To fully understand the significance of Monkey Shines, you need to look at the era that would spawn it. In the 1970s, Americans grew to distrust their government and the scientific community. After living through the Vietnam War, then watching both their Vice President (Spiro Agnew), and President (Richard Nixon) resign due to impropriety, not to mention living through stagflation, the oil crisis, and being witness to the incident at Three Mile Island. Who could blame them for being a little paranoid?
From Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America, Philip Jenkins writes:
“Other forms were also treated with far more suspicion… The enormous success of Robin Cook’s novels, such as Coma (1977), suggests real concern about the proper limits of medical experimentation… In 1976, a Harvard University proposal to enter the innovative field of gene splicing stirred panic.
Establishing an investigative commission, the mayor of Cambridge warned, “God knows what’s going to crawl out of the laboratory!” and speculated about Frankenstein monsters.”
Twelve years later we know what crawled out of the laboratory, and it wasn’t very nice.
In 1988, George A. Romero released, “Monkey Shines“, a horror film about a genetically modified monkey used as an at-home helper-animal to a former athlete trying to cope after an accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Without giving away the plot, the movie revolves around the unique bond between the protagonist, Allan Mann, and Ella, his helper monkey, who has been injected with human brain tissue.
“Monkey Shines” is more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie, and it lived up to the hype. It’s not a great movie, and the pacing is a bit slow, but it successfully plays on our natural fear of being left paralyzed and vulnerable, unable to care for one’s self.
If you’re a horror fan, then I definitely recommend watching “Monkey Shines”. Just for kicks, make it part of a playlist that includes movies where animals go bad; very, very bad.