Monkey Shines

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MonkeyShines-Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear proves the null hypothesis that a lengthy run time can tarnish a finished product.

That’s especially true in comedy, a shining example (if you will), being the otherwise great The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which could’ve used a considerable trim (albeit not from the monkey in this poster). It’s the same for horror.

That being said, despite a nearly two-hour length, there’s loads to love about George Romero’s Monkey Shines.

Jogger and uber-athlete Allan Mann is smacked by a car and becomes a quadriplegic. His geeky researcher buddy Geoff, (whose brains are seemingly bulging out of actor Jeff Pankow’s bulbous forehead) gives up one of his lab monkeys to a trainer, Melanie, who gets the Capuchin to help out with day-to-day tasks for Allan, now confined to a wheelchair.

The two bond, much to the chagrin of his personal support worker, Maryanne, whose pet bird attracts the predatory eye of the monkey, now christened “Ella” after a life as “Number 6” in the university research lab. It was in that lab, you see, that monkeys were subjected to interesting, morally questionable experiments: the critters were implanted with human brain tissues. When it comes to genre films, thank god for science experiments gone wrong and lack of ethical oversight!

Ella is preternaturally bright. She can answer doors, dial phones, select books off a shelf and even occasionally refill an empty treat box of conditioned rewards if required.

But it comes at a cost.

Ella soon develops a weirdly sinister telepathic connection to Allan and is subject to his tantrums and mood swings, eventually finding her inner ape for a wild finale.

Pensive and well-acted, Monkey Shines isn’t your typical lunk-headed ape-run-amok movie like In The Shadow of Kilimanjaro or the inane Link. The performances are top-notch, especially Jason Beghe (Californication/Chicago Med), who brings much pathos and gravitas to Allan (as much as sidekick Boo does as Ella). There’s a showbiz adage, “never work with children or animals,” but Beghe manages to bond emotionally both with the monkey and with love interest Melanie (the equally formidable Kate McNeil).

Mired by soap opera exposition, goofy drug addiction/spurned lover subplots and movie-of-the-week orchestral swells, there’s still some genuine intrigue and low-key scares (and a few big-time frights) to be had here.

While not reaching the heights of the genre-exploding Martin, the initially maligned Monkey Shines is extraordinarily original and has proven to have vampiric staying power.

*** (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR MONKEY SHINES PODCAST FEATURING SCOTT DREBIT, COLUMNIST AT DAILY DEAD]

The Devil Knows His Own

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If micro-budget horrors like The Devil Knows His Own are to be “rescued from the dominion of darkness,” [Colossians 1:13] their trailers need to be short, tight and on-point. Bad trailers are sins least likely to be forgiven (and the poster ain’t so hot either).

It’s an impressive feat to generate 165,000 YouTube views, but not if the conversion rates are lousy and the up to down-vote ratio is almost 1:1.

A 56% YouTube approval rating does the finished product a disservice, as while it’s by no means a masterpiece, there is undeniable visual style for 50K in The Devil Knows His Own.

Ethan (Patrick D Green) is a leather-clad rocker living the trappings of the rock star life. He swigs whisky from a flask in the AM (we’ve all been there) and answers the door to his hotel room nude (no comment), giving the maid a stir while his entourage does blow and stumbles to the tour bus barefoot in nothing but their underwear.

His lesbian sister Jess (Dara Davey), who looks a bit like BC punk rocker Bif Naked, is getting their recently passed grandma’s affairs in order. And wouldn’t you know it? The executor of her will, Nathaniel, announces that the old lady has bequeathed the siblings her house…which has furniture covered in plastic like she was Italian. (If you don’t believe that’s a thing, search memes.)

Ethan and Jess reunite after a long time not having seen one another (he’s a “famous rock star”) and decide to stay at the abode with their respective girlfriends.

Lawyer Nathaniel is unlikely buddies with a priest, Levi, so the man of the cloth can add some exposition in the form of: “The house…is evil!”

There’s definitely bad mojo there, as the siblings were abused by mom and grannie, who stapled creepy masks to their faces if they misbehaved.

The_Devil_Knows_His_ownFilms like The Devil Knows His Own have to be compared with their low budget brethren, as it’s rare that a breakout classic occurs with the dollars invested at this level. Rare, but by no means impossible.

The performances are pretty good, and the relationship between Jess and her wife is quite moving at times. Ditto the strong relationship between the siblings.

However, there are two major, almost insurmountable flaws:

1. During the funeral service, you can see granny moving in her coffin…and

2. Why stay in a house that has bad memories associated with it? The latter could’ve been easily explained away as a financial need. However, early on Ethan says he doesn’t need the money and it’s made clear Jess is going to sell.

Then again, if people didn’t know what was best for them, there’d be no haunted house genre to speak of.

Still, on the cheap, The Devil Knows His Own offers a few pretty decent scares and good atmosphere, especially the creepy basement and the gripping childhood flashbacks.

**3/4 (out of 5)

[Copy provided by WILD EYE RELEASING]

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