|Christine Forrest kinda rules this movie.|
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Monkey Shines (1988)
George A. Romero is without a doubt one of my favourite directors from the states and I've followed him since that day I received a Dutch tape of Dawn of the Dead (it was terribly expensive I remember) and watched it over and over again. I still think the man's a genius, even if some people claim the opposite - but at least he's not selling himself. He's doing what he want to do and never turn his back on his political agenda. Well, talking about selling himself - he did a couple of more mainstream movies during the eighties and early nineties, but even those keeps a very high standard. In 1988 came Monkey Shines, a very straight-forward commercial thriller and I think together with The Dark Half it's one of his most underrated productions.
Jason Beghe plays Allan Mann, a slightly over-aged law-student, who one morning gets hit by a truck and is paralyzed from neck down. One of his friends, a scientist played by John Pankow, arranges to one of his guinea pigs, a monkey, learns to be Allan's assistant at home - and then something goes wrong. Allan gets more and more bitter - for example, his girlfriend leaves him for his doctor - and soon he's so connected to the monkey that he suspects that the animal is trying to take revenge for him by murdering people. Soon everyone is in danger, even his mother and closest friend. Everyone who even the slightest anger him...
Monkey Shines is filled with interesting characters and odd enough, because Romero has always been first to have a strong feminist viewpoint, it also includes two of the nastiest women ever written for the screen. Okay, maybe I'm a bit unfair here, because both Christine Forrest's nurse Maryanne Hodges and Joyce Van Patten mother Dorothy has some humanity in them, something that becomes more clear when they're pressured and hurt. Maryanne is a Christian, very conservative woman who loves to have control over the house and Dorothy is the mother from hell who actually thinks her grown son loves having her around, helping him with everything from showering, feeding and visits to the toilet. They are broad characters, written with not so little comedy, but reveals a very touching honesty, sadness, when they're confronted with the harsh reality. Christine Forrest, also the wife and co-worker of Romero at the time, plays Maryanne and is brilliant! Why didn't she act more?
Jason Beghe was a brilliant actor at the time but nowadays he slums in neo-fascist trash like Atlas Shrugged: Part II (which I'm sure would make Romero throw up a little bit in his mouth) and guest spots in his buddy David Duchovny's Californication - I guess he just takes what producers offering him. But in the eighties, damn he was good. A star, a very convincing actor. I wish he could have stayed that way. He could have been one of the biggest in the biz.
It's pretty clear that Romero stands back a little bit, mostly the violence and some of his trademark humour, but you'll find both the greedy capitalist scientist doing everything for money to the wonderful mocking of religious wackiness, like good old Romero always has done through his career. He handles the direction like a master and keeps the thrills all through the movie, including a couple of very effective jump-scares. I think Romero really tried doing a break into commercial, mainstream movies here and still keep some of his personality. Both this one and The Dark Half is very good movies (and Monkey has a very distinct Stephen King atmosphere - if Beghe had played a writer I would say it could have been written in secret by King!) but also suffers from being a bit to lame, too much the work of skilled technician and not a passionate activist.
Monkey Shines is well worth a visit again, not only because it's a good thriller but also for the fun cast. And yeah, watch out for Romero's set-designer Cletus Anderson in a cameo at the beginning, just before the car accident. Always nice to see one of Romero's "family" in yet another movie.