Monkey Shines (George A. Romero / U.S., 1988):
(Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear)

Gorehounds had to wait until the very end for a throwaway Tom Savini stinger, and then declared themselves bored; meanwhile, true fans of George A. Romero could enjoy his brilliant realization of a mind awakening to its animal instincts, expressed in satirical Hitchcockisms. The thorough undermining of jock vitality starts with a morning jog, as a truck sends the athlete (Jason Beghe) flying through the air and into the hands of a surgeon (Stanley Tucci) suffering from "Clinical Snake in the Grass Syndrome." The doctor scoops up Beghe's fiancée (Janine Turner), the former runner comes home paralyzed from the neck down to a brassy mother (Joyce Van Patten) and a crabby nurse (Christine Forrest). He perks up when his scientist friend (John Pankow) presents him with a trained companion named Ella, a small, exceedingly expressive capuchin monkey with a taste for Doris Day songs and candlelit dinners. Romero's droll setup, with human brains liquefied and injected into the primate at the lab, pays off as soon as the paralyzed hero's subconscious melds with his scuttling caretaker's in a series of increasingly psychotic POV visions. Beghe finds romance with a trainer (Kate McNeil), but his anger surpasses his hope -- when he learns the truth about his fiancée and doctor, fangs sprout and puncture his lip, Ella licks the blood and rushes out to do his vengeful bidding. "It's unnatural, you and that monkey," the nurse hisses; the protagonist scoffs at the idea until the resulting killings bring him face to face with a furry, jealous lover, and with the continuous Romero query: "What if I wasn't civilized anymore?" King Kong inescapably figures in the analysis, as do Rear Window and Sirk's Magnificent Obsession, an instructive kinship to Argento's Phenomena is revealed throughout -- Wiederhorn's estimable Eyes of a Stranger is remembered crucially in the climax, in which the cumulative hysteria is played perfectly straight as the conclusion of a subversive fairy-tale about dependency, freedom, and "normalcy." With Stephen Root and William Newman.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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