Shakma (1990)
Shakma (1990)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: October 5th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Hugh Parks Actors: Roddy McDowall, Christopher Atkins, Amanda Wyss, Ari Meyers, Robb Edward Morris, Ann Kymberlie, Donna Jarrett

 


 

R

oleplaying “Nemesis” program designer Bradley (Tre Laughlin) is particularly proud of his latest updates, which include tracking devices and communications equipment for the latest event, scheduled that evening at a medical college in Florida. Several excited students participate, ranging from ringleader Sam (Christopher Atkins) to his girlfriend Tracy (Amanda Wyss) to prankster Gary (Robb Morris), each aiming to navigate through the building on a quest to rescue a designated princess (Ari Meyers as Kimberley) from an evil demon (Greg Flowers as undependable new initiate Richard). Many students seem more interested in playing in the code-gathering, live-action “Dungeons & Dragons” type of game than in the cutting-edge experimentation going on at the facilities themselves, highlighted by Professor Sorenson’s (Roddy McDowall) latest surgery on Shakma the baboon (or “Shockma” as Richard writes on an assessment log). After all, the red-reared simian has an aggression inhibitor injected directly into its brain – and the results are indeterminate.

“You children have fun.” While a select few people prepare for the evening’s big game, with clues scattered about on numerous different floors as the gamemaster – Sorenson himself – boasts of the exclusivity and challenging nature, Shakma has other plans. Rather than becoming docile, the chemical introduced to his system has had the opposite effect, heightening his combativeness and transforming him into an enraged killing machine.

Problematic from the start is the Nemesis game, which occupies so much of the film’s plot without making much sense. The reason for the game to be played; the way in which it functions; and the notion that these medical students (and the professor himself!) would be so eager to engage in such a primitive, juvenile activity (in a laboratory amid thousands of dollars worth of equipment) are never appropriately explained, nor are they presented in a sensible manner. This type of unstimulating dalliance would be far better suited for stereotypical preteens in a basement.

“I do think he’s playing a different game than the rest of us.” It’s a strangely unfitting setup and combination with the eventual slasher-movie to come, as Shakma steadily attacks and mutilates the characters trapped in the hospital, tearing at limbs, ripping flesh, and lunging onto startled victims. Ultimately, since the personas are so one-dimensional and unintelligent, they’re mere fodder for the rabid monkey – and audiences will be hoping that they all succumb to its toothy muzzle.

As far as killer-animal flicks go, “Shakma” is one of the weakest, not least because the titular monster is so diminutive. Its menacing qualities may be moderately convincing, in part because of the use of a real baboon (named Typhoon, somewhat cruelly manipulated into throwing itself repeatedly against doors in a frenzied fury), but its tiny stature just doesn’t allow for a formidable appearance (little, bloody paw prints are similarly silly). On top of that, the gore effects are cheap and tawdry, while the chase sequences tend to involve independent shots of the galloping creature cut together with those of the actors, failing to hide the lack of genuine interactions.

So much of this picture involves Sam and Tracy opening and closing doors in a panic that it quickly becomes downright comical. Virtually none of the scares are scary, and few of the assaults are thrilling; as these sorts of Z-grade frighteners go, more laughs are found than chills, especially when a fake monkey puppet is utilized in various moments, with characters forced to roll around and scream as they pretend to be ambushed. At least the music by David C. Williams is intermittently amusing, and the order of deaths is unpredictable, though these elements are not enough to save the project from an exhausting amount of lulls, countless bad ideas, and a ludicrous finale designed like a hokey rip-off of “Predator.”

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10