Monkey Shines

The killer parakeet deserved to die
★★★
☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
George A. Romero
Starring: 
Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyc Van Patten
The Setup: 
Quadriplegic man gets a monkey to take care of him, monkey grows violently possessive.
Discussion: 

Netflix streaming is right for me, because even though they don't have the greatest set of new or quality movies, they have a lot of older movies of questionable success that are exactly what I want to watch. Like this. Here's this movie I've always been vaguely curious about, and gained renewed interest in when I learned it was directed by George Romero, and there it is, available with no effort whatsoever. Oh brave new world, etc.

The movie opens with a disclaimer that although it might look like it, no monkeys were harmed during the making of this film. We'll come back pretty soon to why this was necessary. Then I find out to my surprise that this is from a novel by this guy Michael Stewart, when I had assumed since day one that it was by Stephen King. I was also surprised to learn that it is about an actual monkey, not one of those toys with the cymbals, as is seen on the poster, as I had always also assumed. I thought this guy had one of those toys with the cymbals that got possessed or whatever, which was also responsible for me skipping this film for so long.

Okay, so this guy, Allan, wakes with his hot nude girlfriend. He does some exercises, during which we see that he has a pretty awesome body, and soon find that he was a successful athlete. He loads his backpack up with bricks and goes out jogging (is that good for the back?), gets hit by a van, and next thing you know, he's paralyzed from the waist down. Stanley Tucci, still with hair, is his "miracle doctor," credited with saving his life at all. We rejoin Allan as he returns home to a surprise party thrown by his mother, where we see that his girlfriend Linda is feeling conflicted about being stuck with a paraplegic. She'll soon dump Allan for Tucci, causing Allan to try to kill himself. Tucci tells mom to take off, because she's causing more stress than anything, and Allan also has a sourpuss nurse in Maryanne, who moves in with her beloved parakeet. Okay, I think we've identified all potential victims now, haven't we?

Oh, but there's one more, in the form of John Pankow as Geoff, Allan's scientist friend. Geoff has been injecting monkeys with some serum that includes freshly-shaved human brain cells, trying to float the idea that this will somehow make the monkeys super-smart. He's also been taking some kind of drug that keeps him awake, and we can see from the red around his eyes and general greasiness that he's a pretty troubled character. He is under pressure from his asshole boss to show results, which causes him to remove his main experimental subject, Ella, played by a monkey named Boo. Geoff meets comely blonde Melanie, played by Kate McNeil, who looks SO familiar. The only thing I can see where I might have known her from is several Walton's specials, and she does carry the pure n' natural air of a Walton, that's for sure. She trains monkeys to care for paraplegics, and Geoff has her train Ella for Allan. We have previously seen what a pain it is for Allan to do anything, and soon after the monkey is established in his house (to the horror of Maryanne), they are both growing attached to each other, and the monkey is amazing him with her intelligence.

Soon Allan is crediting Ella with "saving his life," because he loves her so much, and she him, notable when she climbs up on his and gives him a sweet hug. It was that moment where I knew why the disclaimer was necessary up front, because this monkey is such a sweetheart, and I'm sure that moment is exactly when everyone in the audience totally bonded with her and thus would never want to see her hurt. That Boo the monkey is also such an obviously adorable, good-hearted little snookus also becomes one of the main undoings of the movie, but we'll get to that later. Tensions are getting worse with Maryanne, who is a shrill, nasty, screeching harpy and... hello? You can fire her, right? There are other live-in nurses out there, right? But then we'd have one less victim, so stay she does.

SPOILERS > > >
Then--WHEN PARAKEETS ATTACK! I didn't know this was such a danger, but just shows what I know. The bird lands on Allan's face and there's not a goddamn thing he can do about it, and it starts going for the eyes. I always knew those wicked parakeets were plotting the demise of mankind, the vicious monsters. Well, before you know it, Ella has targeted Allan's feathered frenemy, and snarkily placed her corpse right in Maryanne's slipper. Cheeky monkey! Meanwhile, Allan has been gradually becoming a bit more, umm, assertive, and swearing a lot more, and when Maryanne accuses the monkey--and Allan himself--of being behind the death of her precious sweet bird, Allan shouts "It fucking deserved to die!" Honestly, I can't be too harsh on any movie which has killer parakeets that go for the eyes, and characters who express that said parakeets fucking deserve to die.

Nevertheless, this movie is slowly getting looping and loopier, in the most endearing way. You see, Allan is starting to have visions of running through foliage, and he realizes that Ella is getting out at night, and he is seeing what she sees because they have a--wait for it.... wait... a PSYCHIC LINK!!! That's right, as any scientist would tell you is just the most rudimentary principle, it has been clearly established that if you shave frozen human brains and inject them into a monkey's butt, said monkey will then become super-smart and establish psychic connections with the human that it cares for, while also taking over said human with its vicious "monkey instinct," which could very well result in the human swearing a lot and having uncharitable thoughts toward sweet little killer parakeets. Look, this is just established science, okay?

Now, the problem with this, and for the rest of the movie, is that Boo the monkey, who plays Ella, is obviously the sweetest, most generous-hearted little pookus baby ever to walk the Earth, which sort of short-circuits our ability to put much stock in her vicious animal instinct, let alone her murderous premeditations. She has an expression on her face that says "I love you... please love me! I'll be good!" And you know, you can train the monkey to wield the straight razor, but when she has a look on her face that says she's only doing it in hopes of getting a hug, it just doesn't work. This essentially torpedoes the story, but luckily it still has lots of other trashy fun to keep it amusing.

So suddenly mom decides, out of the blue, to sell her business and move in with Allan, where she is obviously not welcome. This means that she must bathe her son's immobile nude body, by the way. Geoff is still giving Ella injections on the sly, and keeps the fact that she can easily get out of Allan's house a secret. Then Allan goes to the doctor and finds out that Tucci made a mistake during his surgery back when, and that actually Allan could have been--and still could be--saved. Rather than being happy about this, Allan is consumed with fury (enflamed by his monkey-rage) that the bastard got away with it, and not only that, but is this very instant porking his ex-girlfriend in front of the fire in their chic-simple log cabin. Then we see Ella escape at night, get in their house, and then you see a close-up of fire... then cut to mom, receiving the awful news. What? That's IT?! I thought this was a horror movie? Is it to much to ask to see a screaming nude human on fire running into the forest? Jesus, throw us a fucking bone here.

Next up--quadriplegic sex! This is apparently the only movie in existence, by the way, to feature a quadriplegic sex scene. Allan goes over to stay at Melanie's for the weekend, where he soon lets her know that although he can only move his head, that head is full of amorous thoughts, and before you know it, she's holding onto the handicapped-human winch hanging from the ceiling and... well, without getting too graphic, let's just say there's a lot of oral. By the way, Geoff has taken Ella to the lab during this time, and is trying to tap into her psychic energies, and injecting every serum in the known universe. Mom is resentful when Allan comes home with that tart after the weekend--and really, he COULD have called--and soon tensions are mounting, with Allan calling his mom a "conniving, controlling, bloodsucking bitch!"

And now we're heading into the nerve-shattering climax, if you haven't guessed. I'm sure you've surmised that mom doesn't have too many more apple pies to bake, and sure enough, Ella sneaks into the bathroom as mom is trying to enjoy a soothing soak, and drops the hair dryer in with her. Geoff is downstairs and finally comes clean to Allan about the whole serum, super-smart monkey thing. Allan's response cannot be said to constitute Jason Beghe's best acting, it must be said. Then Geoff goes upstairs to determine why the power keeps shorting out, and discovers mom's corpse. The amazing thing is... Allan NEVER asks once about his mother. He knew she's upstairs, but he never once asks after her well-being. But by now we have evidence that this thing was haphazardly stitched together in the editing room, most notably Geoff's crashed car outside, with no explanation how that happened.

So Geoff has come over with a syringe full of phenobarbital, and before you know it, that rascally monkey has gotten it from him, and injected him with it. Then Melanie comes over, and is soon knocked unconscious, with Ella trying to set her on fire! By the way, in here have been numerous scenes of actors struggling with stuffed animals, trying to look like they are grappling with Ella. Meanwhile, Ella has prepared a candlelit dinner for just her and Allan, and he uses all his will to move his hand--he can do it!--and turns on some mood music. Ella gets all sentimental comes to give him a hug, and which point he sinks his teeth into her neck and starts thrashing her back and forth. Now, I understand the narrative need to have the hero himself defeat the villain, and that Allan can't do much else in his own defense... it's just unfortunate that the sight of a man thrashing a stuffed animal back and forth in his mouth is so basically ridiculous, and right at the climax. Anyway, Ella's dead, Melanie wakes up, and before you know it, he's having surgery again and is basically cured! Her gets in a van with her, on crutches, and I couldn't help but think of the ending of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, in which the heroine makes her similarly recovering boyfriend cross a stream on a perilous log, while hobbling on crutches. Anyway, that's it, folks!
< < < SPOILERS END

All in all, good fun, while simultaneously devolving into a complete mess. The situation is unusual, you have to admit, and the whole concept of this monkey and its psychology is interesting. Lead actor Jason Beghe is handsome and charming, enough to make you wish he had gone on to other leading roles where he might be allowed to move around a bit more. There are a number of supporting characters that are all drawn well enough. And this movie is again enough to make one wish Romero had continued to direct non-Dead movies, because he's very talented. There's nothing showy about the direction here, but he is able to create a story that flows easily and keeps one attuned to all the character's emotions and thoughts--not easy.

But ultimately things just fall apart. The whole psychic link aspect is just too much, when you already have a lot to swallow with the whole concept of this monkey taking care of this guy. Then there's the aforementioned aspect of the monkey in question being a total sweetheart, making it impossible to see her as anything but a trained monkey going through various motions. One wonders if this could be better rendered today with a CGI monkey, a la Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That way the monkey could look genuinely evil and devious, which could singlehandedly rescue this whole thing. By the last half hour there are just too many story threads and they've toppled over, until one just watches it unfold without being able to get involved. You also really can't have a character show no interest whatsoever in the well-being of his mother, especially when she's right upstairs! So in numerous ways it just turns into a total bust, but at least it does remain fun and watchable throughout.

Should you watch it: 

There's no real need to, but if you like this kind of unusual 80s horror, it'll show you a fun-enough time.