Five Favorite Things:: Monkey Shines (1988) By Unk

I Hate Meddlers!

MONKEY SHINES is about an easy on the eyes dude named Allan Mann who thanks to a barking dog, jogs into a truck and becomes paraplegic. He is given a monkey by a so-called friend to help him out and the two hit it off fantastically and it is such a beautiful and heartwarming thing (and reminds me of my relationship with my cats). Things aren’t quite as they seem though and soon people are coming out of the woodwork to destroy their cozy symbiotic love-fest. A movie about protecting your hearth from garbage people really appeals to me! Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a nesting homebody but I now understand that “Home ruining meddler” movies may be my personal horror sub-genre fetish. Movies like THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, BAD RONALD and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE always seem to scratch exactly where I I’m itching and MONKEY SHINES covertly walks a similar path (and of course sings similar tunes as WILLARD & BEN). It may always inevitably end in tragedy but there’s a bubble of snug contentment within these movies that I can’t resist.

No Monkeys Harmed!

MONKEY SHINES graciously delivers a statement before the movie begins to explain that although scenes may suggest monkeys were put through traumatic episodes; in reality, no dear monkey was harmed. I really appreciate this information before the movie rather than after so that I can better concentrate on the film and more easily lose myself within it. This would be a smart idea for any movie that has scenes depicting simulated cruelty to animals. It’s a great way to prevent (at least) me from prematurely pushing my “seat eject” button. Happily too, the effects in this movie rely heavily on less than convincing monkey dummies and puppets, so it’s easy to remember it’s all make believe in the more violent moments (particularly the climax). Director George A Romero (who adapted the screenplay from a novel by Michael Stewart) showcases a deft hand with material that could have been exploitative and uncomfortable in less sensitive hands. His straightforward, non-gimmicky approach helps the more fantastic elements register as believable.

Damn Fine Cast.

Whoever did the casting for MONKEY SHINES deserves a medal of some sort because there is not one single person present who isn’t perfect for their part. Jason Beghe is the quintessential grounded everyman who is able to reveal great levels of rage and still garner a hundred percent sympathy. Kate McNeil (who is also stellar in THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) is as earthy and emotionally intelligent as they come (and in a perfect world would have played Amy Steel’s sister in something; preferably a F13 flick). Joyce Van Patten is almost too believable as a mother who seems to almost enjoy her son’s vulnerable state and frequent Romero cohort Christine Forrest is deliciously hate-able as a cranky nurse. Incredibly, three future legendary character actors are also on hand to play assholes of varying degrees, Stephen Root, John Pankow and Stanley Frickin’ Tucci! As far as the femme fatales go, Janine Turner is flawless as a garden- variety weasel who you’re likely to see next Tuesday and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Boo (the monkey) as adorable Ella (yes, I root for her to deliver well earned comeuppances). Wow, there are only two decent humans who don’t have ignoble agendas in this entire movie and so I’ll throw another laurel at it for accurately depicting humanity.

I Love Ella

Ella the monkey is not evil. She’s a neutral trickster who, for better or worse, falls in love with her human companion. Although she’s the ultimate threat that must be hurdled in our heroes’ journey, she in every way advances Allan to a superior position than the one she found him in. By connecting him with his rage she actually makes him a stronger person, one who is capable of taking back control of his life from those who exploit his condition. For me, Ella is of the hero of the story who can’t stay forever but improves the life of the human she adores. Aw, I wish I had a friend who would discreetly take care of the horrible instigators that kill my buzz so that I might keep my hands clean! I’m sure I could find a way for us to live happily ever after.

That Poster

C’mon, MONKEY SHINES had one of the coolest posters ever! What a piece of art! Sure, it has virtually nothing to do with the actual movie besides featuring a monkey but I sez I need it on a T-shirt yesterday!

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mickster
mickster
2 months ago

Yay! So glad you wrote this! I have only watched this movie once, but I need to watch it again after reading your thoughts. I also want to watch House on Sorority Row again after seeing Kate McNeil’s picture here. I am going to visit my nephew in Michigan next week, and he has not seen either one of these movies. I think I will make him watch Monkey Shines and House on Sorority Row, while I am there.

lottie_of_millhaven
lottie_of_millhaven
2 months ago

I remember liking this movie, but my awful memory means I need to re-watch it in the future, as I don’t recall a single scene. I DO, however, remember the T.V trailer, and the childhood nightmares it caused.

Ghastly1
Ghastly1
2 months ago

I’m kind of the same as mickster and lottie_of_millhaven. I saw it once or twice when I was young and remember bits and pieces of it; mainly Allan getting hit by the truck and bricks flying everywhere, Ella pissing on him (hilarious) and Allan biting Ella. My main memory about it though is the VHS cover. It altered the poster to give the toy monkey an even crazier, more manacing look than it already had, with fangs and claws clutching a bloody straight razor (come to think of it, that is kind of like a Kindertrauma Spot the Difference, before there was such a thing; is that where you got the idea from?). Upon seeing the cover, I mistakenly thought it to be some sort of Child’s Play or Trilogy of Terror-esque movie about a killer toy monkey. Boy was I wrong. I didn’t realize Stephen Root is in this, he was in two of my favorite films of all time, Office Space and Idiocracy, so now I have to see it again before Milton sets the building on fire. Welcome to Costco, I love you.

MonoStereo
MonoStereo
2 months ago

Like most everyone else, I only saw this once ( in my case, around the time of its VHS release, so late 80’s I guess ). The main thing I remember about it is how into I got, to the point where I was literally yelling “YEAH!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!!” at the end. I don’t do that much, so it REALLY musta sucked me in. Also – I may have been drunk.

Chuckles72
Chuckles72
2 months ago

Sooo… Monkey Shines is a pan-primates love story! I like this take – kind of a mini-King Kong! Poor monkeys always being misunderstood with tragic consequences.

They're coming to get you Barbara
They're coming to get you Barbara
2 months ago

I have had a phobia of basically all non-human primates for years and I never knew why until fairly recently when I realized that I had acquired my phobia simply by seeing the trailer for this movie! I’ve never actually seen the entire film–I should probably give it a chance–it sounds like Ella is a nice monkey, maybe it will cure my phobia