Monkey Shines

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Monkey Shines
Monkey shines.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge A. Romero
Produced byCharles Evans
Peter Grunwald
Screenplay byGeorge A. Romero
Based onMonkey Shines
by Michael Stewart
Music byDavid Shire
CinematographyJames A. Contner
Edited byPasquale Buba
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • July 29, 1988 (1988-07-29)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$5.3 million

Monkey Shines (also known as Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear) is a 1988 American horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, based on the novel by Michael Stewart.[2] The film stars Jason Beghe as Allan Mann, an athlete who becomes a paralyzed quadriplegic and develops a bond with an intelligent service monkey named "Ella" who becomes dangerously overprotective.

The film, which was produced by Peter Grunwald and Charles Evans, was Romero's first major studio film, and was distributed by Orion Pictures.


Allan Mann (Beghe) is an athlete who is struck by a truck and the surgery to save him renders him quadriplegic. Allan fails to adjust to his condition, becoming suicidal and despondent. When Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow), a scientist friend of his, who has been experimenting with the injection of human brain tissue into Capuchin monkeys learns this, he is prompted to supply one of the experimental monkeys, named "Ella" (played by Boo, and voiced by Frank Welker), to Allan as a helper.

Their relationship is amicable at first, with Allan's life being made much easier, and the two bond deeply, even sharing poignant moments with romantic music, but soon their interaction takes a decidedly sinister turn. The monkey seems to become a telepathic receptacle for Allan's anger at his state and his desire for revenge against people who have wronged him for slights both real and imagined. Simultaneously, Allan develops a romantic relationship with Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil), a specialist in quadriplegia and helper monkeys.

Ella's protectiveness turns into homicidal envy, even as Allan is informed that his condition may be reversible. First, she snaps the neck of Allan's uncaring Nurse's pet bird that attacks Allan in his bed. Next, she kills Allan's ex-girlfriend Linda Aikman (Janine Turner) and his egotistical and incompetent Neurosurgeon, John Wiseman (Stanley Tucci), by setting their romantic hideaway on fire in the dead of night after Allan finds out that Wiseman's incompetence is the true cause of his condition and their relationship. Ella then kills Allan's selfish and controlling mother Dorothy (Joyce Van Patten), who only was looking after Allan to dominate him, by electrocuting her in the bathtub. Ella then strikes down Geoffrey by stabbing him with the very syringe of sodium pentobarbitone he had intended to use on her after becoming aware of her dangerous behavior and after he tells Allan the truth about her. Ella then disables Melanie and tries to light her on fire, but being too wet from a rain storm makes it impossible so Ella decides to poison her with another syringe that Geoffrey brought with him. As Ella attempts to inject Melanie, Allan is able to summon the strength to move his right arm and engage his tape player with the romantic music, summoning Ella to cuddle close to him. When Ella is under Allan's head, Allan bites her in the neck and kills her by thrashing his head back and forth in a violent manner, snapping her neck before finally relinquishing his bite and throwing her corpse into his tape player.

Later, Allan undergoes spinal surgery. While resting after the operation, he has a nightmare that he flatlines and Ella leaps out of his back while the doctor is making an incision. When he wakes up, Melanie reveals that the surgery was successful. Having regained his ability to move, Allan and Melanie leave the hospital together.

Trailer Poem[edit]

Once there was a man whose prison was a chair. The man had a monkey, they made the strangest pair.

The man was the prisoner, the monkey held the key. No matter how he tried, the man couldn't flee.

Locked in his prison, terrified and frail. The monkey kept gaining power, keeping him in jail.

The man tried to keep the monkey from his brain, but every move he made became the monkey's game.

The monkey ruled the man, it climbed inside his head. And now as fate will have it, one of them is dead!



Monkey Shines was Romero's first film produced with a major Hollywood studio.[4] The film was shot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[2] 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.[5]

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 40 to 50% 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 films.

Alternate Ending[edit]

The original intended ending of the film was seen only as a special feature on the Blu-ray release. Prior to Dorothy and Geoffrey's deaths, Geoffrey's boss Dean Harold Burbage (Stephen Root) steals the remaining brain tissue serum and injects it into all of Geoffrey's remaining test monkeys. After Allan regains his ability to move on his own, Burbage is assaulted by animal rights protesters who had earlier attacked Geoffrey for experimenting on monkeys. Burbage insults them then returns to the lab where it's discovered that all of the remaining monkeys have completely taken control of his mind.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received a mixed response from critics and failed at the box office. Roger Ebert gave Monkey Shines two and a half out of a possible four 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."[3] It holds a 53% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 32 critic reviews.[1] and a score of 71 on Metacritic based on 14 reviews.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

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 is confined to an electric wheel chair for six weeks. Rather than use his insurance money on a Nurse, He gets a helper monkey, "Oliver", who's later revealed to be deranged and homicidal.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b Don Sumner (14 April 2016). "Monkey Shines (1988) Review". Horror Freak News. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  3. ^ a b Roger Ebert (29 July 1988). "Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear Movie Review (1988)". Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  4. ^ "Monkey Shines (1988) Starring: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil". Three Movie Buffs Review. 28 October 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  5. ^ Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead. London: Wallflower, 2003, p. 141.
  6. ^ "Monkey Shines (1988)". Metacritic. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  7. ^ "Synopsis of Monkey". TKtv. Retrieved 6 May 2017.

External links[edit]