Awesome ’80s in April: Monkey Shines (1988)

monkey shines poster

For some reason, I assumed this movie was based on a Stephen King novel. I think that was because the poster features one of those toy monkeys with cymbals in its hands. King wrote a short story featuring the same toy (which I’ve read part of, but didn’t finish because the audiobook had to be returned to the library). It is based upon a book, but not anything by King, but rather a British author named Michael Stewart. The film has nothing to do with a toy monkey either. But its plot does run into Stephen King territory.

At the beginning of the film we know something is going to happen to law student Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) because he is out running on a beautiful morning and all seems to be right with the world (and films don’t begin that way unless something bad is going to happen.) Since it features him running athletically and focuses on his muscular legs, he’s naturally hit by a truck which renders him a paraplegic.

He has a tough go of it in the beginning and tries to kill himself. But fails. His kooky scientist friend, Geoffrey (John Pankow) hooks him up with a helper monkey. Geoffrey doesn’t tell Allan that he’s been secretly injecting the monkey, named Ella, with a human brain cell-laden serum.

At first, things seem great. Ella is super helpful and seems to anticipate Allan’s every need. But because this is a horror movie, one directed by George A. Romero no less, things go sideways quickly. Actually, quickly isn’t the right word here, because the film takes its time to get to the psychotic monkey killing people. But they do eventually get there.

Basically, the monkey forms a psychic connection with Allan and it especially attaches to Allan’s anger, and unlike people who might think they’d like to kill someone in a fit of anger, the monkey translates things literally and does some bad, bad things.

There are a few too many side plots involving, among other things, Geoffrey’s boss (who doesn’t like his experiments, and is played by Stephen Root in his first film role), Allan’s Nurse Ratched-like healthcare worker, and Allan’s wife having an affair with his surgeon (Stanley Tucci in his third film role – the wife is played by Janine Turner). There is also a romance with the monkey’s trainer that includes a very interesting sex scene (one of the few on-screen sex scenes involving a paraplegic.)

Romero handles the material well, but this is definitely one of his lesser films. It isn’t exactly boring, but I was very much ready for the monkey to turn psycho much earlier than it did.

2 thoughts on “Awesome ’80s in April: Monkey Shines (1988)

  1. I remember liking this movie back in the day. Course, that was probably 30 years ago, so who knows what I would think about it now. I had no idea Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, and Janine Turner were in it. Darn it, now I kind of want to see it again!

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