Monkey Shines (1988)

monkey shines poster 1988 movie
5.5 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 6/10

Interesting concept, great monkey

Interesting story concept drags, bad fake monkey for dangerous scenes

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Monkey Shines

Studio:  Orion Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror

Release Date(s):  June 29, 1988

MPAA Rating:  R


Put down the scalpel you wacky monkey!

Runner and student Alan Mann (Jason Beghe) is paralyzed in an accident.  With his doctor John Wiseman (Stanley Tucci) stealing his girlfriend Linda Aikman (Janine Turner) and his overbearing mother (Joyce Van Patten) hiring a nurse to watch his every move, Alan finds life isn’t worth living…until Ella enters his life.  Ella is a capuchin monkey, and unknown to Alan, part of his friend’s Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow) experiment to increase the intelligence of monkeys.  When Alan and Ella begin to connect to each other mentally, Alan feels Ella’s aggression and Ella lashes out with Alan’s anger. Alan finds his life losing control and begins to wonder if he is controlling Ella or if she’s controlling him.

Directed by George A. Romero, Monkey Shines adapts the 1983 novel by Michael Stewart.  The movie was Romero’s first studio film but changes in the film outside of his control upset the director and caused him to avoid studio films again until The Dark Half in 1993.  The movie was met with poor reviews and poor box office returns.


How can you hate this little monkey…despite having a scalpel…

I had actually read Monkey Shines before seeing the movie.  The novel was one of those early “adult” reads.  It was not a great book, but the movie was an even poorer adaptation of the story.  The concept of the story has some interesting aspects.  The life of a quadriplegic is an interesting subject and helper animals also play an unexplored role in this life (especially when it was written).  Unfortunately, the plotting and scripting is quite weak.

The movie has a weird (read that as boring) flow and open plot lines.  Alan’s relationship with Melanie (Kate McNeil) leads to one of film’s most unusual sex scenes.  The Stephen Root story with abusing animals and trying to steal Geoffrey’s work goes nowhere and the movie’s “happy” ending with Alan being able to walk again is such a cop-out that it leaves everyone empty.


I guess Romero wasn’t too happy about the addition of this jump ending with a fake looking monkey rip-off of Alien

Jason Beghe tries to portray a quadriplegic man, but the real star of the film has to be Ella played by a monkey named Boo.  Boo was a male despite being a female in the story (and that is pretty rare in film to use male monkeys which are supposed to be harder to control).  The movie does a really good job attempting to make Boo look mean (close ups of growls and screams), but the monkey’s big brown eyes don’t really have the meanness needed to really pull this off.  I’ve seen scary looking monkeys, but Boo wasn’t really one of them (plus it was pretty obvious when they used a fake monkey).

Monkey Shines is one of Romero’s failures, and it has virtually disappeared.  This is a good thing because the movie isn’t really worthy of cult status.  It is an oddity and it has some memorable moments, but Monkey Shines’ biggest problem is that it is rather a snoozer…even a killer monkey can’t save it.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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