The late director George Romero is best known as the man who created the modern day zombie. His original Dead series (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, & Day of the Dead) are strong films that are still relevant to the horror community today. They included a lot of social satire and frustrations that he felt regarding his generation, and they had a voice that was so undeniably strong that these films are still revered, and even rare and expensive to find a physical copy. George Romero though has a lot more to say than just call Americans brainless and consumerists, in fact, he has a lot to say about just about anything.
One big studio film that he is responsible for is called “Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear.” It is about a man who has an accident and ends up paralyzed from the neck down. He is confined to a wheelchair that he must control using a mouth piece. He has a live-in nurse live with him and he quickly tries to commit suicide. Viewed as a cry for help, he has a friend named Geoff who has been performing experiments with a variety of laboratory monkeys. His experiments involve giving them doses of various medication (and tissue of a human brain) in hopes of increasing their rate of learning and intelligence. Seeing his friend in a state of helplessness gives him a great idea to test out his experiments. He loans his top-of-the-line monkey named Ella to a monkey trainer who specifically trains them to help the disabled.
So Allan receives Ella, and right off the bat they have a connection. She cares for him, she helps him, and in a way she completely loves him. This relationship however evolves at an unprecedented rate when Ella and Allan end up developing a telekinetic bond. Ella not only knows what Allan wants, but she can actually telegraph his desires. At first this seems like unconditional love (and it honestly is), but soon Ella starts acting out on her own will to make changes for Allan – including removing his enemies and the people he holds grudges with.
But just as Ella is reading his mind, Allan begins to read hers. When he sleeps he is able to actually see the world through her eyes, and therefore run outside with her in thought. They begin to share thoughts and emotions – to the point that Allan begins exerting uncontrolled rage on to everyone in his path.
This film is equal parts beautiful and horrifying. The monkey is a complete sweet heart up until the halfway point of the film, and at this point we as viewers are forced to pick a side. Using practical special effects by a dream team including the legendary Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, and Everett Burell, a beautiful musical score by David Shire, and a real trained monkey, this film holds up over the test of time and pushes the boundaries of a psychological horror film. The cover art for this film is honestly scary enough, but this is one film that had me tearing up and wincing more than I’d like to admit.
Monkey Shines is currently available on Amazon Prime Streaming and as a rare out-of-print DVD/Blu-Ray
'Til Next Time, Mike Cleopatra