The urban jungle of New York City, and in a hospital Susan Jamison (Jenny Neumann) has been brought in suffering early complications in her pregnancy - this has not been a good time for her, as her husband has disappeared while on a scientific expedition, leaving her alone, and to make matters worse, the hospital is victim to a gang of junkies attempting to rob the place of its medication for their own nefarious use. While doing this, they start rampaging through the place, including the operating room where Susan is lying half conscious, and when they attack the doctor she is sent tumbling from the table, losing her baby for good. Now she must weigh her options...
And one of those options is to head off for Africa now that she is no longer with child to track down her missing husband, a excursion she organises with her friend Paul Cory (Garth Pillsbury), his wife Laura (pin-up Barbara Leigh, in her final movie), and the decidedly less than friendly David Thurston (Walt Robin), who knows the territory in Kenya where they are headed. Well, according to the end credits, where there is a lot of thanks given, this was filmed in Kenya, but it would appear the director Larry Buchanan was telling porkies as this was shot rather closer to home, and not only that but it looks it as well, yet that was the sort of subterfuge and obfuscation you would have to expect.
Guess what, Buchanan's next movie, The Loch Ness Horror, wasn't made in Scotland either, and didn’t look it for that matter, but he was the kind of director who was working on an independent budget when that meant, more often than not, you had to work in an exploitation arena if you wanted to see any profit - this was around the point that John Sayles was making and releasing Return of the Seacaucus 7, which changed the view of American indies in that they could be successful by crafting a small, intimate relationship drama or comedy instead of being a byword for cheap and nasty monster movies or backwoods thrillers or whatever was fashionable at the time.
Naturally those horrors and thrillers continued to be made, and indeed are to this day, and there was nothing that was going to make a trash auteur like Buchanan change his tune, though he was perfectly serious about his work and served up adaptations of the lives of pop culture icons in his own eccentric manner. But Mistress of the Apes saw him, well, aping someone else, John Derek, whose Bo Derek showcase Tarzan the Ape Man had become a surprise hit at the time and therefore begged for a rip-off or ten. Not everyone went the Tarzan route, he was a character in the public domain but variations were often found to present adventures with a sexual angle crowbarred in, so Susan here sees her life take a most unusual turn when she arrives at the site her husband was last seen and meets those titular apes.
Except they were not apes, they were the missing link, in effect strapping young men in bad wigs and Neanderthal makeup who were a tribe Mr Jamison had discovered and now his wife was going to pursue. She did this by suggestively eating a banana, miming chimp moves, breastfeeding the baby of one of the "near men" (huh?) and eventually getting shagged by one of them when he is turned on by her wet T-shirt of an evening. Now, I don't know about you, but I'd say this was getting far too close to her subject and the scientific benefit was decidedly sketchy, but as if this were not bad enough, the scuzzy Thurston back at camp orders his two henchmen (including stalwart Stuart Lancaster) to rape Laura, then stake her and Paul to the ground where she is raped again, in case you thought this was getting too lighthearted. It's jarring scenes like that which prevent Mistress of the Apes being thoroughly amusing in the style of Buchanan's rivals to the worst ever director crown, though certainly don't disqualify him, but when you hear the choice of songs (specially written!) you will recognise we were not dealing with good sense. At all.
American director who gained a reputation as one of the worst of all time, a feat he was not unproud of. This infamy rests on various TV movies he made in the sixties such as Zontar The Thing from Venus, Mars Needs Women and In the Year 2889. Theatrical films included Free White and 21 (which got his career started with A.I.P.), The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, Bullet for a Pretty Boy, Goodbye Norma Jean, The Loch Ness Horror and rock conspiracy movie Beyond the Doors.