The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - LINK | The Movie Waffler

Re-Release Review - LINK

link 1986 review
A student finds herself trapped in a remote home with a deranged chimp.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Richard Franklin

Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Terence Stamp, Steven Pinner, Kevin Lloyd, David O'Hara

link 1986 bluray

Following the success of King Kong in the 1930s, a wave of movies featuring simian villains arrived, though they were generally played unconvincingly by men in gorilla costumes. Then in the late '80s came a small crop of horror movies with ape antagonists - In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro; Monkey Shines; Shakma - but by this point the art of animal wrangling had become so sophisticated that real monkeys could be employed in the roles. The best of this brief wave of simian cinema was Richard Franklin's 1986 thriller Link, now newly restored in 4K.

A fresh-faced Elisabeth Shue plays Jane (see what they did there?), an American zoology student who agrees to spend her summer living with anthropology professor Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp) in his remote home on the English coast (such a setup would not fly today).

link 1986 review

The peppy Yank and the grumpy Brit aren't alone however, as Steven lives with three chimps whom he has been studying. Voodoo is an aggressive female on her last legs. Imp is a highly intelligent young chimp who enjoys eating cats but is friendly with humans. The eponymous Link is a 45-year-old former circus attraction and the cleverest of the bunch, but he's getting a little doddery in his old age.

When Steven mysteriously disappears, Jane is left alone with the chimps, and discovers the corpse of Voodoo, seemingly killed by Link. Worried for her safety, Jane attempts to leave, but with no car available is forced to turn back when she encounters the wild dogs that roam the area. Can Jane survive until Steven's return, if he is ever to return at all?

Franklin certainly has his fans, but he's one of the most under-rated filmmakers of his generation and was largely unappreciated while working. Against all odds he made an excellent sequel to Psycho in 1983, which should have propelled him into the A-list of Hollywood filmmakers, but instead he found himself working in b-movies. Hollywood's loss was the gain of those of us who scoured video store shelves for low budget gems like Link. A Hitchcock obsessive (his masterpiece is his 1981 thriller Roadgames, which reworks Rear Window as a road movie), Link is Franklin's attempt at replicating The Birds. While it's not in the same league as Hitchcock's film, it's nevertheless a fun woman versus beast thriller.

link 1986 review

Link benefits greatly from Franklin's skill as a director and student of Hitchcock. Franklin makes great use of the single location setting, establishing the geography of the locale in a way that benefits the extended set-piece that closes the film, as Jane is menaced and chased through the house by a deranged Link. We always know where Jane is in relation to her pursuer, which helps amp up the suspense as Franklin drains every last drop of tension out of a scenario that could well have produced ironic laughs if mishandled.

Yes, Link has a rather silly premise (reflected in the ill-fitting score by Jerry Goldsmith, who doesn't seem to have understood the tone Franklin was aiming for here) but Franklin plays it with a straight face and by the end of the first act any ironic guffaws you might have initially produced will have faded away as you become invested in the plight of Jane. Shue is excellent as the wide-eyed innocent, convincing us initially of her affection for Link and later her unmitigated fear of the beast. Stamp is at his most sinister and charming as a man who we're never quite sure is a harmless eccentric or a demented Baron Frankenstein.

But the real star of Link is Locke, the orangutan whose fur was dyed black to give him the appearance of a chimp (yeah, they aren't fooling anyone). If there's a better animal performance I've yet to see it. Locke is staggeringly good here - it's fascinating to see him transform from loveable old duffer to genuinely terrifying stalker, and I'm not joking when I say that Locke's performance is a better version of Jack Nicholson's in The Shining. 90% of acting is in the eyes, and the way Locke uses his eyes to subtly shift expression is eerily impressive - a few human actors could do with studying his turn! If you watch Michael Caine's famous masterclass on acting for the screen and then watch Franklin's film, you'll note that Locke is doing everything Caine advised.

link 1986 review

Locke's performance is enhanced by Franklin's understanding of the Kuleshov effect (the idea that a juxtaposition of images can convince an audience of a character's emotional state) as he cuts from the ape's passive face to the terrified Shue, who genuinely appears to be shitting herself in the monkey's presence in a couple of moments, none more so than an awkward bathroom encounter.

Falling somewhere between the psychological thriller of Monkey Shines and the trashy fun of Shakma, Link is the ultimate mad monkey movie, a product of an era when no premise was considered too ridiculous for an audience desperate to feed our hungry VHS players.
Blu-ray extras:

Feature commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and critic Jarret Gahan; interview with film programmer and horror expert Anna Bogutskaya; deleted scenes; audio interview with Richard Franklin; Jerry Goldsmith demo of the Link theme; original UK theatrical trailer.

Link (4k restoration) is on UK DVD, blu-ray and Digital from February 1st.