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Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear Reviews

George Romero further bolstered his reputation as America's preeminent horror film writer-director with this terrifying psychological horror film. Allan Mann (Jason Beghe), a handsome young track star and law student who is hit by a truck and paralyzed from the neck down, participates in an experimental health care program in which a small, trained capuchin monkey named Ella becomes an extension of the quadriplegic's immobile limbs. Unknown to Allan, Ella is also the main participant in a scientific experiment conducted by Allan's best friend, Geoffrey (John Pankow), an idealistic med student who has tried to increase the primate's intelligence by injecting it with a serum made from human brain tissue. Gradually, as Allan grows more and more dependent on Ella, Ella becomes an extension of Allan's mind as well as his limbs, acting out his repressed anger in the most violent ways. In MONKEY SHINES, as in most of his best films, George Romero poses the question, What does it mean to be human? This notion has also been the overriding concern of his "Living Dead" trilogy. In DAY OF THE DEAD, the catalyst for Romero's inquiry was an incredibly intelligent zombie named Bub, and the parallels between Bub and Ella are strong--both are nonhuman, posited as the missing link between pure animal instinct and civilized human behavior. The character of Allan, on the other hand, is the opposite of Romero's zombies; they are brainless mobility, while he is immobile intellect. Claustrophobic, gripping, and incredibly intense throughout, MONKEY SHINES is an extremely complicated emotional drama that taps into the dark side of family ties, friendship, dependency, nurturing, and love--the last emotion represented by the four very different females (his mother, the nurse, his new girlfriend, and especially Ella) who all compete to care for Allan. After trying for years to finance MONKEY SHINES independently, Romero was forced to turn to Hollywood, which led to a lack of control over the project. The studio imposed a sappy happy ending after test audiences were dissatisfied with Romero's dark sociopolitical conclusion (entailing an army of killer monkeys). The new ending didn't make a bit of difference commercially, since the film was ineptly marketed and was yet another box-office flop for the better-deserving Romero.