Monkey Shines (1988)
Director(s): George A. Romero
Writer(s): George A. Romero (screenplay), Michael Steward (novel)
Starring: Jason Beghe, Kate McNeil, John Pankow
Something I miss about the ma and pa video stores that used to rule the land before the age of streaming videos gave the final crushing blow to this business model was the creativity of movie posters that were set to entice the casual customer into renting their movie. If you think about it, the average customer probably spent about 20 minutes or less at the video store and the advertising for direct to video movies (which was made up a good chunk of horror flicks) was little to none, so studios had no choice but to hit your senses with a creative poster and even better tagline. Imagine me as an 8 year old kid who would literally spend hours putting movies in alphabetical order and ranting about movies being placed in the incorrect genre (Alien is a horror movie, PERIOD) being stopped in his tracks when he sees a cover of a toy monkey with a devilish grin and dead eyes. The best part however was this particular horror movie cover also came with a nursery rhyme that went as follows:
Once there was a man whose prison was a chair.
The man had a monkey, they made the strangest pair.
The monkey ruled the man, it climbed inside his head
And now as fate would have it, one of them is dead.
What the hell? A creepy toy monkey AND rhyme that pretty much told you the plot? YES PLEASE. As I’ve mentioned in previous FEARtastic vaults, I was an easy sell as a kid (probably easier now as an adult) when it came to renting horror flicks; pull me in with your cover and I’ll give you a watch. Animals have never been a stranger to the horror genre but the idea of a smart helper monkey running amok had an entertaining premise that elevated this movie into an entertaining romp. The role and responsibility that horror movies give to our society is taking the arbitrary and giving them a creepy spin so that we will think twice when trying to lead our normal lives. Pets to me are the most obvious target because their love is something that most folks see as natural so when the horror genre sets to make you think twice about an animal’s loyalty, it makes the movie that much more entertaining…or creepy.
Monkey Shines follows a former athlete, now a quadriplegic with a depressed outlook in life when he receives a helper monkey named Ella. The duo creates a strong bond with each other that takes a turn for the worst as the bond is much more than simple affection. A sort of telepathic link begins to compel the monkey to act on her master’s ill will towards others that turn into a string of gruesome murders. You see? Although the poem on the cover pretty much gave away the plot, I really didn’t care because this movie offered an animal going on a killing rampage JUST AS the poster suggested. Nothing more, nothing less. The simplicity of that feat was an entertaining was as well so as a horror fan, I had little to complain about in this department.
The interesting character point that made this movie interesting is that the main character was not in a position to run away from the killer (monkey). Since the character was a quadriplegic, it gave an interesting twist once the main character found out that his monkey was an instrument of death. A surprising turn for this flick was the emotional element that the movie spent a lot of time building up between the monkey and the main character. There was definitely some emotional groundwork that this movie laid down so that when the decision was made that the monkey had to be put down through betrayal, a part of me did feel bad for the monkey which had to be put down from the one person she loved most, her master. I say surprising because if you were to tell me I would have a moment of sadness in a horror flick involving a helper monkey, I would have been confused.
For all you animal lovers, take this flick for a spin for the sake of seeing how man vs animal can be something tragic in an entertaining horrific way!
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.