Saturday, 25 September 2010

Psychic Primate

18 – 108mins – 1988
Screenplay by: George A. Romero
Based on the novel by: Michael Stewart
Directed by: George A. Romero
Starring: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman, Boo


Despite being George A. Romero's first studio release and basking in the twilight of 1985's Day of the Dead, it's still not hard to see why Monkey Shines is one of the horror legend's lesser known works. For starters, the high concept premise – for all its good intentions of delivering an anti-animal experimentation message – sounds utterly ape-shit crazy, if you'll excuse the simian schtick.

Paralysed from the neck down following a car accident, Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) becomes a bitter and enraged young man. His frustration is anything but quelled when his “clinical c*nt” (classic line) of a girlfriend (Janine Turner) leaves him for his surgeon (Stanley Tucci) in his time of need, and his house nurse (Christine “Mrs Romero” Forrest) is an incompetent, unsympathetic bitch.

Allan is given reason to smile again, however, when his Mother Nature-tampering scientist of a best mate, Geoffrey Fisher (Jon Pankow) donates his smartest simian subject, Ella (Boo), to be Allan's legs and hands. That's right folks, Ella is trained to be Allan's slave, obeying his every order and request.

However, Geoff fails to mention to his wheelchair bound pal that Ella has been receiving regular injections of human brain matter in his laboratory, and soon the genetically modified junkie monkey starts developing a bizarre jealous streak, anticipating Allan's every need and even carrying out his most depraved subconscious wishes...

See what I mean? On paper (and computer screen), Monkey Shines sounds like a risible sub-Stephen King horror spoof. I'm still struggling to work out exactly how being injected with a dead girl's brain tissue can give Ella a psychic connection to Allan, but it's to Romero's credit that this novel adaptation – for all it's cheesy charm and gimmicky gubbins – still works as a psychological horror.

Allan's helplessness lends the film a great layer of tension, and Ella's psychotic splurges deliver the gore (although you will be disappointed if you are expecting blood and guts on a zombie chomping scale; this is more of a thriller). I particularly liked the close up shots of Allan with elongated canines, which gave a perverse and supernatural slant to this (pseudo-)scientific satire, though I won't comment on the scene where Ella licks blood from his lips, and what that may say about Allan's primal urges...

The plot takes a little while to get going (30 minutes in you do start to question whether it truly is a horror after all), and Begle's over-egged squinty-eyed bitter act is a little hard to swallow, especially when he starts a foul-mouthed rant at his over helpful mother (Joyce Van Patten), but if you prefer your horror more thoughtful and aloof and only delivering the bloody goods when the plot dictates (rather than a non-stop slurry of inane torture porn), then you could do far worse than a dose of Monkey Shines.

In a CR@B Shell: It isn't clinically perfect – or hide-behind-your-hands horrific – but Monkey Shines does well to make a sophisticated and creepy supernatural thriller out of a bananas concept. Bravo to Romero for taking a risk with an unconventional caper which most people would throw faeces at before giving a chance.


  1. If there wasn't a Romero link to this film I would seriously be questioning why you watched it in the first place!!

    Though I have to admit it's put me right off me Zingzilla's!

  2. The Romero link was most definately the only reason I watched this film - I dare say I wouldn't even know of its existence were it not written for the screen and directed by one of my favourite auteurs.

    And yes, before watching I did question the utterly insane plot - but it's never quite as hard to accept once the film gets going. Still totally implausible, though.