Director George A. Romero isn’t known for his more subtle work but for the bombastic gore and visceral images conjured up from his films Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, and Day of the Dead, so, it comes as a surprise that he has taken on the psychological thriller Monkey Shines as one of his films that marks him as a filmmaker that can transcend his gore-filled roots.
Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) is a professional runner who one day while training is hit by a car that leaves him paralyzed from the neck down. His best friend Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow) decides to help him through the physical training and adjustment of his new life by allowing him access to Ella a chimpanzee that he has been experimenting on and that has abilities that far extend those of any other of its kind. As Allan becomes adjusted to the help of Ella he starts to experience terrifying nightmares that leads him to the suspicion that he and Ella are somehow psychically connected and that Ella has been escaping the confines of his home secretly. When Allan tries to give Ella back to Geoffrey things get out of hand and Ella escapes returning to Allan’s house where Ella will stop at nothing to be the only “one” for him.
Like most of his films Romero adapted the screenplay but this time from the novel by Michael Steward which is rare considering that almost 95% of his films are original except for his collaborations with Stephen King (Creepshow and The Dark Half) and his Poe adaptation for Two Evil Eyes. With each new film Romero elevates his profile as a genre director and this is no different in this film as he puts on display everything he learned from Night of the Living Dead to Knightriders to Two Evil Eyes to The Dark Half. He allows the actors to craft complex characters within the framework of a film in which takes place completely in one location and with as few as three main characters. Romero has always been best when limiting his main characters (such as in Dawn of the Dead, Martin, or Two Evil Eyes) and Monkey Shines is no exception. Few genre directors are capable of sustaining a career for as long as Romero has by constantly elevating his profile and the material that he decides to take on.