Sunday, July 25, 2010

May 27, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear’

George A. Romero madness continues with a look at his 1988 flick, Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear...

Allan (Jason Beghe) has it made in the shade. He’s a super-buff champion runner dating gorgeous Linda (Janine Turner shortly before “Northern Exposure” and long before her side-job as a rightwing crackpot). But he loses his career and his lady friend after getting creamed by a truck and losing the use of his arms and legs. Enter Ella, an almost freakishly adorable capuchin monkey. Ella’s already extraordinary intelligence is further bolstered by brain-infused injections administered by Allan’s buddy, the mad doctor Geoffrey (John Pankow). At first Ella performs household tasks for Allan: answering his phone, preparing his lunch, changing the battery in his electric wheelchair. She even does windows. But as she becomes addicted to Geoffrey’s shots, the monkey-junkie develops an unnatural psychic/romantic bond with Allan. Before long, she’s offing his sundry enemies, which include an antisocial parakeet.

Did George Romero set out to make Monkey Shines a bizarre comedy? He’s a smart guy, so I won’t rule this out, but there’s such a lack of self-consciousness in the acting and execution that I’d wager this was genuinely intended to be “an experiment in fear.” Let’s call the experiment a complete failure, but the film an immensely enjoyable winner. We get to see Ella best Geoffrey in a knife fight, Allan doing an uproarious Clint Eastwood impersonation as he threatens to rip out Ella’s eyes, Allan’s mother giving him several strangely sensual sponge baths, Allan shaking the stuffing out of Ella with his teeth, and an Alien-inspired dream sequence that will drop your jaw. This ain’t Night of the Living Dead, but it sure is a lot funnier than Creepshow. And somehow Ella remains monumentally adorable even when she’s trying to stick a syringe in Allan’s girlfriend’s eyelid. Yow!
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