Director: George A. Romero
Screenwriter: George A. Romero
Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Christine Forrest, Janine Turner, Stanley Tucci
Rated R | 113 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2014
In 1968, Night of the Living Dead became a cult classic and a defining moment for modern horror cinema. Since then, filmmaker George A. Romero has made some truly interesting films with socio-political overtones.
In the ’70s, Romero gave us The Crazies, about a military biological weapon that turns people into homicidal maniacs; Jack’s Wife (also known as Season of the Witch) – a feminist film about housewives practicing witchcraft; Martin, a satirical, transgressive vampire film, and Dawn of the Dead, an apocalyptic horror masterpiece.
The ’80s started out promising for Romero too, with Knightriders, Creepshow, and the third film in his series of zombie films, Day of the Dead. But then, after 1987’s Creepshow 2, something weird happened – Romero made his first commercial film, Monkey Shines.
A psychological thriller, Monkey Shines stars Jason Beghe as Allan Mann, an athlete who is paralyzed from the neck down after a traffic accident. Unable to adjust to his condition, Allan becomes despondent and suicidal. His friend Geoffrey (John Pankow), a scientist at the local university, has been experimenting with capuchin monkeys and supplies the hyper-intelligent “Ella” to Alan as a helper.
Enter Melanie (Kate McNeil), a specialist in quadriplegia who trains monkeys to assist those with disabilities. At first, Allan’s relationship with Ella is amicable. With Ella, Allan’s life is made much easier, and the two inevitably develop a deep bond. But when Ella begins anticipating Allan’s thoughts, strange and sinister things start happening.
Ella becomes the Mr. Hyde to Allan’s Dr. Jekyll, forming a telepathic link with the quadriplegic and acting out on all the angry, vengeful thoughts in Allan’s head. And as wreaks havoc on Allan’s ex-girlfriend (Janine Turner), negligent doctor (Stanley Tucci), and prying mother (Joyce Van Patten), Allan must find a way to stop the murderous monkey before she takes over his mind.
It’s an intriguing premise, but unfortunately Monkey Shines feels more like a daytime drama or an ABC Movie of the Week than a suspenseful, psychological horror film from gore-fathers George Romero, Tom Savini, and Greg Nicotero. It isn’t all bad – there are some solid performances and impressive practical effects – but Monkey Shines is so heavy on melodrama and so light on scares that it’s a slog to sit through.
So, what happened? According to Scream Factory’s new featurette, An Experiment In Fear – The Making Of Monkey Shines, the film’s failure is a direct result of studio tampering. Orion Pictures, the film’s distributor, forced Romero to add a happy ending to the film. After the film tested poorly, the studio re-cut it without Romero’s knowledge, adding a “shock” ending that’s a direct rip-off of Alien’s famous chestburster scene. Upset with the way the movie had been handled, Romero returned to the independent film scene.
Monkey Shines hits Blu-ray on November 11, courtesy of Scream Factory. As with most Scream Factory releases, Monkey Shines looks better than you could imagine, with healthy grain retention and full colors. With a 1080p transfer in 1.85.1 and two audio tracks: a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, as well as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for home theater enthusiasts, this is the definitive release of Romero’s 1988 film. You can order Monkey Shines on Blu-ray via Amazon.
* NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director George A. Romero
* NEW An Experiment In Fear – The Making Of Monkey Shines – An All-New Retrospective with George A. Romero, Jason Beghe, Katie McNeil, Executive Producer Peter Grunwald, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Tom Savini
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Behind-the-Scenes Footage
* Vintage “Making of Monkey Shines” plus additional interview clips
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV Spot
* Still Gallery
Recently, Monkey Shines was the subject of this year’s Halloween episode of How Did This Get Made? Hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas, How Did This Get Made? is dedicated to the discussion of films so bat-shit crazy they’re amazing. While I personally don’t consider Monkey Shines absurd or entertaining enough for inclusion in the illustrious “so bad it’s good” genre, the gang make some hilarious observations about Romero’s foray into commercial filmmaking.
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