• Monkey Shines



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 18th, 2014.
    Director: George A. Romero
    Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    Possibly the most underrated of George Romero's films, 1988's MONKEY SHINES did middling box office upon its initial release. The victim of a poorly considered ad campaign that angered the disabled community and some unwelcome studio interference, the film sank into minor obscurity shortly after release. And even though it certainly had horror elements, it was far removed from the intensely gory likes of DAY OF THE DEAD or OTT pulp of CREEPSHOW which may have confused the Romero fan base. After spending time on cable and home video though it became one of those "wasn't that the movie where..." films that are remembered fondly but who's title always seems to escape quick recall.

    Allan (Jason Beghe) is a muscular and athletic young man who is tragically struck down in his prime when he's mowed down by a garbage truck while on his morning run. His life is saved by arrogant surgeon Dr. Wiseman (Stanley Tucci in a deliciously smug supporting turn) but Allan is rendered a quadriplegic. After a long recuperation in the hospital he comes home to the care of a nasty full time nurse more concerned with her obnoxious pet parakeet than him and a faithless girlfriend. Allan is incredibly bitter and despondent - even attempting suicide at one point. When his overbearing and emotionally manipulative mother (Joyce Van Patten) shows up, things go from bad to unbearable.

    A rare bright spot in Allan's life is his hyperactive pill-popping best friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) whose loyalty and hilarity help Allan cope. Geoffrey is a highly skilled but unorthodox medical researcher who is working with capuchin monkeys in the field of primate brain development. He winds up connecting with a volunteer who trains monkeys to aid the disabled. Melanie (Kate McNeil) is given one of Geoffrey's monkeys - a female named Ella - that Geoffrey has been injecting with human brain matter (a fact that Melanie is tragically unaware of). After Ella is brought into Allan's home and starts taking care of him things take a decidedly sinister turn. Not only is their bonding intense - it seems that Ella has become so fused with Allan mentally that she can read his mind. After Alan begins having dreams where he seems to be inhabiting the monkey's body and people that have wronged him wind up dead, it is simply a matter of time until matters come to a head.

    There are a lot of interesting things going on in MONKEY SHINES. On one level, it's a Freudian thriller about mind-melding and murderous projection. On another, it's a human drama about coping with suffering and the difficulties of interpersonal relationships when someone is physically incapacitated. Beghe is remarkably good in the film. Forced to act with only his eyes and facial expressions for most of the film, he manages to be both a sympathetic and frightening figure. When his fits of black rage hit, he's quite disturbing and his use of his voice as a tool of intimidation is highly effective. McNeil has a terrific and sweetly sexy girl next door quality. Tucci and Janine Turner (as the faithless girlfriend) manage to do memorable work in their short amount of screen time but the supporting cast honors go to Pankow's jittery genius hophead and yes, the monkey.

    Quite a few monkeys were used during the course of the film but the one you see mostly in close ups is a female named Boo. Boo is right up there with Bart the bear and the German Sheperd in the Will Smith I AM LEGEND in the animals on film hall of fame. Her facial expressions are priceless. She knows how to bare teeth in one moment and cuddle in the next. She's dexterous and agile. You are scared of her but fall in love with her too.

    MONKEY SHINES also knows how to play a cliche effectively. The fact that the climax takes place during a midnight thunderstorm is perfect. When Romero pulls out the "monkey cam" POV it is both funny and creepy. And while the gore is minimal, the shocks aren't and the movie conveys dread and mood without being silly. In fact, Beghe is so good at creating a three dimensional character that MONKEY SHINES never feels silly. The best genre fare - whether it is ROBOCOP or CLASS OF 1984 - manages to populate its world with sympathetic and human characters. This is one of those films.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    MONKEY SHINES debuts on Blu in a 1.85.1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that nicely upgrades the old DVD without utilizing any nasty processing or DNR. This is a strong HD presentation faithful to original film elements with normal film grain and no notable print damage. Detail is good - including the film's many nighttime scenes - and flesh tones natural. The only area with any minor issues is that black levels sometimes bend towards the slightly milky (but not the grey zone). This is a good example of careful, unobtrusive catalog work for the Blu ray format. Fans of the film should be pleased.

    Audio is provided on two Master Audio tracks, a DTS-HD 2.0 Master and a DTS-HD 5.1. The tracks don't actually differ that much in terms of overall sound. The surround option is a conservative mix with sound fx and ambient noise slightly spread out in the sound field but well mastered (monkey shrieks and thunderclaps never veer into the screeching range or muddied bass pool). Personally, I preferred the 2.0 track as a purist but both tracks are well balanced with no audible flaws. Call this one a toss up of competence for the listener. You'll be fine either way.

    The extras start in earnest with a very nice commentary moderated by Stuart Andrews. He and Romero have good chemistry and Romero delivers a pretty interesting history of how he came to the project and every aspect of its creation. Romero is enthusiastic about the movie and this is a very engaging track. The almost hourlong featurette included ("An Experiment In Fear: The Making Of Monkey Shines") manages to bring together almost every crucial participant in the film's creation. Pankow is as funny in real life as his character and Beghe remains a neat interview subject due to his introspective but intense manner. Executive producer Peter Grunwald has a lot of interesting stories about studio meddling and Tom Savini talks about the difficulties a non-gore film presented for him and his fx team. The marketing and promotion of the film are discussed comprehensively and everyone is bluntly honest about the various trials and tribulations dealt with.

    Some vintage pieces are included in the disc like an EPK and some deleted scenes. The most important of these is the alternate ending which involved an underdeveloped plot strand featuring the Pankow character's vivisectionist happy boss. The making of and behind the scenes pieces from the 80's are quite short - just under five minutes and one minute respectively. There's also two minutes of something referred to as news reports and a collection of trailers and TV ads and finally a still gallery.

    The Final Word:

    MONKEY SHINES is a fine film with a decent script, fully committed performances and some genuine shocks and human emotion. Romero's underrated psych out gets a very nice package with a nice technical presentation and some weighty extras. Two thumbs up and a monkey shriek. Recommended.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Clive Smith's Avatar
      Clive Smith -
      Screen cap number 5 gave me a giggling fit. I might look at it first thing every morning.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Budgie! BUDGIE!!!!!