As a kid I spent a lot of time in video stores picking out the perfect weekend movies. Until around Scream time, I was too much of a chicken to watch the horror movies (blame it on seeing Cape Fear at age five), so instead I’d walk through the section in fear of the creepy covers. One that I can remember to this day is Monkey Shines, with the eerie toy monkey with cymbals staring at you. Beady eyes, large terrifying grin. It wasn’t gory or bloody, but completely haunting. I was afraid of that movie cover.
This week I face my childhood movie-cover fear and finally watch Monkey Shines.
The movie opens with hunky law student Alan stretching in the nude, strapping on a backpack of bricks for his morning jog, and then being hit by a truck, rendering him quadriplegic. Confined to a life in a wheelchair in his house, he has no girlfriend (she’s banging his doctor, Stanley Tucci), a mean live-in nurse, and only voice commands to operate everything. After a suicide attempt, Allen’s scientist buddy Geoffrey works with cute trainer Melanie to get Alan a helper monkey. She’s out of monkeys, but Geoffrey has a lab full of monkeys he could donate. However, this is no ordinary monkey: Geoffrey has been shooting this monkey up with human brain cells to make her smarter.
Where the movie confuses me is the psychic/telekinetic bond between Alan and Ella. Alan can literally see through her eyes at times, while Ella can see into Alan’s thoughts. So when Alan thinks “I hate my nurse’s bird and wish it would go away,” Ella sneaks into the birdcage, kills the bird, and leaves the carcass in the nurse’s slipper. Sneaky monkey! The movie never truly explains their weird bond, except that it’s because of the drugs being injected into Ella.
But who cares about logic, let’s see that monkey kill more people!
I viewed Monkey Shines as more of a psychological thriller than horror movie, which is perhaps because it’s directed by acclaimed horror master George A. Romero. The first hour is more-so about Alan’s struggles in the chair and the close bond he develops with his helper monkey (as well as the trainer who he eventually bangs). As Alan’s anger and frustrations come to a boiling point, you begin to notice the difference in Ella’s behavior, showing the gradual change that happens as opposed to wham-bam-pyscho monkey. I actually really enjoyed Monkey Shines and think childhood me wouldn’t have been scared, though maybe just a little more cautious around primates. Even in the fits of rage and murder I couldn’t help but think, “What a cute creepy monkey!” I don’t blame Ella; I blame crazy Geoffrey’s mad scientist antics. But that’s maybe just the animal lover in me.
No big spoilers but of course there’s a happy ending for Alan after a pretty ridiculous, violent fight scene (gross-out alert!). In the last ten minutes where it boringly ends, there is at least one awesome WTF moment that I loved. Sure I would’ve like some explanation of how a Capuchin monkey can read a dude’s mind, but it’s a movie and I’ll get past it. Monkey Shines is on Netflix Instant and a fun Halloween warm-up for the really gory horror flicks.