A quadriplegic's trained monkey begins to
develop feelings of rage towards his master.
Monkey Shines (1988)
Written and Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce van Patten, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, Christine Forrest
Based on the novel by Michael Stewart
The legacy of George Romero was cemented with his Dead films but that didn't stop him from taking risks with his filmmaking. Only three times in his 40 year career did he work with a studio overseeing production. Romero always preferred to work independent of the studio system. The theme of Knightriders (another underseen and underappreciated gem) is about just that: working outside of mainstream culture, living by your own rules, and being targeted by those threatened by your independence.
Allan (Beghe) has been left a quadriplegic after being hit by a truck. His life, understandably, is dramatically changed by the event. He is bound to a wheelchair and completely dependent on a live in nurse (played by Christine Forrest, whom Romero was married to for 30 years) named Maryanne. When Allan's friend Geoff (Pankow) suggests having a monkey help him, the film begins its dark descent into terror and an unlikely connection between man and animal.
Monkey Shines came out too late to capitalize on the craze of killer animal flicks like Jaws, Grizzly, Orca, and Razorback to name a few. Couple that with a studio not really sure how to market the film (is it horror? Yes, it is. But not the straight gory variety.) leading to confusing trailers and terribly misleading posters (the homicidal toy monkey on the poster isn't in the film at all!), this film was not given the proper chance to succeed. Execs at Orion didn't like Romero's original ending, it was too vague and bleak for their liking, so they ordered reshoots and a "happier" ending.
I can only imagine what could have been had Orion trusted Romero to deliver his vision to the screen. He had Pasquale Buba editing (he worked with George on Day of the Dead previously) and Tom Savini handling the special effects, the foundation was there for a great film.This movie was labeled "An Experiment in Fear" by Romero and it wades in pretty dark waters. Geoff is an ethically compromised research scientist who channels Herbert West in his desperate attempts to prove his work; a risk that sets the narrative in motion. It also echoes the real life horrors that were exposed during the 80's on animal testing. I recommend this to expand the Romero experience and see that he was a talented storyteller we lost too soon.