Warner Archive Collection. If you’re looking for something that feels a bit like a British horror movie (though it was directed in Hollywood) and a bit like one of Corman’s Poe films (only with Michael Gough instead of Vincent Price), then you should probably seek out a copy.
Black Zoo is largely forgotten but deserves to be rediscovered, especially by fans of Michael Gough’s scenery-chomping acting style. It’s a goofy little oddity whose problems are more than redeemed by its outrageous premise. I definitely like it more than I dislike it.
Black Zoo is a mostly unseen hot mess of weirdness that I rate 5/10!
Look for new episodes of Pop Culture Beast’s Halloween Horror Picks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in October! You can watch past episodes HERE.
Ryan Stockstad is a Los Angeles filmmaker with a passion for horror, documentary and experimental cinema. He has written articles for HC Magazine, Mostly Harmless Magazine and various blogs and websites. He has lectured on topics as diverse as low budget filmmaking, short story structure, and the influence of the Spanish Civil War on surrealist cinema. He hosts new episodes of Pop Culture Beast's Halloween Horror Picks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in October.