The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - MONKEY SHINES (1988) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - MONKEY SHINES (1988)

monkey shines review
A quadriplegic forms a dangerous bond with a trained monkey.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: George A. Romero

Starring: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner

monkey shines blu-ray eureka

Riding on the coattails of the 1980s fad for post-Gremlins horrors - which saw various miniature creatures wreaking havoc on their human prey - was a small group of thrillers featuring homicidal monkeys. The best of the bunch was Psycho II director Richard Franklin's Link, in which Elizabeth Shue battled Terence Stamp's angry orangutan butler. More ambitious if not entirely successful in its attempts to be taken seriously was George A. Romero's Monkey Shines, adapted from a novel by author Michael Stewart.

In his first starring role, Jason Beghe plays Allan Mann, an all-American, athletic law student whose life is derailed when an accident leaves him in a quadriplegic state. Allan struggles to adapt to his new condition, and when his girlfriend (Janine Turner) leaves him for his surgeon (Stanley Tucci in his first major role), Allan attempts to take his own life, only for his friend Geoffrey (To Live and Die in L.A.'s John Pankow) to scupper his attempt.

monkey shines review

Geoffrey is a science student who has been conducting crazy experiments involving injecting human brain tissue into Capuchin monkeys in order to make the animals super intelligent. Along with monkey trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil), Geoffrey presents Allan with Ella, one of his experimental subjects. The initially adorable Ella (played by a monkey named 'Boo') gives the previously despondent Allan a new lease of life with her companionship, and serves as a better nurse and housekeeper to Allan than the human carer employed to look after his needs.

Things take a dark turn when Allan and Ella begin to develop a strange psychic bond, the monkey reading Allan's darkest thoughts and acting on them, leading to a spate of murders involving those who have gotten on the wrong side of Allan.

monkey shines review

Monkey Shines boasts an absolutely ludicrous premise on paper, but Romero commits to telling the story in a serious manner with none of the ironic humour or winking at the audience that would no doubt dog such a film if made today. You're either on board with this narrative or you're not, and for the most part, Romero's storytelling craft is strong enough to make us overlook how silly his film really is.

Much of the credit has to go to lead actor Beghe, given the tough task of carrying a film in which he can only move his head. The actor's expressive eyes do much of the film's dramatic heavy lifting, as Romero's screenplay commendably never cheats by having Allan verbalise his state of mind, but so strong is Beghe's performance and Romero's direction that we're always aware of what Allan is feeling.

monkey shines review

Aside from what might be considered a copout coda, Monkey Shines offers one of the more progressive portrayals of disability of its era, particularly in the relationship between Allan and Melanie, consummated in a rare sex scene that serves to progress the story. The scene is quietly revolutionary in both showing a quadriplegic enjoying love-making and in focussing on female pleasure. You might say Monkey Shines is the Coming Home of the horror genre.

While Romero and his acting collaborators do fine work in developing the film's human drama, Monkey Shines never quite satisfies as a horror movie. It suffers from pacing issues, with a couple of subplots that don't serve much narrative purpose, but the main stumbling block for me is in the film's animal antagonist. While it's easy to root for humans to take out a great white shark, cheering on the killing of a creature as small and cute as a Capuchin monkey isn't so palatable, particularly when it's acting in what it feels is the best interest of the film's protagonist. A final set-piece in which Ella turns on Allan and Melanie is well-staged by Romero, but animal lovers may want to look away when the creature eventually gets its comeuppance.

Commentaries by Romero and critic Travis CrawfordAn Experiment in Fear – The Making of Monkey Shines, an hour long making of doc featuring most of the film's main players; alternate ending and deleted scenes; vintage featurettes; trailers and TV spots; limited edition collector's booklet.

Monkey Shines is on dual format blu-ray/DVD October 8th from Eureka Classics.