Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear was released in 1998 in the US, but didn’t see the light of day in the UK until the following year, which was quite a regular occurence back then, as there wasn’t the internet to force the hand of the studios to release films around the world on the same date as there is today. I can still remember it being one of the first films being shown at the then-new Manchester Showcase cinema, but back then, I was 17, this was an 18-cert film (not that the age gap stopped me at that point) and I didn’t go to the cinema quite as often.
After going for a run, Allan (Jason Beghe) ends up a quadriplegic and also suffers a terrible beard. Can a trained monkey help him out? What if it’s one of those belonging to Geoffrey (John Pankow), a man who has figured out that if he injects himself with frozen brain slices, he can stay awake throughout the night, such are the benefits of working in a lab where he experiments on animals.
It takes a quite a while before things start going into thriller mode, as the set-up is overlong, but it’s certainly enjoyable after that, as Allan and his net ‘pet’, Ella (above), develop an inexplicable connection, the trailer for which (and that I only saw afterwards) gave far too much away. All you need to know is that things are about to go South – also putting him at odds with Maryanne (Christine Forrest), the hired help, but a slim 90-95 minutes would have really benefitted this movie in getting there quicker.
While this is an 18-certificate, I think if it was re-rated today, it would fit as a 15. However, that process would cost money to the BBFC, and who wants to voluntarily see a George A Romero movie voluntarily turn into a 15? Look at My Little Eye which was originally due to be rated a 12, but the producers wanted it to be classed as a scary movie, so shoved in a clip from a porn site and – lo and behold – it was now an 18! Genius!
So, will Monkey Shines be Monkey Magic, or will you not give a monkey’s? (no, you shut up…)
Watching this and To Live And Die In L.A., released around the same time and also out as a Blu-ray Special Edition, it makes you wonder why John Pankow disappeared off the big screen after making regular movies.
The film is presented in the original theatrical widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 and, the picture is good for its age. It’s not going to be perfect when it’s a 35mm film that’s 30 years old, but most people would struggle to find too much fault with it.
The new 5.1 soundtrack is the one I chose over the original stereo one, but as is often the case, there’s very little to shout about when it comes to the rear speakers as I didn’t notice anything spectacular.
There’s a great selection of extras on this disc, including both 1988-filmed and more recent features:
- An Experiment in Fear: The Making of Monkey Shines (49:32): A ‘making of’ which was released in 2014, with lots of people from the film involved in this, as well as horror maestro Tom Savini, and there’s also an additional deleted scene – mostly in picture form – showing the young woman who ‘donated’ her brain. Nice post-credits bit on this, too 😉
- Deleted Scenes (4:07): There are four of them, and presenting these in 4:3 is fine, but someone felt compelled to put dialogue-drowning music behind the all but No.3. Ugh….. Remove those and although the film was overlong, I’d have kept the first clip.
- Alternate Ending (5:09): Also in 4:3, this ALSO has dialogue-drowning music over it! WTF?! Who’s minding the store?
Aside from that, it cuts out a hospital-based moment I enjoyed, it does introduce an element for a potential sequel, albeit one which never happened.
- Vintage Making Of (5:21): Brief chat mixed with film clips, all put together at the time of the original movie.
- Behind-the-scenes footage (13:16): Does what it says on the tin, and there’s two chapters to it, but chapter 2 starts just one minute in! How odd… Still, not only is there footage with Ella, but also an anamatronic monkey for scenes which – had a real monkey been put through this – would’ve bordered on animal abuse.
- Archival interviews and News feature (5:44): Shot at the same time as the vintage making of, there are brief additional interview snippets with Romero, Beghe, Pankow and Kate McNeil, plus a 2-minute feature put together as a news item.
- Trailers and TV spot: Two theatrical trailers (1:55) and (1:29), and a TV spot (0:30). Trailer #2 is in 16:9, while the others are in 4:3.
- Audio commentaries: One apiece from George A Romero and Travis Crawford.
The menu is static and silent with a picture of the monkey, with options to play the film as well as the extras. Subtitles are in English, but again, Eureka’s chaptering is so random and lacklustre. This time, the film is almost 2 hours long and there’s just 10 chapters. WHY?!! Oh, the number of times I talk about wanting one for every five minutes.
Running time: 113 minutes
Cat no.: EKA70311
Released: October 8th 2018
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50 and DVD
Director: George A Romero
Producer: Charles Evans
Screenplay: George A Romero
Novel: Michael Stewart
Music: David Shire
Allan Mann: Jason Beghe
Geoffrey Fisher: John Pankow
Melanie Parker: Kate McNeil
Dorothy Mann: Joyce Van Patten
Maryanne Hodges: Christine Forrest
Dean Burbage: Stephen Root
Dr. John Wiseman: Stanley Tucci
Linda Aikman: Janine Turner
Doc Williams: William Newman
Esther Fry: Tudi Wiggins
Charlie Cunningham: Tom Quinn
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.