Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear | Chicago Reader

Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear

Despite a hokey prologue and ending (the latter imposed by producer Charles Evans), this 1988 feature is one of George Romero's most effective and interesting horror thrillers—not as profound as his remarkable “Living Dead” trilogy, but unusually gripping and provocative. Based on Michael Stewart's novel of the same title, the plot concerns Allan (Jason Beghe), a law student who becomes a quadriplegic. His best friend (John Pankow), a scientist who has been experimentally injecting human brain tissue into a monkey named Ella, decides to have the monkey trained by a professional (Kate McNeil) to take care of Allan. But Allan, who becomes involved with the monkey trainer, gradually discovers that Ella is both tapping into and acting upon his repressed rage—with dire consequences for his overbearing mother, shrewish nurse, and former fiancee among others, climaxing in a highly suspenseful confrontation. Like other Romero films, this is both crude and powerful on the level of genre and sophisticated and subtle in its social and psychological implications (which, in this case, mainly have to do with sexual undertones—the competition of various females, including the monkey, for the hero's care and affection). Certain characters, like the nurse and the mother, are crudely drawn, but their functions in the overall scheme are shrewdly orchestrated, and what emerges represents an interesting variation on themes from Val Lewton (mainly Cat People) and Alfred Hitchcock (mainly Rear Window). 113 min.

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