An Experiment In Fear

Monkey Shines
1988 | TV-14 | Drama | 1 Hr 53 Min. | Orion

George A. Romero
Michael Stewart 
George A. Romero
Jason Beghe
John Pankow
Kate McNeil

When Allan becomes a quadriplegic he loses all hope for living until he meets Ella - a monkey trained to fetch and carry for him around the house, obeying him in all things. But Ella is part of another experiment, and when she starts responding to Allan's underlying rage and frustration she has the ability to carry out her master's darkest wishes.

If this is your first trip to the Cave welcome and thanks for joining me during the 2nd Annual Disability in Film Blogathon hosted by Pop Culture Reverie and In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. Sit back relax poke around a little I have something for everyone here.

Jason Beghe
Yes within the first few minutes we get Jason Beghe in the flesh!

Before we get into reviewing this thriller a little about me, I have been volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for over 40 years and when I was 16 I started going to MDA Summer camp. Last year when this blogathon hit I missed out on joining in but did enjoy the post's so to see it again this year I could not wait to hop on board. People from all walks of life with physical and emotional disabilities should be accepted by everyone every day and it starts with us. If you hang around the Cave long enough you will see post's about or from my buddy Steve who has been a huge part of my life and suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and has beat the odds for 20 years now. So to watch a movie with an Actor in a wheelchair I will be critiquing his every move. Ok with that said on with the show...

Romero's wonderful wife at the time Christine Forrest

The Godfather of Gore steps away from the blood and guts to bring us his first major studio movie a Drama, Thriller Monkey Shines for struggling Orion pictures. Orion looking for a big hit from its big-name director instead received a box office failure. First, the studio forced Romero to add a happy ending to the picture, a plot device which the director had long avoided in favor of more ambiguous endings. Second, after poor previews, the studio recut the film without Romero's knowledge to add a "shock" ending. Another issue was the film's overall length, and I can back that up with an almost two hours run time Monkey Shines is a very slow burn! In fact, the slow pace did not pick up until the last 10 minutes or so.  The movie would have benefitted from losing a few of those subplots that are peppered throughout the first hour. Instead, Romero loses momentum in the closing passages because he has too many loose ends to keep track of. Roger Ebert said it best "Somewhere within this movie’s two hours or so is hidden an absolutely spellbinding 90-minute thriller." I could not agree more.

Chicago P.D.'s tough as nails Hank Voight played by Jason Beghe (Allen) is our star and the man in the chair. His subplot works well as he has a perfect life a gorgeous girlfriend and is physically fit when his world gets turned upside down. When Allen goes out for a jog and gets hit by a truck the "wheels" are set in motion. Beghe does an amazing job convincing us he is in a wheelchair. He really took the time to learn the ins and outs of using the controller properly. And when things happen to him that he can not control your body will tense up giving you a feeling of helplessness as well, and this tension on the screen is great! Beghe can act as well from nice guy to rage in seconds he can really pile it on. It was also pretty cool to see other medical devices being used like a Hoyer lift and a special needs phone that he can use. 

But of course the movie is about a man in a wheelchair being helped by a service animal and in this case, it's a crazed monkey named Ella. Ella is amazing and the practical effects blend in very well and its hard to tell when its a monkey on the screen or a puppet. I truly enjoyed how Romero makes you feel empathy for the monkey and its new owner to hatred and rage as Ella tries to protect her loved one. I also like the P.O.V. camera work when we switch to Ella's rage giving us that 80's indy film look. 

I feel like the opening of my review was too negative for a movie that I actually liked. The story has promise even if it just runs a tad long. The Cinematography is great with the framing never taking you on a wild ride it is all clean and cut smooth lending itself to the tension of the scene. The soundtrack is wonderful with a nice opening orchestra movement to set a lovely upbeat tone as well as the smooth voice of Peggy Lee to fill in the others. This is also one of the very few films depicting a quadriplegic having sex. Ask anyone in a wheelchair one of the questions they get the most often is "Can you have sex?" and let me tell you it's annoying if you do not know the answer then just ask your self-are you human? If so then can you have sex? Anyway, the scene is very well done and I applaud Romero for putting it in his film. 

They say your pet looks like you over time.

One other fun fact is the young cast and how well they work together from its stars to others like Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest and of course in his first role Stephen Root, then a stage actor and of course the star of Office Space (IMO). According to Root, he had been instructed by his agent not to let the casting directors know that he was inexperienced with film as an actor. Root's official debut was Crocodile Dundee II, which had been released in theaters a month before this film, despite being shot a month after it.

Ella played by Boo
Romero's Thriller might play long at times crawling to its exciting conclusion Monkey Shines should be talked about more than it does. From its strong cast and well-written storyline, this is a movie that disevres to be seen. I mean come on we all know that with animals we are going to get jump scares and yet this one successfully made me jump once and I consider myself pretty hardcore. If your looking for a movie to watch on a raining day this is one of those movies.

Ella, I give you...

3 Bloody Brains out of 5

Maybe this short video of Steve and I spot something strange in the woods would be a better flick?

Also check out my reviews for:

Charles Band's first feature film Crash! Will a killer wheelchair.


  1. Thanks for participating. I've never seen this film, and I probably won't because it's just not my kind of movie. But I find a couple of things you said very interesting. I liked how you said that if you're human then you can have sex. I chose to The Sessions for one of my entries because I wanted to explore that issue. The other thing I found interesting is the commentary about the protagonist's (and Beghe's) body and physical fitness. There's often a misconception of what disabled bodies look like when, like other bodies, they come in a wide variety of shapes and forms.

    1. Robin may I invite you to check out my friends blog and her take of being disabled and sex? It is a really good read that she posted just after doing a photo shoot.


Post a Comment