Monkey Shines (1988)
Monkey Shines (1988)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: July 29th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: George A. Romero Actors: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner

 


 

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pening with a disclaimer about Boston University’s capuchin monkey training facilities – which ensured that, despite traumatic-looking activities (here conducted by Alison Pascoe), no animals were harmed – the film follows Pennsylvania law school student Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) as he happily awakes next to his girlfriend Linda (Janine Turner) before going for a run. Unfortunately, during his routine exercise, an unleashed dog startles him, causing him to veer into the street, resulting in a massive collision with a truck – an accident that paralyzes him from below the neck. “To the start of his new life.”

Meanwhile, college chemistry lab researcher Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow) experiments with human brains and monkeys for cutting-edge medicinal breakthroughs. It’s a controversial division, with pressure for results from the boss (Stephen Root) as activists against the research and development vandalize the premises. And since Geoffrey is a good friend of Allan’s, he comes up with the idea of visiting specialized monkey trainer Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil), who can use one of the college’s capuchins, having already undergone behavioral conditioning, to craft the perfect companion and helper. “It’s gonna take care of you.”

The incredibly odd notion of utilizing a simian aide for a quadriplegic – ranging from simply picking up objects to cleaning the house and preparing food (something the hired nurse, or a housekeeper or cook, could more easily and sanitarily do) – is so unnatural that it never feels realistic. Humans are the default choice for such complex and sensitive things. So it’s especially unconvincing when Mann decides to go back to school, requiring assistant Ella (played by capuchin Boo) to attend class by his side, with the monkey raising her hand so that Allan can answer questions posed by the professor – leading to additional sequences of nonsense.

It’s a welcome decision, then, that the premise is primarily a setup for a horror film. Much is amiss right from the start – most notably the “Re-Animator”-like fluorescent fluids repeatedly injected into the laboratory primates. It doesn’t help that live-in nurse Maryanne Hodges (Christine Forrest) has a contentious relationship with her ward, instigating revenge-based anxieties, and that Ella is more than willing to do her master’s bidding, somewhat telepathically linked to lash out against Allan’s enemies. “He had his little demon do it for him!”

It’s similarly strange that no one finds Allan’s constant companion a surprising sight. Surely an emotional support and service monkey is a social rarity. Fortunately, the actors here tend to take the material seriously, despite its obvious design around improbable stretches for the sake of thrills. But it takes far too long before genuine horror components arrive – aided by Tom Savini’s special makeup effects – instead dwelling on a love subplot, further experimentation, a strained mother/son relationship (one of the most extraneous additives, mediocrely resembling “Misery”), and practically comical actions by the animal star (including the low-to-the-ground monkey-cam, as well as the fact that the cute, tiny critter is hardly an imposing presence). For a picture meant to be a psychological shocker, very few frights find their way onto the screen; and when they do, they’re laughable as opposed to atrocious. It’s intermittently hilarious as the humans are time and again outsmarted by a diminutive fur-ball. And the climax is absolutely hysterical in its goofiness (curiously comparable to one of the segments from “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie,” which debuted a couple years later but was based on a Stephen King short story from years prior). “Tell her the monkey’s here!”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10