Monkey Shines [1988]

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest
Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 113 minutes

George A. Romero monkeys with nature in this gripping and fearful tale based on the novel by Michael Stewart. Allan Mann (John Beghe) is a law student who's hit by a truck while jogging, leaving him a quadriplegic. Luckily, his scientist friend Geoffrey (John Pankow) is experimenting with capuchin monkeys, making them smarter with injections of human genetic material. Geoffrey arranges with Melanie (Kate McNeil)--who's working on an experimental program that matches monkeys with paraplegics to perform guide-dog functions--to train his prize subject, Ella (Boo), to act as Allan's helper. Allan is paralyzed from the neck down, confined to a wheelchair he moves by working a lever with his mouth. He's really vulnerable. Ella can fetch things and do errands, and a real emotional bond develops between Mann and monkey. Too strong a bond, it turns out, as Allan begins to experience dreams from the monkey's-eye view (capuchin-cam), Ella's boosted intelligence giving her the residual benefit of a telepathic ability in which the monkey begins to act out Allan's subconscious rage. Allan's nurse, former girlfriend, doctor, even his mother are terrorized by the creepy capuchin, leading to a showdown between Ella and Allan himself. With Allan trapped in a house, alone with a super-intelligent and malevolent monkey, there is plenty of suspense to make you rip holes in your upholstery. But perhaps even more tension could have been wrung out of this story if Ella had been more sympathetic (being as she was the victim of a scientific experiment gone bad), her wicked antics the acts of a kind of exterminating angel. Performances are brilliant by both Ella and Jason Beghe, who turns in one of cinema's most accurate and intelligent depictions of a high-level quadriplegic character. --Jim Gay

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