Sunday, February 5, 2012

Monkey Helper Nightmare: Monkey Shines (1988)

Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear (1988)
starring: Jason Beghe, John Pankow and Kate McNeil

To Say Happy Birthday for one George A. Romero, I'm going to tackle this little monster of a unique thriller about a man, his monkey and the danger he got into unwillingly.
Happy 72th birthday, Mr. Romero!
Alan Mann is an athlete turned paraplegic after a run with a truck. Though he was able to survive it, he became very depressed to the point of attempting or thinking of suicide. As an attempt to enlighten his friend's sudden condition, Jeff, a scientist who was experimenting with fusing human brain tissues to monkey's supplied one of his test subjects to Alan as a helper. The monkey's name is Ella, and she grew attached to Alan very quickly, who in turn accepted her company, since it did made his life easier.

But soon, Ella seems to have developed a telepathic link to Mann's emotive rages as he smites his friends and family for reasons both real and imagined. More did it complicates when Alan fell in love with Melanie, a specialist in quadriplegia and helper monkeys, sparking Ella's jealous rage. When Alan is informed that his condition is irreversible, it all went for worse when Ella starts picking them off, one by one.

While not entire his best work, Monkey Shines had created an intriguing entry to the killer animal genre for the means that it is more emotive and tense. The concept of a weakened man forced into a condition that's life-altering took a lot of the story's dramatic connection to the audience. We feel for Alan in his condition, something that was taken away from him was not just anything that can be easily replaced. So his emotions, whether it's empathy for himself or the fact that he's completely depressed is arguably understandable, as he was the bread winner for everyone he knows, he is now reduced to a helpless cripple who's ashamed that he became a burden to everyone he loves or had loved, which soon boils up into blind rage.

Now, the monkey concept in this flick is new for its time, and quite clever. Starting first as a lab-rat for an experiment, Ella was the only creature that actually cared wholesomely for Alan; her decisions were real, due to her having a near-similar intelligence, and it was all for her master and she finds sympathy from the very man who she serves. So when Melanie came in, it's psychotic jealousy was unleashed, and no one was safe, not even Alan, in the vein of Misery. Since this is a helping monkey caring for our lead, it's hard many to reason with her as she's prone to reduce to her animal instinct anytime she felt threatened.

Perhaps trading zombies for monkeys wasn't the best idea for many, but Monkey Shines still proved to be a worthy flick to watch. While predictable at some point and the idea is too absurd for many, it's still an imaginative piece that has enough thrills and suspense to keep anyone in their seats in anticipation. You can tell something's bound for worse, but rather than showing the terror immediately, it brews it as we anticipate for it.

The murders are nowhere special, but the attacks are pretty nice to watch and handled well. So goes to the acting, mostly with Jason Beghe who had to rely a lot on facial acting since he is supposed to be a crippled individual. Some points of the film were a little unnecessary, such as the idea of telepathic linking of Ella and Alan; the whole film could had gone through and through even without that context. Plus the focus between Alan and Ella isn't as steady as many would liked it to be, but nevertheless acceptable.

This is one of the many films that I saw as a youngster, and I recall that, while showing it early in the morning in a local TV channel, my mum saw me watching it and asked me to watch some cartoons instead. I find myself chuckling every time I remember that part of my life, but she did have a point; while it certainly not the finest film of the decade, Monkey Shines is still a slasher film of unique taste and take. You'll never look at Capuchins the same way again...

1 parakeet found killed
1 male and 1 female burned to death
1 female electrocuted in bath tub with a plugged hairdryer
1 male sodium compund injected into his nape
1 female monkey back bitten and crushed to death
total: 6


  1. This was an interesting little film. I haven't seen it inprobably 20 years, but maybe I should have another look.

    1. sure took me a while to hunt this one down, too. But just to see an old childhood memory again was worth it!

  2. Yeah, same as Melissa - I saw this soon after it was released to video, and I did enjoy it; but I only had the one viewing 20+ years ago - thanks for tracking this one down and reminding us of it - and as I'm sure he's a regular reader here - Happy Birthday Mr. Romero! Cheers!

    1. I tracked it down as soon as i figured out the title. I wanted to see the flick that caused a stir for my mum. (evil little devil, am I?)