Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner
Length: 113 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- An Experiment in Fear: The Making of Monkey Shines” Featurette (49: 32, HD)
- Audio Commentary by director George A. Romero
- Alternate Ending (5:12, HD)
- Deleted Scenes (4:07, HD)
- Still Gallery (2:31, HD)
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage (13:16, HD)
- Trailers and TV Spots (3:57, HD)
- Vintage Making-of Featurette (5:21, HD)
- Vintage Interviews and News Feature (3:43, HD)
In taking a break from his precious zombies, filmmaker George A. Romero made Monkey Shines in 1988. Being distributed by Orion Pictures, it was Romero’s first studio picture and, while the studio hoped for a hit, the film came and went in theaters only grossing a fraction of its budget. Orion forced Romero to add a happy ending and, succeeding a poor concensus among critics, the studio re-cut it without Romero knowing, adding a De Palma-esque shock ending. As their wont, Scream Factory pack this Blu-ray release of Monkey Shines with bells and whistles. Sure, the film itself about a quadriplegic and his killer monkey helper is minor Romero, but that’s better than no Romero at all. Plus, any movie with a young Stanley Tucci, with his hair still intact, as an evil doctor is worth a look.
Monkey Shines starts off with a pre-film crawl, stating that Boston University has trained Capuchin monkeys to assist the disabled. Law student Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) goes for a run one morning, only to be hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down. His girlfriend, Linda (Janine Turner), can’t deal with Allan being paralyzed in the hospital and promptly breaks up with him upon his homecoming for Allan’s doctor, Dr. John Wiseman (Stanley Tucci). The story gets underway when Allan’s scientist friend Geoffrey (John Pankow) injects monkey test subject Ella (played by Boo) to make her more intelligent. He also brings along monkey trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil) to help Ella become acquainted with Allan as his new helper. All goes well for a while, until Geoffrey puts Ella on a new genetic drug that alters her behavior. Pretty soon, the monkey begins getting out of the house and doing Allan’s bidding, even when he doesn’t call for it.
Based on Michael Stewart’s novel of the same name and written for the screen and directed by Romero, Monkey Shines takes nearly half of its running time to set everything up and then start paying off. “Fatal Attraction with a monkey” has already been taken, but that’s pretty much how this goes with Rear Window and Misery adding to the cross-over. Now, it would be one thing if the monkey was just going around attacking and killing people, but the film takes that simple formula one step further. The telepathic connection between Allan and Ella is silly stuff, especially when Alan bares fangs just like a monkey, although shots executed in “monkey vision” are admittedly pretty nifty. Unfortunately, the disturbing psychological angle feels muted and doesn’t reach its full potential.
Jason Beghe is a solid center as Allan, the actor essaying a man emotionally devastated by the loss of using his legs and the betrayal of his girlfriend, and sinking deeper into fits of anger. But it’s simian actor Boo, as Ella, who steals the show and knows when to look pet-worthy and when to look menacing. Kate McNeil has a sweet, approachable presence as Mel, who doesn’t act upon her feelings for Allan at first and then jumps in the sack with him. The rest of the cast are one-dimensional fodder for Ella, including Stephen Root as a nefarious scientist and Joyce Van Patten as Allan’s doting, pain-in-the-rump mother.
One wishes he or she could say Tom Savini’s make-up effect work is first-rate, but it’s surprisingly negligible here. Most of the murder set-pieces occur off-camera and one in a bathtub is tamer than even anything in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Everything prior to the film’s tragic climax, as well as a late dream sequence right out of Carrie, Dressed to Kill, or The Fly, is disappointingly less than worthwhile. Then, there’s that happy ending, which is so treacly and tacked-on that it’s obvious studio tinkering was involved because it feels beneath Romero.
Despite its trouble spots, the 1080p transfer has a nice natural film look. The original 35mm elements are finely intact, and no attempt to wash away film grain and soften or enhance the picture digitally seems to be at play. There could have probably been a bit more attention paid towards color correction, as there are times where the image is a bit flat. Overall, however, contrast levels are well maintained, leaving a faithful looking image. There are a few instances of dust and/or scratches, but nothing that is too distracting.
The Blu-ray offers DTS-HD Master Audio mixes in both 2.0 and 5.1, and both offer excellent acoustic presentations. When it comes to these offerings, it generally boils down to a personal preference for viewers, and for Monkey Shines, you can’t go wrong with either choice. Sound effects and dialogue are well balanced, allowing David Shire’s thunderous score to remain impacting. No age related damage to note.
What the film ultimately lacks, Scream Factory more than makes up for with this feature-filled package. An Experiment in Fear: The Making of Monkey Shines is a fun, 49-minute lot, with interviews by actors Jason Beghe, John Pankow and Kate McNeil, executive producer Peter Grunwald, special makeup effects creator Tom Savini, special makeup effects assistants Greg Nicotero and Everett Burrell and editor Pasquale Buba. The still gallery offers a look at all of the models for Ella. Accompanied with an alternate ending, there is an audio commentary with writer-director George A. Romero, who seems mighty bitter about how the film turned out, and a few vintage features including a ‘making of’ featurette, trailers and a tv spot, and various interviews. A really fine package of extra-filmic pieces on display here.
For a horror film about a murderous monkey, Monkey Shines isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. In fact, a little more absurdity might have done it some good. It probably should have been smarter or just more entertainingly bananas, pun intended. Ending up somewhere in the middle, it’s not a total wash and has become sort of a Midnight Movie hit. Those who want an out-and-out chillfest just aren’t going to find it here, but with a film like Monkey Shines, you probably know what to expect. Released for the first time ever on Blu-Ray, Scream Factory has delivered an excellent package and set the bar high for future releases.