Quit monkeying around
Happy Creature Feature Saturday and the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. I hope you get a chance to enjoy this extended weekend, unless you're working, then I hope you are paid extra. This holiday weekend I gave me the time to finally see a movie I've wanted to see for a while by one of the masters of horror, George Romero. Best known for his “...of the Dead” films, some people don't even realize that he has down other movies in the horror genre not related to zombies. While some argue that his last few films, Land, Diary, and Survival of the Dead have been less than stellar, they still have their moments of greatness and are entertaining. But those are all zombie movies. It was time to check out something different.
Monkey Shines is a 1988 horror movie, based on the story by Michael Stewart, starring Jason Beghe (G.I. Jane, Californication) as Allan Mann. A star athlete, Allan goes for a run and is hit by a truck, leaving him a quadriplegic. Unable to move anything below his neck, he is relegated to an electric wheelchair and his house is set up with the latest technology. He becomes despondent and tries to kill himself, but is discovered by his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, Mad About You, Batteries Not Included) in time. Geoffrey is a scientist at the local University has been injecting monkeys with serum derived from a human brain in hopes that it would increase their intelligence. He takes one of the monkeys to Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil) who trains her to become a monkey helper. They give the monkey, named Ella, to Allan and his life slowly improves. Geoffrey continues to secretly inject Ella with the serum and her intelligence grows. A telepathic bond occurs between Ella and Allan as he begins to see through her eyes when she escapes through the house. His anger and rage also begins to grow when she is around, spilling into violence when he learns is former girlfriend is now seeing his doctor. A supposedly random fire breaks out and kills both of them. A romance grows between Allan and Melanie, despite Allan's overbearing mother's objections. Allan visits another doctor and learns that his paralysis is actually congenital and not caused by his accident. Ella becomes possessive of Allan and more violent towards others and actually kills his mother by dropping a hair dryer into her bath. Geoffrey tries to stop Ella by injecting her with poison, but she outsmarts him and stabs him with the syringe. Melanie also tries to stop Ella, but is tripped and hits her head on a table. How will Allan be able to stop Ella when he can't even move?
"Back away from the bananas and no one gets hurt!"
The best way to describe Monkey Shines is “different and interesting”. It's certainly not your typical creature feature as the monkey Ella doesn't just go around and rip faces off. The movie goes for the slow (and sometimes very slow) build, showing the sweetness of the relationship between Ella and Allan and then the relationship turning obsessive and scary. The story is smart, but incredibly dull at times. Clocking in at over two hours, the movie manages to have compelling moments and ideas, but little in the way of action and horror. While the basic concept is scary in general, the movie itself is lacking and true scares. What could have legitimately been terrifying came off as just a little creepy and startling. Part of the problem may have been that the distributor, Orion Pictures, had recut the film against George Romero's wishes, so we'll never really know what could have been. The music for certain scenes is all wrong and takes away any fear the audience might have.
Despite problems with the studio, Romero's talents still shine throughout the movie with some really good shots and direction. Scenes shot from Ella's point of view are similar to that of the traveling through the woods scene in Evil Dead. Frantic shots of Allan's face during tense scenes look good and add to the overall fear and are not overdone. The acting is pretty good throughout, with Jason Beghe putting in a solid performance. It must have been difficult to go through almost an entire movie without using his extremities. Boo, the monkey playing Ella, was very good, aided by tight shots of her face that showed genuine emotion. There are also good, but small parts played by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Captain America) and Stephen Root (No Country For Old Men, Dodgeball).
The ultimate killing machine
Monkey Shines is not your typical animal-based horror movie. It is an interesting and different concept that isn't seen very often. The movie is far too long and lacks true horror. It should have been far scarier and had a lot of potential, but just didn't make the cut for whatever reason. Romero still manages to do a good job and the acting is well done. If you're a big fan of Romero's work, Monkey Shines is worth watching. If you're looking for a good horror movie, you could do better. It has it's moments, but not enough to make it great.