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.

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)