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Monkey Shines movie poster
|Directed by||George A. Romero|
|Produced by||Charles Evans
|Screenplay by||George A. Romero|
|Music by||David Shire|
|Cinematography||James A. Contner|
|Edited by||Pasquale Buba|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Box office||$5.3 million|
Monkey Shines (sometimes called Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear) is an American horror film originally released in 1988. Written and directed by George A. Romero, the film is based on a novel with the same title authored by Michael Stewart.
Monkey Shines tells the story of an athlete, Allan Mann (Jason Beghe), who is rendered quadriplegic when struck by a truck. Mann fails to adjust to his condition, becoming suicidal and despondent. When Geoffrey, a scientist friend of his (John Pankow), who has been experimenting with the injection of human brain tissue into monkeys, learns this, he is prompted to supply one of the experimental monkeys, named "Ella" (played by Boo, whose vocal effects are provided by Frank Welker), to Allan as a helper.
Their relationship is amicable at first, with Mann's life being made much easier, and the two bond deeply, even sharing poignant moments with moving music. But soon their interaction takes a decidedly sinister turn. The monkey seems to become a telepathic receptacle for Mann's anger at his state and his desire for revenge against friends and family for slights both real and imagined. Simultaneously, Mann develops a romantic relationship with Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil), a specialist in quadriplegia and helper monkeys.
Ella's protectiveness turns to savage jealousy, even as Allan is informed that his condition may be reversible. First, she kills Allan's former girlfriend Linda Aikman (Janine Turner), who is now in a relationship with his former doctor John Wiseman (Stanley Tucci), by setting their romantic hideaway on fire. Ella then kills Allan's jealous, overbearing mother Dorothy (Joyce Van Patten), by electrocuting her in the bathtub. Ella then kills Geoffrey by injecting him with the very syringe of Sodium pentobarbitone he had intended to use on her, and disables Melanie, before trying to light her on fire. Allan, helpless and alone, is able to summon the strength to turn on the tape player with the romantic music, summoning Ella to cuddle close to him. When Ella cradles Allan's head, Allan, rightfully betraying Ella's trust, bites and thrashes his head back and forth in a violent manner, hitting Ella into the handles of his wheelchair before finally relinquishing his bite and throwing her toward the open deck of his tape machine, killing Ella.
Allan undergoes surgery to restore his mobility, eventually regaining the ability to walk short distances with the aid of crutches. But before then, as he is in rest post-surgery, he has a nightmare that he flat-lines and Ella leaps out of his back while the doctor is making his surgical incision.
- Jason Beghe as Allan Mann
- John Pankow as Geoffrey Fisher
- Kate McNeil as Melanie Parker
- Joyce Van Patten as Dorothy Mann
- Christine Forrest as Maryanne Hodges
- Stephen Root as Dean Burbage
- Stanley Tucci as Dr. John Wiseman
- Janine Turner as Linda Aikman
- William Newman as Doc Williams
- Tudi Wiggins as Esther Fry
- Tom Quinn as Charlie Cunningham
- Patricia Tallman as Party Guest
- David Early as Anesthetist
- Frank Welker as Ella (voice)
Release and reception
Monkey Shines was Romero's first studio film. The film's distributor, Orion Pictures, was desperate for a hit, as it was in financial difficulty. 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, as Romero had completed a very long and involved shooting script that numbered over 240 pages. This resulted in a first cut of which forty to fifty percent of the shot footage met the cutting room floor in the need to get the film reduced to a practical length. Upset with the way his project had been handled, Romero returned to independent film.
The picture received a mixed response from critics and failed at the box office. Roger Ebert gave Monkey Shines 2.5 out of a possible 4 stars. The film's main flaw, wrote Ebert, was its being overlong with too many subplots: "Romero loses momentum in the closing passages because he has too many loose ends to keep track of. Somewhere within this movie’s two hours or so is hidden an absolutely spellbinding 90-minute thriller." It currently holds a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Use in popular culture
The Malcolm in the Middle episode, "Monkey", parodies the film as Craig Feldspar (David Anthony Higgins) was in an accident earlier in the series ("Dewey's Dog") and cannot get around easily and is forced to use a helper monkey, "Oliver", while he recovers that ends up trying to kill Craig.
- Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead. London: Wallflower, 2003, p. 141.