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Man has been the only animal capable of murder... until now.

Once there was a man whose prison was a chair.
The man had a monkey, they made the strangest pair.
The man was a prisoner, the monkey held the key.
No matter how he tried, the man couldn’t flee.
Locked in his prison, terrified and frail,
The monkey gaining power, keeping him in jail,
The man tried to keep the monkey from his brain,
But every move he made became the monkey’s game.
The monkey ruled the man. It climbed inside his head.
And now, as fate would have it, one of them is dead...
Trailer narration
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Monkey Shines (1988) is a horror movie directed by George A. Romero and starring Jason Beghe, Kate McNeil, John Pankow, Joyce Van Patten, Stanley Tucci, and Stephen Root. It was based on the 1983 novel by British author Michael Stewart.

Allan Mann (Beghe) is an athletic law student who one day is hit by a truck (in the book crashes his motorcycle) and the surgery to save him renders him quadriplegic. His girlfriend dumps him and begins seeing his surgeon (Tucci), which Allan has no idea about. Unable to cope, he attempts suicide but fails. He soon gets help in the form of a black capuchin monkey named Ella. What Allan doesn't know is that Ella is part of a lab experiment and she begins developing romantic feelings for her master, develops a psychic bond with him, allowing him to see through her eyes and she begins murdering people who Allan has a grudge against. Now Allan has to stop this murderous monkey before she can take over him completely.

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Although it was Romero's first studio film, it wasn't a big hit.

No relation with the 1997 Shareware game.

Monkey Shines contains examples of:

  • Abusive Mom: Allan's mother, especially after he pressed her Berserk Button.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Allan goes back to law school and takes Ella with him, she raises her arm when Allan's class is asked a question. The other students laugh as it's actually quite funny.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Given she is a Stepford Smiler, but also a mean spirited selfish Control Freak at the same time which surfaces when she refuses to take no for an answer or have Melanie look after Allan, it's possible Dorothy suffers from bipolar disorder.
  • Archnemesis Mom: Allan's mother Dorothy is one for Allan.
  • Asshole Victim: The murders committed by Ella are of unlikable and unrepentant characters, even though Allan felt guilty for feeling to have cause their deaths. First there's Allan's uncaring nurse's pet bird that attacks Allan in his bed, and gets its neck snapped in retaliation overnight. Next, Ella goes after Allan's ex-girlfriend Linda Aikman, who left him because of his condition and his egotistical and incompetent neurosurgeon Dr. John Wiseman after Allan finds out that Wiseman is the true cause of him being quadriplegic and about their relationship, burning down Linda's cabin with Linda and Wiseman in it while they're having sex. Next Ella goes after Allan's abusive, selfish and domineering mother Dorothy, who moved in to look after Allan to dominate him and to treat him like a little kid again, electrocuting her in the bath tub. Allan's friend Geoffrey Fisher, who inadvertently turned Ella into a killer also counts because he was more concerned about his work than his friend. Even when he tried to kill Ella, he refused Allan's pleas for real help as he didn't want his reputation ruined and wanted Ella's murder spree kept secret. Ella soon becomes one herself.
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  • Ax-Crazy: Downplayed, but even if she didn’t kill anyone that we know of, Dorothy’s still a somewhat deeply disturbed woman who is driven to emotionally and occasionally physically hurt others who dare oppose her selfish ways, in this case her own quadriplegic son Allan, even in his physically helpless state. There is a possibility after Allan's "The Reason You Suck" Speech against her that Dorothy would have played this trope straight by plotting to murder Allan out of spite and retaliation for insulting her and make it look like he either had an accident, attempted suicide again only this time succeeding or had succumbed to his quadriplegia. Ella is this especially as she did all the killing in the book and film.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: The lazy and uncaring Maryanne. Allan even referred to her as "Nurse Ratched."
  • Berserk Button: Allan's opposition of any form against Dorothy is one for her, especially his "The Reason You Suck" Speech towards her.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Dorothy, Allan's abusive scumbag mother and the film's secondary antagonist, who wants him to remain paralyzed so she could look after him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Allan is able to kill Ella and save Melanie in both versions. The book shows that Allan remained Quadriplegic while In the movie he has his condition fixed. However, his best friend, his mother, his ex-girlfriend, his former surgeon and his former nurse's bird are all dead thanks to Ella. Even though Ella's the one at fault because she didn't understand fantasy from reality, Allan feels guilty and believes that he killed all but his friend as Ella was influencing and responding to his Anger.
  • Broken Ace and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Dorothy doesn't care about Allan or anyone else, she only cares about herself and her wants and is looking after him to fill the empty greedy black hole that is her own life.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Bullying the Disabled, then Ella would avenge the disabled.
  • Bullying the Disabled: Linda, Wiseman, Maryanne and his mother Dorothy all do this to Allan.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Dorothy's response to Allan calling her out on her selfish nature is to slap him and disown him as her son rather then take responsibility on her faults.
  • Control Freak: Dorothy, who desires to control every aspect of Allan's life pettily for herself over him.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster for the movie above makes it look like the film is about a killer toy monkey.
  • Death by Racism: Most of Ella's victims had been Bullying the Disabled towards Allan out of ableism.
  • Dr. Jerk: and Narcissist: Dr. John Wiseman is a sleazy surgeon who's so overconfident and egotistical that sometimes he misses things and only cares about his pride, not the effectiveness of his work. It was his massive ego that caused Allan's condition. If Wiseman had paid more attention during the surgery, Allan wouldn't have been quadriplegic. You don't feel sorry for him when he's killed. The only time he does show concern for Allan was after his suicide attempt as he tells Dorothy to go back home as she's only going to make his situation worse if she plans to move in, although it's also possible he told her this as her making the situation worse would repeatedly result in Allan attempting suicide and it would inconvenience him and also result in Allan finding out about his relationship with Linda.
    • Subverted with Dr. Williams, another Neurosurgeon who unlike Wiseman, puts his patients' well being first and while slightly older, mostly middle aged, is both far more experienced and competent than Wiseman. He still has doubts about giving Allan Surgery and the effectiveness of it unless he has proof that Allan can make a voluntary movement, even if it's only a finger or a toe, to which he will agree to operate. When Allan is able to move his right arm as part of his killing Ella and Saving Melanie, Williams is the surgeon to undo the quadriplegia, giving Allan his body back.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: During her Motive Rant Villainous Breakdown, Dorothy vented this out as she accuses Allan of being an Ungrateful Bastard.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In the film, Allan is told that surgery to reverse his condition may be possible, but only if he's able to move one of his limbs on his own, even if it's only a finger or a toe. Near the climax, Ella attempts to poison Melanie. When Ella tries to make the injection, Allan is able to move his right arm to engage his tape deck to trick Ella in order to kill her and save Melanie. After succeeding, he gets the surgery and is able to move on his own again, free from both Ella's and his Abusive Mom's grasp.
  • Empty Nest: Dorothy's motive for caring for Allan is this, but is portrayed in a negative selfish light as Allan refers to Dorothy's interpretation of it as a "greedy black hole."
  • Entitled Bitch: Dorothy is a unrepentant, selfish, domineering Abusive Parent Control Freak towards her son, yet she still expects appreciation nonetheless for her actions.
  • Expy:
    • When the cards are all down, Dorothy reveals herself to be one of Norma Batesnote  and Annie Wilkes.
    • For the similar predicament he's in, Allan is one of Michael Caine's character Jon Lansdale.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Ella vs Dorothy, two possessive Yanderes trying to compete for Allan for themselves.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Geoffrey's plan to make monkeys smarter by injecting them with human brain tissue leads them to become nearly too human and any human near them to nearly become them. Fortunately, Allan manages to kill Ella and completely retain his humanity.
  • Fair Weather Friend: Allan's initial girlfriend Linda Aikmen, who leaves him when he becomes quadriplegic. She starts seeing his incompetent and egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. John Wiseman. You don't feel sorry for her when she & Wiseman are killed by Ella.
  • Hate Sink: Given Ella is just an animal injected by a brain hormone, Dorothy is likely designated to be a despicable and unrepentant character ranging from an annoying My Beloved Smother to a downright loathsome and selfish Abusive Parent who torments and even violently slaps a physically helpless quadriplegic man when things don't go her way. Out of the other victims of Ella, Dorothy's death is the most relieving and well deserved. Also, Maryanne early in the film is a lazy and uncaring shrew of a Battleaxe Nurse who cares for her stupid pet bird over the patient she is supposed to tend to and with a Never My Fault complex who accuses Allan of being an Ungrateful Bastard rather than accepting her own irresponsibilities.
  • High-Voltage Death: How Dorothy bites it in the bathtub.
  • Hypocrite: Dorothy as she wants to be the only one looking after Allan and nobody else, yet earlier in the film she hired an uncaring nurse.
  • I Have No Son!: Dorothy doesn't actually say this, but after angrily and violently slapping Allan in retaliation for calling her out on her unpleasant and unrepentant nature much that insulted and outraged her to intentionally ignoring Allan's warnings in the bath out of her own vanity, Dorothy seems to vehemently and selfishly disown Allan as her son. If Ella hadn't murdered her, Dorothy would've packed up and moved out of Allan's life with the intent of never coming back out of pride, preservation or worse the reverse, she could've literally kicked Allan out of his own house, due to having to sell her own home and business to move in with him and never wanting to see him again after perceiving him to being ungrateful for her "care" possibly deliberately without informing Melanie or his other friends so they could never find him as he rots away alone somewhere for dead. Or another possibility which is much more heinous in comparison to the last two theories if Dorothy had lived, she would have plotted to murder Allan out of spite and make it look like he either had an accident, attempted suicide again only this time succeeding or had succumbed to his quadriplegia, making Ella killing her a Villainous Rescue for her master Allan.
  • If I Can't Have You...: There is a possibility if Dorothy had lived, she would have plotted to murder Allan in retaliation for calling her out, preferring Melanie over her and being an Ungrateful Bastard.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Allan asks Dorothy if she heard from Geoffrey as he has Ella. Dorothy Tells Allan Geoffrey can keep Ella for all she cares, showing she actually hates the monkey. Allan reveals he asked Geoffrey to do so, causing Dorothy to erroneously believe that Ella did something bad to Melanie and that she asked Allan to get rid of her. Dorothy then nastily says "You do anything she asks in a minute," showing that she completely despises Melanie. For this contradictory responses, she's just trying to find a flawed excuse to express her contempt for either Melanie or Ella to Allan.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Allan tries to warn his mother Dorothy of what danger Ella poses to protect her, but Dorothy selfishly and rancorously jealously thinks Allan's replacing her with Melanie as the main TLC provider for him.
  • Jealous Parent: Dorothy is the Selfish type, as she objects to Melanie looking after Allan over her.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Dorothy, as caring for a paralyzed child of theirs even if she's a My Beloved Smother is one thing, but doing so out of selfishness rather than for the quadriplegic himself is another.
  • Jump Scare: After Allan is able to move his right arm and then kill Ella, he gets surgery to return his body to normal. When an incision is made, Allan flatlines and Ella jumps out of his back, alive. Fortunately, it's just a nightmare and he wakes up fine and able to move on his own again.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Maryanne's pet bird unknowingly attacks quadriplegic Allan in his bed and when Maryanne finally makes it to Allan, she nearly pushes him out, even though it was accident as she was trying to catch her bird and tried to pull him back to his bed to undo her mistake. Later an insulted and outraged Dorothy violently and mercilessly slaps Allan after he pressed her Berserk Button with his "The Reason You Suck" Speech against her.
  • Loser Protagonist: Allan, if getting paralyzed from the neck down is bad enough, he ends up constantly on the receiving end of Bullying the Disabled by multiple acquaintances of his, including his Abusive Mom.
  • Mad Scientist: Fisher, who made Ella homicidal with his brain hormone.
  • Motive Rant: Dorothy vented this out to Allan in amidst of her Villainous Breakdown.
  • Mood-Swinger: The mentally unstable Dorothy can go from an annoying Stepford Smiler of a My Beloved Smother to a mean-spirited and belligerent Abusive Parent in a cinch when Allan openly opposes her.
  • My Beloved Smother and It's All About Me: Allan's mother Dorothy, who only moved in to look after him without his consent and before he could make other plans, to Dominate him and treat him like a child. It also turns out that she was responsible for Allan's neighbors moving away when he was a kid, not because she was a realtor, but because they found her unpleasant. She also gains animosity and contempt towards Allan's new girlfriend Melaine Parker, a specialist in quadriplegia and helper Monkeys who trained Ella. Dorothy believes that Melanie asked Allan to get rid of Ella and says "You do anything She asks in a Minute.", in a rather nasty tone. When Ella escapes Geoffry's lab and makes her way back to Allan's house, Allan, while under her influence calls his mother out on her behavior saying that she doesn't really care about him or anybody else as she's only doing this for herself. When Allan calls her out, she then angrily slaps him once, causing him to break out of Ella's influence. An outraged and insulted Dorothy, instead of realizing her mistake right away, starts violently slapping him repeatedly and when he's under Ella's influence again, he menacingly tells her that she deserves whatever she gets and that he hates her. For being so unrepentant, you don't feel sorry for her when she becomes Ella's fourth victim.
  • Neck Snap: Ella's first Murder victim is Allan's uncaring nurse's pet bird after it attacks Allan in his Bed. Ella makes her way to the nurse's room, discreetly opens the bird's cage and as the bird tries to escape, Ella grabs hold of it while its flying and snaps its neck. We only hear it and then are shown the dead bird after it falls out of one of the nurse's slippers, with it's head dislocated. Ella gets her's snapped by Allan in an unusual way.
  • Never My Fault: Battleaxe Nurse Maryanne, My Beloved Smother Abusive Mom Dorothy and Slimeball Dr. Jerk Wiseman all never took responsibility for their own faults that screwed Allan over.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Dorothy's reaction to Allan preferring Melanie over her.
  • Offing the Offspring: It's implied Dorothy's Evil Plan while plotting in the bathtub and ignoring Allan's warnings at the time of her High-Voltage Death was to murder him in Disproportionate Retribution for calling her out and Make It Look Like an Accident related to him succumbing to his quadriplegia.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Dorothy uses Allan's recent quadriplegia to dominate him out of her own selfishness.
  • Parental Incest: Dorothy's contempt of Melanie's affections for her son and the fact she bathes him herself is disturbingly hinted to be this, to point after Allan's weekend with Melanie, Dorothy goes full-blown Yandere with her Villainous Breakdown. It's possible Dorothy may have selfishly viewed Allan as an extension of his father, who she can smother and abuse as she pleases.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: If their disregard for Allan's paralysis and his mother's Condescending Compassion towards him to take care of him against his wishes, Linda, Wiseman, Maryanne and his mother Dorothy are all ableist to different degrees.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Calling the Old Man Out and Youre Not My Mother: Allan, while under Ella's influence tells Dorothy the truth about her "giving up everything" for him: she doesn't care about him she only cares about herself and that her life is nothing but an empty greedy black hole and that she's been trying to suck him in for as long as he can remember. He finally ends his rant by saying he wants her out of his life and she's a conniving, clinging and blood sucking bitch. This becomes a Berserk Button for her.
  • Revised Ending: The original intended one that was seen only as a special feature on the Blu-ray release. Prior to Dorothy and Geoffrey's deaths, Geoffrey's boss Dean Harold Burbage (Stephen Root) steals the remaining brain tissue serum and injects it into all of Geoffrey's remaining test monkeys. Later on, Burbage is assaulted by animal rights protesters who had earlier attacked Geoffrey for experimenting on monkeys. Burbage insults them then returns to the lab where it's discovered that all of the remaining monkeys have completely taken control of his mind.
  • Save the Villain: Sure, Dorothy was an Abusive Mom, but Allan still tried to save her from Ella's wrath, only for the former to intentionally ignore his warnings out of personal vanity.
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: Allan's Abusive Mom Dorothy was once a realtor who sold a house belonging to neighbors Allan liked. While the neighbors liked Allan and his father, they hated Dorothy and moved to get away from her.
  • The Sociopath: It seems Dorothy appears to be a low functioning one, as she is appears to be an unrepentant, selfish and manipulative scumbag who cares only for herself so much, that she even abuses her physically helpless son Allan when he doesn't give her the entitlement she believes she should deserve despite her unpleasantness.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Hand, another horror film distributed by Orion Pictures based on a book about a bitter, disabled protagonist and how an evil, independent entity telepathically connected to him killed anybody who angered and/or wronged him. Even music composer David Shire's music score for this film had similar sensibilities to fellow composer James Horner's score for The Hand. On a trivial noteinvoked, both films featured an actor would would later have a supporting role in a 90s Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie directed by Peter Hyams and distributed by Universal Studios (The Hand featured Bruce McGill, who would co-star with Linda's actress Janine Turner in Cliffhanger, who would later appear in Timecop, while this film featured Kate McNeil, who would appear in Sudden Death). Also, both films each featured a cast member from Romero's horror anthology film Creepshow (this film featured Romero's then-wife Christine Forrest, who appeared in the anthology film's segment "The Crate," as the Battleaxe Nurse, while The Hand featured Viveca Lindfors, who appeared in the anthology film's other segment "Father's Day," as a psychologist).
  • Stepford Smiler: Dorothy, when she moves in with her son. However, there's a subtle hint of her true repulsive nature when Allan sees his right hand move on its own. When he tells her he saw it, she doesn't believe him and rudely tells him she doesn't like the way he's behaving. Her Martha Stewart/Paula Deen-esque chipper-ness goes away when Allan returns from his weekend with Melanie.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Allan's lazy and uncaring nurse accuses him of being this. However she barely does her job, which makes Allan point out it's hard for him to be grateful when all she does is read magazines and show affection towards her stupid pet bird, which she angrily accuses him and Ella of murdering before she Rage Quit as his nurse. Technically Allan wanted the bird gone and Ella tapped into his thoughts and killed it herself, even though he wasn't telling Ella he wanted the bird dead or to kill it.
    • Played straight with Allan's mother Dorothy. When Allan returns from his weekend with Melanie, she's upset as she didn't know where he was and he didn't answer when she called twelve times. Allan says they decided not to answer the phone. It's natural for Dorothy to be upset about not knowing where her son is and for not knowing their plans ahead of time. However, instead of thanking Melanie for looking after Allan, Dorothy just glares at her angrily and with contempt.
    • Dorothy would also accuse Allan of being this for not appreciating her care for him. However, Allan points out that she's doing this for herself, not for him.
  • Villainous Breakdown, Before Ella's first kill, the injection of the brain serum into her makes her angry and violent, as well as beginning her psychic link to Allan meaning her presence causes his anger to come out and when she's angry, he becomes angry when he's not. There's also when Allan's uncaring nurse's pet bird attacks Allan in his bed, he's angry and frightened, the latter because the bird's trying to peck his eyes out, which causes Ella to fear for her "master" and become violently angry.
  • World of Jerkass: Almost every character in the film is an unrepentant Jerkass to some extent with the exceptions of Allan, Melanie, Dr. Williams, Allan's other friends, his old coach and his teacher.
  • Yandere: Ella and Dorothy are ones for Allan.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: an interesting case. Allan is able to move his right arm on his own to engage his tape deck, proving that surgery to allow him to move again is possible and that he'll no longer need a helper monkey. Also, Geoffrey told Allan the truth about what he did to Ella moments before he was killed by her. Now knowing that Ella is abnormal, Allan tricks her by engaging his tape deck and convincing her to hug him and then he bites her in the neck and swings her back and forth, killing her via Neck Snap. Allan then gets the surgery and is able to move on his own again.

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