DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1988 (November 18, 2014)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Like The Dark Half, Monkey Shines (with the subtitle An Experiment in Fear added on by the studio) is another novel-to-film adaptation by George A. Romero, but this time based upon the novel of the same name by Michael Stewart. It tells the story of a quadriplegic man named Allan who is given a small pet monkey to help with everyday things. Things ultimately go horribly wrong when it’s revealed that secret experiments have been performed on the monkey, making her intelligent enough to form a psychic bond with Allan, lashing out at those who would come between the two of them.
Interestingly enough, Monkey Shines was George A. Romero’s first studio movie. It was also his second to last. After dealing with Orion Pictures and being fed up with the way that they had meddled with his work, he decided to go back to making independent films again soon after. But Monkey Shines, for all intents and purposes, is Romero’s most well-crafted film in his entire catalogue, which is a strange thing to say given his previous body of work. Being associated with a major studio, it afforded the benefit of having a lot more savvy production value that he hadn’t previously had access to. It certainly shows, particularly with the editing of the film. Romero was always a director who tried to cover everything from every possible angle, but this film feels more reigned in, and slicker by comparison.
As for the movie itself, I wouldn’t call it one of his best, but it’s certainly not one of his worst. The plot comes off a bit silly at times, at least to me, but it’s a premise that you really have to suspend your disbelief in order to follow along with it properly. Just the thought of a small killer monkey would bring a smile to anyone’s face. I think the execution of it is about as good as you’re going to get with that kind of a premise. That being said, the performances in the movie are quite good, which helps hold up the movie a lot more than it would without them. The saccharine ending aside, the film is pretty tightly put together, and there are some genuinely suspenseful moments to be had.
This is also another Romero film on which Tom Savini created a lot of make-up and special effects. In a film like this, you’d have to hire someone capable of bringing the idea of a killer monkey to life to make it effective, and I think they succeeded. It also goes hand in hand with the editing of the film, and both of these processes are quite sound. When all is said and done, Monkey Shines is certainly an interesting film with plenty of suspense in it. Hardcore fans of Romero’s zombie movies probably won’t get much out of it, but if you’re a fan of Romero as a filmmaker, you’ll appreciate this one. It’s not perfect on all sides, but it’s an effective thriller.
The transfer used for this Blu-ray release improves upon the previous DVD release quite a bit. Image detail is abundant, and although the film is quite grainy, it appears very natural and unobtrusive for the most part. Colors aren’t all that robust, but the film wasn’t made with a lush color palette in mind in the first place. Skin tones look very good, but blacks do appear to have some crush to them. Not an enormous amount, but enough to warrant a mention. Contrast levels are acceptable and there aren’t any noticeable artifacts left behind due to print damage. So it’s a very clean presentation. The soundtrack, which is featured in English 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD, is slightly flat, which means that it’s mostly a front-heavy presentation. The 5.1 does little to add to it overall, so I’d suggest just going with the original 2.0 track instead. Dialogue is always clear and clean, while score and sound effects mix well into the proceedings. There isn’t much in terms of low end activity or envelopment, but it’s adequate for the presentation at hand. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As with the release of The Dark Half, Monkey Shines also comes with a nice wealth of extra material. There’s an audio commentary with Romero, moderated by radio talk show host Stuart Feedback Andrews; the newly-produced documentary An Experiment in Fear: The Making of Monkey Shines; a set of deleted scenes, as well as an alternate ending; some behind-the-scenes footage; a still gallery; two theatrical trailers; a TV spot; a vintage making of featurette; a set of vintage interviews; and a news feature on the film.
Fans old and new are likely to discover Romero’s work in a new light thanks to Scream Factory’s great treatment of both Monkey Shines and The Dark Half on Blu-ray. Both are terrific releases that were long overdue for special edition upgrades, and neither of them disappoint.
- Tim Salmons