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.
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.
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.
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.