LinkIn the PBS documentary The Ape Who Went to College (which fails as a potentially tantalizing glimpse into a simian’s hard-partying frat pledge) the orangutan Chantek is raised as a human child. He is taught sign language, masters hundreds of signs, is taken out for ice cream and begins copping a hubristic human attitude toward his fellow orangutans.

In the 1986 feature Link, tag-lined “an experiment in fear” we see that the experiment has shown very little demonstrable effects of fear and that perhaps the lab should have its funding yanked. Still, monkeys, mayhem, mammaries oh my!

The plot is laconically described on IMDb:  “A zoology student must try to out smart a murderous and super-intelligent orangutan.” (the titular character) The smart money would be on the orangutan. The reviewer plainly observes what a seasoned primatologist grad student played by Elisabeth Shue can’t: Link is an orangutan and not a chimp!

You see, Link is a movie about chimps and they’re even referred to as such but the eponymous character is portrayed by Locke, an orangutan that was actually given a bad dye-job and passed off as a chimp (!). We don’t know if this was Locke’s idea, but if he was named after an English empiricist, it might have been. An interesting side-note: Link/Locke’s trainer was the same guy who gave acting lessons to the birds in Hitchcock’s Birds (and Hitch had the good sense not to pass off crows as common grackles or whatever).

Link-1986Anyway, Locke makes a monkey out of all of us and out of Terence Stamp who plays a researcher who studies human and “chimp” interaction in England.

Shue is the American student, two years removed from The Karate Kid who takes on a job as his research assistant despite dire warnings that an ape beast ripped a previous owner to pieces (this had to narrow the field of research applicants).

Anyway, the plot of many horror films hinges on people not taking advice: don’t go in the basement, don’t explore the old farm house, don’t play with that vial of green liquid…to which we can add: don’t engage in weird anthropological studies with probable recidivists.

The lab chimps led by Link get antsy and become savage beasts, which is never good. The cigar-smoking Link survives a few shot-gun blasts and even ogles a naked Shue in the bathtub – bonus.

*** (out of 5)


The Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom #1Horror? Musical? Horrusical?

Whatever the nomenclature, horror and music, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, are two tastes that go great together. In the mid 1970’s, two such hybrid-creatures were unleashed. One, the far-inferior Rocky Horror Picture Show, went on to cult infamy, still drawing wannabe Brad and Janets to midnight screenings to this day. The other, The Phantom of the Paradise, faded into obscurity only achieving the cult-success it deserved in Winnipeg, Manitoba of all places, where it played for months on end. Still, considering there really isn’t that much to do in Manitoba, this is a dubious honor at best. Phantom may not be as famous as Rocky, but a) it doesn’t feature any permutation of Meat Loaf, and b) it’s way better. So put away your toast and rice, sweet transvestites, and check out the real deal.


An early directorial effort by the once phenomenal, now terrible Brian De Palma, Phantom tells the story of Winslow Leach, played by the late William Finley. Winslow, an aspiring composer, literally sells his soul for Rock N’ Roll. See, Winslow has composed a musical version of Goethe’s Faust, but he has his lyrics stolen by the diabolical Swan, owner of Death Records, who wants Winslow’s music to open his rock mecca The Paradise. Swan, who may or may not have made a Faustian bargain himself, steals the music and gets poor Winslow sent to Sing Sing. Winslow ultimately escapes but returns to the Paradise voiceless and grotesquely disfigured, the result of a horrific record press accident. Guess he hadn’t received the crucial “never escape from jail and run into a record pressing plant” lecture that all responsible parents are giving their over-coddled kids nowadays.


Those who have even the most fleeting familiarity with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera can see where this is going, but it’s not the destination that’s important but rather the journey. Winslow’s version of Christine is Phoenix, played by Suspira’s Jessica Harper. When not executing the most awkward dance moves this side of Elaine Benes, Phoenix is batting her big, doe-like eyes all over the place. Why Harper never became a bigger star eludes me as, un-coordination aside, Harper is cute as a button and is a serviceable actress and singer to boot. Ironically, she did take over the role of Janet from Susan Sarandon in the equally ill-received Rocky sequel, Shock Treatment.

Phantom of the Paradise is a Technicolor marvel that also happens to be an incisive satire of the music industry of the time. Virtuoso direction, literary allusioimages (3)ns (there’s even a little Dorian Gray thrown in for good measure) incredible songs composed by Swan himself, Paul Williams, audience dismemberment and decapitation, and Gerrit Graham: This one has it all. So next time you get the urge to do the Time Warp again, sit yourself down and watch this under-appreciated gem instead.

**** (out of 5)