Monkey Shines – sometimes called Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear – is a 1988 American horror film. Written and directed by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead and sequels; Creepshow), the film is based on a novel with the same title authored by Michael Stewart. The film stars Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil and Joyce Van Patten.
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 favour of more ambiguous endings. Second, after poor previews, the studio recut the film without Romero’s knowledge to add a “shock” ending.
The film grossed $5.34 million in the USA against a $7 million budget.
Allan Mann is an embittered paraplegic. His fickle ex-girlfriend, over-bearing mother and mean-spirited nurse don’t do much to comfort him, so he is relieved when the authorities provide him with Ella, a monkey trained to help him with every aspect of his daily life.
However, unbeknownst to Allan, Ella is also part of another, more sinister experiment, and what began as a convenience becomes a living nightmare as the monkey starts to anticipate his darkest thoughts and carry out gruesome acts of revenge…
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“A restrained psychological horror effort from Pittsburgh’s greatest filmmaker, Monkey Shines vanished almost immediately upon its theatrical release and has remained strangely neglected ever since. While not Romero’s greatest work by a long shot, the film does display many of his savvy filmmaking gifts for suspense and characterization while spinning an entertaining and sometimes frightening yarn.” Mondo Digital
“Romero does a marvellous job for the most part showing the hero’s honest emotional reactions to his disability (on the negative side there’s the crude characterisations of the supporting cast that seems superficial but, nevertheless, gets over because the fight scenes between the monkey and the heavies are a hoot), showing how very much sexual attitudes influence any relationship and pointing out with extreme examples the obvious dangers of unchecked experiments on animals.” Ozu’s World Movie Reviews
” …Romero eschews social commentary, the bread and butter on which he built his career. He could’ve made the film a statement on medicine, health care or our relationship with household pets, but instead he goes straight for the thriller aspect. And though it counts as a horror story, there’s barely any of Romero’s trademark gore.” Death Ensemble
Cast and characters:
- 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
- Boo as Ella
- Frank Welker as Ella (voice)