in Shocktober

Monkey Shines (1988)

Monkey Shines in my mind is the most terrifying premise there’s ever been for a horror movie. A man becomes paralyzed, gets a helper monkey, and said helper monkey kills people. If you can imagine not only being immobilized but being tormented by something you can’t reason with. Not to mention monkeys have always kind of scared me. I don’t know if they’re as scary as face-ripping-off chimps, but theres’s something brewing behind those black beady eyes. Monkey Shines explores those fears in an over-the-top thriller from Horror legend George A. Romero. I say over-the-top because come on, it’s about a killer monkey!

Alan Mann (Jason Beghe) is an athlete who after being struck by a truck becomes a quadriplegic. This tragic accident turns him into the biggest douche in the universe. Friends and family try to help him but he’s now bitter and despondent. Luckily, Alan’s scientist friend Geoffrey (John Pankow) has been experimenting with transferring human brain tissue into monkeys. This in turn has created a super smart monkey named “Ella” that Geoffrey gives Alan to help in his day-to-day life. It’s great at first, Alan and Ella form an almost romantic relationship. Though we all know what happens when you insert human brain tissue into a monkey… Telepathic powers!

Alan is an angry man and it’s through his telepathic link with Ella that his beloved helper monkey starts acting out. Ella attacks Alan’s friends and family in horrifying scenes that one could only describe as “Hilarious.” At the same time, Alan has formed a relationship with Melanie (Kate McNeil) a specialist in quadriplegics and helper monkeys (Two for one, jackpot!) Naturally, this makes Ella jealous and all hell breaks loose. It just happens to be a hell populated by an adorable little monkey.

I don’t think there’s anyway Monkey Shines could have avoided being stupid. Romero’s execution of Michael Stewart’s novel is most likely spotty at best. Still, I liked this film. Spoiler I actually felt sad when Alan had to trick Ella to kill her. He plays the same music they used to initially bond together, gains her trust, and then bites her neck, swinging her back and forth until she dies. The latter half of that sequence is ridiculous, but the setup is actually quite hearbreaking. All this monkey wanted was companionship. It’s just a shame that it had to be injected with experimental human brain tissue that gave it a telepathic link to its owner.

Monkey Shines is not held in a high regard. It was Romero’s first picture for a major studio and it failed both critically and commercially. Still, I think it’s an inventive concept that does have some inspired moments. Yeah it’s silly, but somehow it still manages to be scary. I can only pray I never end up in the same situation. I just have to make sure I don’t monkey-around from now on when crossing the street.

P.S. Here’s Alan and Ella’s final confrontation. A scene that rides the line between saddening and unintentionally hilarious.

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.