The Gift (2015)


Monkey status: Monkeys are featured in this film

The Gift is a psychological thriller directed and written by Australian actor Joel Edgerton. He also appears in it as the creepy old friend who shows up to unsettle Simon and Robyn, played by Jason Bateman in an uncharacteristically non-comedic turn and British actress Rebecca Hall.

First thing that struck me was that two thirds of that main cast are not from the United States of America, yet their characters definitely are. The story is set in some unnamed environ of Los Angeles, and Edgerton has to put on an American accent the entire time. There are a few moments when he fails and those inescapable Aussie vowel sounds come floating through. Maybe this helps to make his stalker-like character seem even creepier – like what’s up with that guy’s voice, anyway? What I’m saying is putting on that shoddy accent must have been a conscious choice.

Because he’s the guy who wrote the thing, too! Couldn’t this have been set in Melbourne? I guess Americans wouldn’t want to watch that. And none of us want to see Jason Bateman pretending to be an Aussie.

Monkeys are used here as a device. Bateman’s character is established quite early in the film to have a phobia of monkeys, to the extent that a monkey doll given as a gift to his unborn child is about to become trash.

Weirdo Gordo, his old stalker-friend, uses a monkey mask and a range of monkey toys to mess with his head. There’s a great shot of Gordo filming himself in a mirror while wearing a monkey mask that looks a bit like a converted Curious George mask.

Joel Edgerton appearing as Curious George

So there are no real monkeys in the film, but the countenance of the animal is used multiple times as a plot device. It makes me wonder why they chose the monkey. Many people are afraid of clowns for their near but not-quite human features. Maybe a monkey phobia would stem from the same source. This means that Gordo appearing as a monkey or a provider of monkeys highlights the less than totally human way that Simon (Jason Bateman) sees him.

Either way, The Gift shows us that monkeys can be creepy even when they aren’t alive. I enjoyed the film, it was a tight thriller that kept me guessing until the end. But a scene with a real monkey is probably the only thing that would have elevated it to any more of a glowing review.


The Jungle Book (1967)

150120-chattering-monkeys-the-jungle-book.jpgMonkey status: Monkeys are featured in this film

The Jungle Book features some of Disney’s most famous depictions on non-human primates. They even show us a rudimentary society comprising only monkeykind, living in what looks like the ruins of Angkor Wat in the days before it was filled with guys in Bintang singlets.

Mowgli’s story of trying to find his place in the jungle was based on Rudyard Kipling’s experiences in India. It follows that most of the animals in the film are indeed animals found on the Indian sub-continent. The monkey scene, however, throws that way out of wack.

King Louie is obviously an orang-utan, so what is he doing in India? Was he an exile from some distant kingdom in the Sumatran jungle? Was he the survivor of a foiled regicide attempt, forced to leave his land forever with only a cohor

Baloo’s somewhat insensitive use of apeface

t of his most loyal? He waits in his temple in the Indian jungle like Napolean on St. Helena, craving the red flower of the man-cub’s fire to launch an attack back on his homeland.

In that sense he’s kind of like Danaerys Targaryen – a denied ruler wanting to return to their ancestral homeland with weapons of flame and destruction. Obviously George RR Martin cribbed a lot from this movie.

For some reason, he didn’t carry over the whole jazz influence. Louie is voiced and named after Louis Prima, and Prima wasted no time adding whole pages of scatting to the script. Apparently they initially modeled and named the character after Louis Armstrong, but then thought that they would come under fire for casting a black man as an ape.

Imagine the gruff-voiced Armstrong as King Louie. I can imagine it lending a far more sinister air to Mowgli’s whole encounter with the monkey exiles.

Other notable monkeys in the scene include the white-haired monkey who plays a big leaf like a lute. Most of the monkeys seem to have shocks of human hair, or maybe they are just wearing wigs.

Either way the scene with the monkeys adds a lot of question and subtext to this old Disney classic in a way that only a scene with a bunch of monkeys can. What does it mean? We’ll probably never know. Why do the monkeys want to be like Mowgli anyway? He himself is rejecting his humanity through most of the film. The monkeys, unlike Bagheera and Baloo, have their own community and microcosm of a society. The only thing they are lacking is fire, which they only need for – oh, right. Revenge. All themonkeys want is revenge. A dish best served banana-flavoured.

Initial tagline – The jungle is jumpin’

La La Land (2016)


Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film

2016 was a year of looking backward. Make something or other great again was the rallying cry of an awoken mass, clinging to rose-coloured visions of a past that they probably weren’t around for.

It seems like Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, was doing much the same thing. His film is a journey back through the decades to a time before the postmodern and the cool and the great second wave of deconstruction in 2002. Damien Chazelle watched Casablanca instead of Saturday morning cartoons, and then he made

Dave_ Aryes_Steve_Paul_Gentry-20131124-152414.jpg
No paparazzi for this overlooked celeb

this film.

And it must have hit a nerve because it was huge. It was nearly the winner of the Oscar for the Best Picture – it was probably the closest any film has ever gotten to that spot without ever getting it, in a the most awkward way possible. I’m talking of course about when the crew behind the film got up on stage only to be informed that the wrong name had been read out.

So everyone was along for the ride down memory lane and casting Hollywood in this lovely nostalgic violet hue. For the most part, Chazelle and his lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone catch the past zeitgeist of the Hollywood hopeful and the story of actors and entertainers trying to fight their way onto the silver screen.

The progression of the overlooked ape figures in Hollywood

But there were no monkeys. Again the story of the furrier end of the casting room queue have been left out of Hollywood’s history. We get all kinds of tributes to old past and dusty things like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and James Dean – but where is the fellow who played the original King Kong? Where is Bonzo? Where is the famed statue of Mighty Joe Young outside the La Brea Tar Pits?

Characters sing and dance down Sunset Boulevard, over the hands and feet of Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple. But where are the attempting opposable little hands of Crystal the Capuchin? She is the top of the monkey A-list but she hasn’t even had a little square outside of Mann’s Chinese Theatre set aside for her.

As you can tell the whole thing drives me bananas. Chazelle has made a fine film if you like watching people sing and dance and like watching strange beige coloured hairless primates balance precariously on two legs and wear clothing and eat foods other than those that we can forage from shrubs and trees – I could go on.

When will the day come when Hollywood will honour its monkey heritage. We will be there ready on that day.

The Fly (1986)

Monkey status: There are monkeys featured in this film

This film was the progenitor of the hackneyed horror tag-line Be Afraid. Be very afraid. This is a little surprising when you know this film as it is anything but your conventional horror movie. Its plot is a slow descent from the uncomfortable into the hellish, and there is no final girl or bittersweet resolution here. This film is a balls-out journey down the tubes.

This is what it looks like when David Cronenberg make a love story

Ostensibly it was a remake of the 1958 film of the same name, although both are based on the same short story. This film was directed by David Cronenberg, and it has him all over it. David Cronenberg sees the shape of the human body as a suggestion rather than a rule. The result is a film that has haunted people since it came out, and probably made more vomit.

The role of the monkey in the sci-fi film is often as a test subject, and that is certainly the case here. Ill-fated scientist Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) has two baboons that he keeps in cages in his laboratory and one of them ends up being the first victim of his ‘telepods’. The monkeys in this film are Hamadryas baboons, which is famous for its snowy white Krusty the Klown hair.

Brundle is essentially trying to invent teleportation, but organisms keep getting Cronenberged when he sends them through his machine. So this film also features a very gruesome monkey death or two.

That’s one good-looking primate

The first baboon is placed in the teleportation pod and comes through the other side as a plate of pulled pork. This is the first violence or gore that we see in the film and it sets the stage for all of the wacky shit that is going to follow. But what a sad end for a monkey. Even the poisoned dates of Raiders of the Lost Ark were more humane than this weird gooey end. But that’s Cronenberg for you.

In the original cut of the film, this is the only monkey scene. However, there is a deleted scene that contains one of the most horrific monkey situations in the history of film.

The monkey-cat

Brundle, already a hefty way into his metamorphosis, uses his telepods to combine the genetic material of his remaining baboon anda cat. The result is a grisly chimera called a ‘monkey-cat’. The thing attacks him, presumably blinded by panic and anguish, and Brundle, probably in much the same state of mind, beats it to death with a pipe. If that sounds like something you would like to see you can check it out here:

So in this film about the borders of what is human being chipped away, monkeys play a pretty significant role. It is easy enough to imagine a script where this turned out a bit differently and it was one of the baboons in the other telepod – there is an alternate reality out there somewhere where there is a film of Jeff Goldblum climbing around a lab in a half-man half-monkey outfit. Out version is of course way grosser.

It is also notable that the soundtrack for this film, by notable composer Howard Shore, contains a track called ‘Baboon Teleportation’. This is probably the only time in history that there is going to be a good reason to call a song that.

I wonder what the baboon thought it was doing in that thing

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

A bunch of 80s stereotypes on their way to party in a cemetery

Monkey status: There are monkeys featured in this film

My first memory of this film came from surfing the channels on the family television with the volume down and the lights off way after my bedtime some night back when I was seven or eight years old.

I remember stumbling across the scene where an oil-covered zombie, played by Alan Trautman, stumbled out from the corner of a room and says ‘BRAAAAAINS’ in a voice that sounds like Leonard Cohen in slow-motion.

Needless to say it scared the shit out of little me. The figure underneath that mass of black stuff and slimy zombie skin looked emaciated anyway – it seemed to me that even if he took off the costume and did the scene just as a regular human I would have been terrified anyway. He just seemed to live in that border area, the abject. That was a word I probably didn’t know at the time – but it was an idea that we could all sure feel. That’s why dumb horror movies like this stick in our minds forever.

Alan Trautman as the famous ‘Tarman’

It should be noted that Alan Trautman, the fella beneath all of that make-up, went on to be a star puppeteer in the webseries Simian Undercover Detective Squad as an orangutan detective. So there’s some monkey points straight up.

This one is a bit of a cult classic in terms of dumb horror movies. It was created in part by John Russo, the co-writer of Night of the Living Dead alongside George A. Romero, who we talked about last week in our review of 1980’s Creepshow. After a falling out, the two decided to split the patent of the modern zombie right down the middle and go theirseparate ways.

Romero went off to make Dawn of the Dead and the films that followed it, and they are sternly creepy films with a consistent tone and critical appeal to this day. Russo, along with director and co-creator Dan O’Bannon made this. It doesn’t really have a third act. The protagonist role is handed around like a baton in a relay as main characters get sick or die. James Karen moans like a literal newborn for two thirds of the run-time. It’s a really hot mess.

The gist of the plot is that the workers of a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, inadvertently start off a miniature zombie apocalypse after becoming contaminated with a government-created evil undead toxin. At the same time, a group of punks are getting naked in a nearby cemetery. Then a bunch of zombies show up, people yell ‘Jesus!’ at each other, and then all of the characters die in a nuclear blast. The end.

That’s the whole plot. The tone is so over-the-top that anything more sensical would be nonsensical. The lines are from the mouths of aliens trying to emulate humans after watching the home movies of Tommy Wiseau.

From a monkey perspective, films like this kind of show how we are not so different from our furrier cousins. The characters wail and moan and run around and hit things with sticks. If you squint it looks a little like the first scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Linnea Quigley does an impromptu striptease in a cemetery and her gaggle of friends dressed as 80s stereotypes dance around her hollering like a pack of Chacmas. It’s fun.

You might watch wondering where our monkeys show up. This one is just for the eagle-eyed. Or actually perhaps not even them. Although monkeys are in this film, they aren’t actually even directly visible.

After Bert chops up the animated cadaver, ties its body parts up in rubbish bags and takes them to his friend, Ernie the mortician (notice that the characters are named Bert and Ernie – and Trautman later worked with Jim Henson – curiouser and curiouser), the monkeys have their little cameo.

So in order to create the effect of the body parts moving around on their own accord inside the rubbish bags, wind-up monkeys with cymbals were used. The toys were wound up prior to the big scene and then let to play from inside the bags. The effect is a bunch of bin bags moving around creepily all on their own, and it’s perfect.

So it just goes to show – even when monkeys aren’t taking centre stage in a piece, they still somehow manage to contribute to the best of films. And the best of films this most certainly is.

The toy monkeys are inside the black rubbish bags seen in this scene

This film has a lot more hiding under its unturned stones. Take Don Calfa’s character, Ernie. When we meet him he is listening to German War Marches on his walkman. He carries a luger, swears in German and has a picture of Eva Braun on his bulletin board. None of this is noticed or mentioned by the other characters. Did Dan O’Bannon simply decide to heavily imply that one of the heroes of his film is a Nazi?

The more you look into O’Bannon, the more you uncover. He’s probably most famous for writing the original screenplay for Alien. During the 1970s he was a college friend of John Carpenter’s and went on to make similar fare.

But he seems like an eccentric when you look at the internet’s opinion of him. During the making of this film, extras playing zombies were required to eat calf’s brains. Not wanting anyone to have to do something that he wouldn’t do, he organised the cast and crew around the set and had them watch as he ate them himself. OK, I called that eccentric – but he actually seems like kind of a good dude for that.

He eventually died of Crohn’s Disease. And before he died, he said that the inspiration for that chest-burster scene in Alien came from his experiences with it. Watching this film you have to wonder if James Karen’s agonising rigor mortis and Linnea Quigley’s morbid obsessions aren’t somehow connected to the writer’s experiences with chronic illness.

O’Bannon died in 2009, but not before leaving us with a bunch of crazy films, and not least of which one which couldn’t have been the film it was without the participation of a bunch of toy monkeys.

Encounters At The End Of The World (2007)

Encounters At The End Of The World (2007).jpg

Monkey status: There is one ape in this film

You know, we dish out a lot of criticism on this website for the alleged ‘human-washing’ of major films (see our article on Gravity for further explanation), but Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World is a spectacular exception.

We follow Herzog to Antarctica where he provides us with a stunning exposition of the great southern continent. Though as he so often does, Herzog introduces a distinctly existentialist bent to the film.

He arrives at the American McMurdo base and is instantly uninspired. The base is industrial-looking, crawling with Caterpillars, and reminds Herzog of a quarry. He wonders, “who are the people that drive the heavy machinery and what brought them to Antarctica?” It turns out one of them is a Russian philosopher with a love for Greek epics. He answers Herzog’s second question – natural selection.

It’s the people who want to fall off the margins of the map. They all end up at the same place, where all the lines converge. It’s then that Herzog realises he’s in his element.

In the perpetual summer daylight he spends days and nights with various outposts of scientists, studying various seemingly esoteric phenomena. Herzog was drawn to Antarctica in the first place by footage taken under the thick sea ice by his scientist friend. Herzog juxtaposes these fascinating other-worldly environments with the mundane reality of those who study them. We quickly learn that there isn’t a whole lot to do down there.

Much of the scientists’ down-time is spent watching old sci-fi movies on an antiquated computer monitor. A penguin researcher Herzog attempts to interview has in fact all but forgotten how to communicate with fellow humans due to his isolation. Even the penguins he studies are nihilistic.

Encounters at the End of the World is visually perfect and thought-provoking from start to finish, but it’s crowning moment has to be one of cinema’s great ape cameos. The brilliance of the sequence itself is beyond humanly description, though what makes it truly remarkable is its context – you show me someone who expected a brushwork illustration of a chimpanzee riding a goat in a serious documentary about Antarctica and I’ll show you a bald-faced liar.

Hats off, Herzog.

Lincoln (2012)

Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film

Abraham-Lincoln-Ape--127503Spielberg’s Lincoln was hotly anticipated by pretty much the whole world at its release in 2012. Maybe it was the tale of a truly historical dude making the silver screen, or the promise of another crazy inhuman transformation of Daniel Day-Lewis by his creators.

For me, there were other reasons to be excited about this trip to the cinema. I have long been a subscriber to the theories put forward by historian George Kurylenko, even though he was dismissed as a crackpot by much of the academic mainstream.

I first came across his writings in the basement of my university’s library. I was drawn by some crude graffiti somebody had scrawled across the cover of one of his thick doorstopper volumes – Here lies Curious George. Needless to say I was converted that evening there in the library and I never looked back.

Proof of the Monkey Illuminati?

If you’re not familiar with the works of Kurylenko, providing even a rough summary of the bulk of his theories here would be a Sisyphean task. His work covered the globe and the eons. His expertise was spread out across an entire world and an entire timeline, but was not the thinner for it. Some called him the backward-looking Nostradamus. Personally, I suspect that he was secretly a time-traveller.

My interest in Lincoln was borne from an interview I read with actor Anthony Hopkins, talking about his work on the film Amistad. Somewhere online in the very early days of the internet, I squinted through the dial-up to make out Hopkins’ words. He said that much of Spielberg’s approach to his treatment of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba was informed by some of his favourite bedside reading – Spielberg was a fan of ol’ Curious George himself.

Since then I watched Spielberg’s films with my eyes peeled for little tidbits of Kurylenko lore thrown in for the informed and observant. Mostly there was little to prove my suspicions, but then I heard of his plans to make Lincoln.

Kurylenko’s theory about Abraham Lincoln was way out of left field but also satisfyingly plausible when you sat down and thought about it for long enough.

Kurylenko posited that underneath his trademark stovepipe hat, Lincoln kept a squirrel monkey. The monkey lived under the hat whenever the two were in public together, and it would clutch at his hair as he took sharp corners in order to keep its position.

The public often wondered why Honest Abe’s towering hat managed to keep perched on his head through all kinds of athletics. This was why. The monkey, whose true name is unknown for sure but can be presumed to be named Ape-raham Lincoln, would remain crouched beneath the hat waiting to be of use to its master.

Honest Ape’s home for all of those years

Kurylenko was of the opinion that Honest Ape helped its master to pen the Gettysburg Address. This little part of his theory isn’t held up by my much real world evidence.

However, there is some that is more compelling – after Lincoln’s April 15 1865 assassination by John Wilkes Booth, passersby reported that a small squirrel-like animal had been seen fleeing from the theatre. It’s unknown what the final whereabouts of Ape-raham Lincoln are.

Spielberg doesn’t show the little monkey on screen, and I think it was the right decision. Abe never showed his little friend in public, so it makes sense that his presence should simply be implied.

But you can see in the consternation of Daniel Day-Lewis’ face as he walks into Congress that something is obviously clinging unseen to the top of his head.

According to Kurylenko, Reagan was not the first President to spend a lot of time hanging out with a non-human primate

500 Days of Summer (2009)

The guy who made it was called Marc Webb. His next movie was The Amazing Spider-Man. I’m not making that up. Really, look it up.

Monkey status: There is one ape featured in this film

This film was one of those romantic comedies that critics acclaimed as a romantic comedy that deconstructed romantic comedy, like When Harry met Sally and Annie Hall. But at the end of the day those films are still just rom-coms. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, actually. I forget my point.

OK the point was that I remembered seeing this film when it came out and I had this distinct memory of Joseph Gordon-Levitt riding a bike around anempty downtown Los Angeles at night with a little rhesus monkey poking its head out of the basket like a furry ET. So of course I had to go back and verify the memory.

I don’t know what movie I was watching in 2009 but it definitely wasn’t this one. JGL’s bike doesn’t even have a carrier basket in this film!

This film has a lot of Regina Spektor music and conversations about greeting cards that I didn’t really understand. It doesn’t have many monkeys. They could have included a scene between Tom and Summer where they go on a date to the zoo or something, it wouldn’t even have seemed shoehorned!

Actually, on that note – the characters are seen watching The Graduate, a movie which contains a scene identical to the one I just described. We could have watched Tom and Summer watching a movie with a monkey in it. That would have been several levels of monkey-ness.

Tom and Summer presumable watching Dunston Checks In judging by the looks of glee on their faces

So I watched the credits roll with a sinking feeling. My mind seemed to have artificially inserted a monkey into my memory of a film again. It seems to be happening more and more these days.

I wasn’t going to accept that grim reality just yet, though. I rewound right back to the start and sat through the film’s 95 minute runtime again. And again. And again. Until the sun was peeking in between my banana print curtains.

It was mid-afternoon before I hit paydirt.

Tom is hanging out with his friends Paul and McKenzie at a cafe cum arcade somewhere in Los Angeles. They are lounging over an old table-style arcade machine with coffees in their hands, talking about Tom’s crush on Summer. I sat there with my eyes glazed over watching this scene for the umpteenth time, despair beginning to ensnare my heart in her cold tendrils.

And then I heard it – if you listen to the background noises beneath the banal dialogue spouted by Tom and his co-workers, you’ll hear it, too:

The arcade machine that Tom and his friends are hanging out over is Nintendo’s 1981 classic, Donkey Kong. The game is famous for being the first ever appearance of Mario, Nintendo’s flagship character. But the antagonist and titular character of the game is what interested me.

Donkey Kong is a giant gorilla wearing a red necktie and nothing else. He was based in part on King Kong and Bluto from Popeye, and he is undoubtedly, incontrovertibly, undebateably, a non-human primate.

So it just goes to show. Never stop looking for the monkey in the movie. He may be hiding, but he will reveal himself to you if have the patience and the wherewithal to keep your vigil as long as it takes. Now I need some sleep.


Creepshow (1982)

Monkey status: One ape-like creature is featured in this filmCreepshow.png

Recently George A. Romero died at the age of 77 of lung cancer. To honour his legacy, Is there a monkey in it? has decided to take a look at some of his films. Acursory glance at his filmography revealed Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear (1988) but to be honest, that just seemed like low-hanging fruit. Is there a monkey in that movie? I mean, obviously.

So we checked out some of his other lesser known classics. He was best known for his zombie flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the one that started the whole walking dead phase, Night of the Living Dead (1968).

What not of people know is that he also directed a rom-com in 1971 called There’s Always Vanilla, about a guy leaving the army and then hilariously moving back home to Pittsburgh and relying on an old lady for total physical, emotional and spiritual support. I don’t know, I haven’t seen it – I was told there are no monkeys in it.

What we did go back and dig up from its shallow grave was 1980’s Creepshow, a horror anthology film adapted from the works of Stephen King. Most of this film isshockingly monkey-less. We begin with a wrap-around narrative about a kid who likes to read horror comics. The little kid playing him is in fact Joe King, Stephen King’s son. Nowadays we know him better as author Joe Hill – he wrote that film Horns where Daniel Radcliffe walked around with inexplicable devil horns the whole film. Weren’t any monkeys in that one either.

King himself also shows up as Jordy Verrill and proves to everyone why he probably shouldn’t be on screen for anymore than a cameo. His acting co-star is a space fungus growing on his face and unfortunately it comes off more believablethan the Crimson King himself. When he shows up as a character in the upcoming Dark Tower movie franchise they are going to have to figure out a solution. He can’t do it himself. Maybe Jason Segel can sew Stephen King’s face over his own like in Face-Off. (Weren’t any monkeys in that one either, were there!)

Stephen King was in the midst of his ‘forgotten’ years, but some of it was saved here for posterity in celluloid

But enough about movies that don’t have monkeys, because Creepshow ain’t one of them. While four of the five segments are totally monkey-less, The Crate pulls the entire film back from the brink.

Shot at Romero’s alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University, this is a simple tale about a big ol’ box that’s been under a stairwell for 147 years. Inside a monstrous gorilla-like creature is discovered with an unmatched bloodlust. Another potential job for a simian actor squashed – the ape is played here by a puppet (which I might add, is almost indistinguishable from the real thing!)

It was named Fluffy by fans – it is an ape, right?

The ape in the box kills anybody who comes close. The plot has it serve as a kind of physical manifestation of the protagonist’s murderous impulses – Henry Northrup, played by Hal Holbrook, is a meek and mild lecturer at the university who totally detests his wife, to the point of showing his gory daydreams of killing her in cold blood. When he learns of the creature in the box he oddly sees it as an opportunity to get his wife off his back – by having the thing rip her to bits and then eat the remains. Simple and understandable scheme.

I don’t know how your average ape would feel about being portrayed in such a bloodthirsty way, but I guess we do have our human serial killers in films and we don’t complain about them. Maybe it was high time for a Gibbon Voorhees or a Hannibal Lemur.

Norman Apes chilled the hearts of the world in Alfred Chimpcock’s Psycho

So if you have a jonesing for something monkey-like pulling a bunch of people into a big crate and then tearing them to bits, look no further. One of the many sadnesses of Romero’s passing is that we will never see this creature’s future through his eyes. Where does it go after its escape? Are there more apes out there with similar bad attitudes?

I mean, it’s sad we won’t say that, but I guess it’s sadder for his kids and stuff. Sorry if Isounded insensitive. It’s a bummer. Lung cancer, ay. Sorry.

Dedicated to the memory of George A. Romero

R.I.P Big George (appearing alongside his lead Monkey Shines actor)

The Planet of the Apes (1968)

Monkey status: Non-human primates are featured prominently in this movie

To celebrate the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, we here at Is there a monkey in it? decided to go way back to where it all began. Well, not quite – this monkey series really began with Pierre Boule’s 1963 novel, but this is a movie blog not a book one so we can’t talk about that. There are rules.

It seems that is is hot enough for the hairless humans to go around basically naked. Aren’t those apes boiling?

This is one of the famous depictions of primates in Hollywood. Everybody knows a shot or a line from this classic, from “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” to the iconic shot of the run-down Statue of Liberty.

As a result we all basically know the plot. A team of astronauts in far-off space crash-land on a mysterious planet that turns out to be run by a species of humanoid apes.

Watching this film makes you miss the physical effects of an earlier Hollywood. We are all erect and excited about the visual wizardry of Weta Digital, as soon in the newest series of film, but there is still something missing. Our brains know on some level that we are looking at nothing at all. In this film, the gorillas and the orangutans are real. You can basically smell them through the screen.

Planet Of The Apes 4.jpg
I hate every ape I see, from Chimpan-A to Chimpanzee

The film is a polemic largely on different groups dehumanizing each other. Taylor, our human hero, takes the role of a lab monkey and is prodded and probed and generally treated like a beast. The apes react to him with disgust and patronising comments:

Lucius: Why did you do that? Scrape off your hair?

Cornelius: It makes you look somehow … less intelligent.

At its most superficial level, the film puts us behind the eyes of the zoo animal. We experience Taylor’s losing end of the role reversal with him.

One thing interesting about the film is how they depict the ape civilisation. It is at anachronistic and varied levels of technological development and sometimes seems to have a heavy Greco-Roman classical influence. This hodge-podge creates a new and fresh vision o

f culture which asks the question – say monkeys do go on to take over from us as custodians of this soil, what does that look like? What is monkey culture? Monkey language? Monkey rock’n’roll? Monkey jazzercise? Monkey chia pets? Monkey improv?

In deleted scenes Charlton Heston went through all of these ordeals. Rumour has it that a scene of him appearing on a monkey talk show was left on the cutting room floor by director Franklin J Schaffner.


In the film it seems like everybody has a reason not to speak. Taylor has a throat injury that renders him mute through about half the film and his co-pilot Langdon is lobotomised by the apes, taking away his power of speech.


Nova, the woman that Taylor ‘befriends’ in the zoo, never says a word.

Well, her character is actually really problematic. All that she is given to do in the whole film is look sexy. Literally. Her character has no lines, no important actions, just follows Charlton Heston around like a pet. That element was kind of creepy, and with only one other speaking female character in the whole movie, it is safe to say that it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test. I guess that hadn’t even been invented yet.

But when it comes to the Monkey Bechdel Test (that is, the test of monkeys appearing in scenes with no humans and not talking about any humans), this film passes with flying colours. So for that, as well as the trippy desert cinematography and awesome kind of sun-drenched psychedelic gladiator set designs, this movie is a must-see.

And of course the film did give us this: The Planet of the Apes Musical, in which Phil Hartman actually does a really good Charlton Heston impression. I love you, Dr Zaius!