Monkey Shines

Tagged: Film

Film (1988; vt Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Terror). Orion/Charles Evans. Directed by George Romero. Written by Romero, based on Monkey Shines (1983) by Michael Stewart. Cast includes Jason Beghe, Kate McNeil, John Pankow and Joyce Van Patten. 113 minutes. Colour.

The sf element in this horror thriller is Ella, a monkey, the subject of an experiment to increase simian intelligence by injecting human genetic material into her brain (see Apes as Human). Ella is given as a therapeutic companion to quadriplegic Allan, with whom she develops a quasitelepathic link. His exasperation at his helplessness is translated by Ella into instructions to kill anyone (including his suffocating mother) who angers him. She also becomes jealous, attacking the two people closest to Allan: his best friend and his new lover. Allan must stop her, using (literally) only his head. Put baldly this sounds trite, but Monkey Shines is close to perfect in its own apparently unpromising terms. It is made with great patience and subtlety, with an astonishing performance from the monkey – whose growing intelligence (and malice) is rendered utterly believable – and with Beghe brilliant in the difficult quadriplegic role. The subtext (a Jekyll-and-Hyde theme with Ella being Allan's vicariously controlled Hyde, representing the animal instincts still functioning within the human mind) is maintained even in the one gratuitous shock added to the finale after previews in order to make the film less sedate: a metaphoric twist on the old phrase "a monkey on my back". [PN]

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