As Halloween creeps around the corner, we all continue to whet our appetite for fear by indulging in our favorite scary movies. For today’s Throwback Thursday, a column where Scienceficion.com looks at sci-fi from the past, I figured it appropriate to take a look at a flick with the subtitle ‘an Experiment in Fear’. In 1988, George A. Romero swapped zombies for highly intelligent monkeys for the horror feature, ‘Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear.’
A couple years after the release of ‘Day of the Dead’ and after contributing to ‘Creepshow 2.’ George A. Romero took a brief vacation from independent filmmaking to write and direct this commercial film, distributed by Orion Pictures. The feature was based on the novel ‘Monkey Shines’ by author and entrepreneur, Michael Stewart. Stewart became known for writing sci-fi psychological thrillers after the publication of ‘Monkey Shines’ and, outside of writing, became highly involved in the development of the hybrid air vehicle company, World SkyCat.
Jason Beghe stars as Alan Mann, an athletic student who tragically gets hit by a truck, turning him into a quadriplegic. Alan’s scientist friend Geoffrey (John Pankow) has been experimenting with Capuchin monkeys by injecting them with human brain tissue. Upon seeing his friend’s helpless condition, Geoffrey, teaming with a specialist in helper monkeys for disabled people (Kate McNeil), decide to pair Alan with one of the smartest monkeys from Geoffrey’s lab. The monkey named Ella (played by Boo) develops a strong bond with Alan. Initially Ella is sweet. She even has puppy dog eyes, dare I say. However, as Geoffrey continues to inject Ella, the bond between Ella and Alan soon becomes deadly. Ella begins to telepathically sense when Alan becomes mad or irritated at his now distant friends and family, resulting in a bloodbath that can only be caused by a killer monkey.
By the way, ‘Monkey Shines’ makes it clear that no monkey was harmed in the making of this movie. In fact, the filmmakers even recognize The Helping Hands monkey helpers program in Boston, assuring the viewers that the movie in no way resembles any of the quality work the program provides for people with disabilities.
Unfortunately for Romero, directing “Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear” wasn’t the most pleasant as the studio insisted he incorporate a happy ending. Romero returned to independent filmmaking following this experience. However, ‘Monkey Shines’ is definitely not terrible. While it definitely may not be the best movie about the potential danger of highly intelligent monkeys (obviously, I’m talking about ‘Dunston Checks In’ here…), ‘Monkey Shines’ keeps you on the edge of your seat. The characters aren’t flat and, more importantly, it involves monkeys doing human things. Frankly, that’s the key to successful entertainment, right?