A recent quadriplegic loses all hope for living until he meets Ella, a monkey trained to fill all his needs.
It's fairly easy to argue that George Romero mostly created the independent film scene back in 1968 with a little film called 'Night of the Living Dead'. It was made on virtually zero dollars. He used friends and family to work on the movie. Not only did Romero basically create the indie film scene before it became a big phenomenon, but he created the entire zombie genre. A genre that is more popular than ever today. You would think that by the popularity of Romero's zombie's film and the amount of money they made, he would have had an easy time with Hollywood executives to get his own vision on film.
That's not the case though. Not even in the least. In fact, Romero might be the one director who has had the most difficult time making films for Hollywood with his original ideas making the final cut. The only other director I can think of who has a similar problem is Terry Gilliam. But after a few decades of making zombie monster films, a film studio named Orion made a deal with Romero to release his first studio backed film. That movie was 'Monkey Shines'.
It's well known that 'Monkey Shines' had a lot of trouble getting made, both during production and post production. Romero's vision for the film he wrote, did not end up making the final cut of the movie, because the studio stepped in here and changed things. It's still a sore subject with Romero, and the end result was not necessarily a bad film, but more like a flawed film that was not critically acclaimed or a box office success. It's unfortunate because 'Monkey Shines' was something very different for Romero, which dug into the psyche of a disabled man and all the horror and anger that comes with that.
We meet a good man named Alan Mann (Jason Beghe), who is very athletic in his personal life. However, an accident renders him a quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair that he can control with his mouth. His former fun and outgoing self has faded away as he sinks into a deep depression. His doctor (Stanley Tucci) seems like a quack and doesn't seem interested in really helping Alan. In fact, he is more interested in Alan's girlfriend Linda (Janine Turner), who ends up leaving Alan for the doctor. Things keep piling up on Alan as his overbearing and rude mother help him adjust to this new life along with a live-in nurse who is ten times worse than Nurse Ratched from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.
But there is a glimmer of hope for Alan, when his good friend Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow), a scientist, gives him a genetically enhanced monkey to help Alan with his physical therapy and day to day activities. This monkey is super smart and is able to perform some pretty complex tasks. The monkey's name is Ella, and Alan and Ella have formed a unique bond where Ella and her genetic engineering has enabled her to have feelings and swim in Alan's inner psyche to see what he wants. However, this is not a good thing as Ella becomes jealous of just about everyone. And with Alan's downward spiral of sanity and mood, people end up brutally murdered.
Things specifically get a bit intense when a new helper and monkey trainer named Melanie (Kate McNeil) meets Alan and helps out around the house. This causes Ella (the monkey) to become very jealous and murderous. I know it sounds hokey and corny, but Romero actually did a great job with the tone and dialogue here. Nothing seems to be over-the-top, and actually comes across very realistic. The suspense and horror are done quite well here too with some surprises. It's just some of the general pacing and side story lines where the studio executives stepped in that hindered 'Monkey Shines' from what it could have been.
That being said, I'm surprised the studio executives allowed for the sex scene between a quadriplegic Alan and his new woman. Something that I had never seen before this movie when it came out. It was pretty racy back then. But I have to think, if the studio allowed for that scene, why wouldn't they allow for Romero's original vision. It's a mystery. But almost three decades later, 'Monkey Shines' still holds up in the horror department with some fin acting performances by all involved. This is by far not the notable work from Romero we will remember, but it's still a decent film to add to your collection. Even with all of its flaws.
'Monkey Shines' comes with a good 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is definitely an improvement on past releases, but there are still some minor issues with the overall image. Detail looks mostly sharp and vivid, or at least as sharp as this 26-year old film can be. To be honest, the image is a tad bit soft with varying degrees of grain. Some of the grain looks natural and organic while other moments are quite heavy. Some closeups reveal make up blemishes and individual hairs on the actor's faces as well as the monkey itself.
Colors look decent as well. Don't expect a lot of bright vivid colors that pop off screen though. There are a lot of browns and oranges throughout with only a hint of green, blues, and reds. Skin tones look natural, however, there were a few moments where skin looked a little brighter than normal. Black levels are consistently deep and inky throughout. There were some issues with dirt and specks that creeped up here and there, but other than that, no other issues to report. This video presentation won't win any awards, but it's definitely an upgrade.
This release comes with a great lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. There is also a 2.0 stereo mix available as well. But the 5.1 option is where you should be, because it is more immersive, created the sound effects better, and offers better highs and lows throughout. The sound effects are excellent, whether it be creepy noises in the house, or the sounds of a monkey, they all sound great, full, and robust.
There is some great directionality here as well. The score by David Shire always adds to the suspense of the film and never drowns out the dialogue or sound effects. Speaking of the dialogue, it's very clear and easy to follow. There are no instances of any cracks, pops, or hissing, leaving this audio presentation with solid marks.
Audio Commentary with George Romero - Iconic director and writer George Romero discusses his work on the film. His original version and vision of the film was different from what we see now, and you can tell by some of his comments, he still is sore about it. Other than that, he talks about how the film still holds up as well as some cool behind the scenes stories. Worth the listen.
An Experiment in Fear: The Making of 'Monkey Shines' (HD, 50 Mins.) - Here is an in depth look at the making of 'Monkey Shines'. There are tons of new interviews with the cast and crew, behind the scenes footage, and clips from the film. Almost all aspects of the movie are covered here and is definitely worth watching.
Behind the Scenes Footage (HD, 1 Min.) - A very short look at some on-set footage.
Alternate Ending (HD, 6 Mins.) - Here is an alternate ending for the film, which is worth watching and fairly different from the theatrical cut.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 4 Mins.) - Here are a few short deleted scenes that were cut out for timing and pacing.
Vintage Making Of 'Monkey Shines' (HD, 6 Mins.) - Here is vintage promo reel from the release of the film back over twenty years ago.
Vintage Interviews and News (HD, 4 Mins.) - Like the extra above, this is a vintage promo reel that focuses on interviews with the cast and crew as well as news reports on the film.
Still Gallery (HD, 3 Mins.) - Here is a photo gallery in the form of a slideshow that shows some of the monkey models and behind the scenes images.
Trailers (HD, 4 Mins.) - There are three trailers total for the film.
'Monkey Shines' isn't a perfect film. However, it's still a decent movie and still packs some good scares. George Romero still proved he is a master in the horror genre with 'Monkey Shines', even though this wasn't a critical or financial success. The video presentation is a decent upgrade from past releases, but is not award worthy. The audio is quite good and the extras are all worth watching. 'Monkey Shines' is still worth owning and comes Recommended.