Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Romero Week: Monkey Shines

As far as obscure Romero films go, this one is probably the most famous.  Yes, I realize how weird that sounds.  Anyhow, this movie is obscure because the reaction to it- both financially and critically- was not positive.  Does this film deserve it?  Well, to answer that, let's first look at the movie properly.  Basically, a crippled man is giving a helper monkey who- for reason that will become clear and then make no sense- gets all gooey for him and kills any 'enemy' of his.  This is a Romero film, so expect lots of subtle commentary and non-bloody violence.  This is...
The film begins with a young man going out for a run.  Faster than you can say 'don't cross the road during the credits,' he is hit by a car while crossing the road during the credits.  Well, there is some bad news and some worse news.  The bad news- he's paralyzed from the neck down.  The worse news- he's definitely a chicken now.  At a party for him, our hero gets all 'emo' and upsets his mother.  Geez, what's your problem?  Oh right...the paralysis thing.  Fortunately, his buddy from Mad About You shows up with a solution: a monkey.  Yes, when your life goes to hell, get a tiny animal that is covered in parasites and craps everywhere!  Unfortunately, our hero does not realize that some freaky shit has been going down at the lab.  In a nutshell, he has been injecting them with DNA from human brains.  Why?  Why the hell not, I say?  Just to make things even more complicated, our hero's ex-girlfriend is now dating his doctor (Stanley Tucci).  Conflict of interest, maybe?  At home, our hero gets comfortable with the whole idea of the monkey & even finds time to talk to a lady.  Of course, when his mom moves on, things don't get better.
As time goes by, the bond between our hero and the monkey get closer and closer.  In fact, he has weird dreams about running around in the fields.  Since this is a Romero film, expect no real explanation for how this actually working.  In the meantime, the monkey starts to get jealous of the mother, while the woman starts to dislike the smelly animal that is always acting angry at her.  This is possibly the world's weirdest love triangle.  Things get even more difficult when our hero gets closer to an animal handler who has been helping him learn to train the monkey.  One night, he actually goes over to her place for dinner and things, well, they escalate.  In one of the weirdest sex scenes of all time, our hero is set-up in his bed with all of the wires and such.  The woman, in turn, climbs on top of him and, well, it's weird.  It's not extremely explicit, just more so than you would expect.  Does it have anything to do with anything?  No.  Let's get to the good stuff now, movie.
Eventually, our hero's friend figures out that something weird is going on with the monkeys.  Of course, his drug use makes the whole discovery and explanation a bit hard.  The monkey breaks out of the house and burns down the cabin that the bad doctor and his lady are staying at.  It even finds time to kill the mother via a radio dropped into her bath.  The friend shows up to try and stop the monkey, but things don't go too well.  Basically, his attempt to stab the monkey with some poison ends with him dead instead.  When the girlfriend comes by as well- damn you, poker night!- she is attacked by the monkey.  I know what you're thinking- how tough is this monkey?  It all sounds silly until something is clinging to your face and stabbing you in the eyes, doesn't it?  Anyhow, the monkey is about to kill the girl with what was left of the poison, but our hero lures it over to him.  When it comes in for a hug, he grabs the monkey and shakes it, shakes it, shakes it like a Polaroid picture.  To make things even weirder, we get a tacked-on, happy ending.  Our hero gets a second opinion and learns that his paralysis was misdiagnosed.  One surgery later and our guy is told that he will walk again.  Seriously?  The End.
This movie is honestly much better than you might think.  On paper, this just sounds ridiculous.  I mean, it's a George Romero film about a killer, helper monkey.  How could this possibly be good?  Well, it is.  Don't get me wrong- it takes a while to get going,  The whole premise is a bit odd, but it works.  We get plenty of scenes establishing how hard it is for the man to get around now that he's paralyzed.  One great scene involves the parakeet getting loose and inadvertently-terrorizing the man in his bed.  Because the movie is played so straight, it just works.  On top of that, the soundtrack does a lot of the work in setting up the suspenseful scenes as well.  I could have done without the weird ending though, to be honest.  Right, monkey?
Next up, a very obscure Romero film with no monsters, no killing and no zombies.  In its place- Motorcycle Jousting.  Stay tuned...

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