The Principles: Elisabeth Shue, Terence Stamp, Steven Pinner, David O’ Hara and introducing Locke as Link. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Produced and Directed by Richard Franklin.
The Premise: Jane Chase is a pretty young American graduate student who accepts an assistant job from her eccentric zoology professor at his remote Scottish mansion where he studies and experiments on three brilliant apes. There are two submissive chimpanzees and a dangerously aggressive orangutan named Link, whom develops an unnatural attraction to her. As Link’s libido grows more out of control, so does the horror as Jane soon realizes it’s time to stop “monkeying around” and scram!
Is it any good: Most definitely! This is a top-notch monkey horror film of the highest caliber. The acting, script and direction are all excellent and unlike most “animal attack” movies, this one has a psychosexual element that definitely puts it into a category all of its own. This is pulled off nicely due to some equally amazing acting from the three primates featured in the film, most particularly Locke, the orangutan that portrays the titular character.
I remember hearing not too long ago about a California couple that had an unfortunate incident that made the national headlines. It seems this husband and wife had raised a chimpanzee since birth, but at a certain age they were forced to give him to a shelter that cares for primates. Once apes reach a certain age they become too aggressive to keep as a pet. They frequently visited the monkey, and on one fateful day they brought their old pet a cake to celebrate its birthday. Big mistake. The other apes in a nearby cage became insane with jealousy and somehow managed to break loose. They attacked the man and mauled him viciously, tearing off his face and his genitals before workers subdued them. True story.
Monkeys may look like we do a little and sure everybody loves to see one wearing clothes and acting like a person, but just because they remind us of ourselves we must never forget that at any moment they are capable of breaking our necks with as much effort as it takes to open a beer bottle. There’s nothing more ferocious than a pissed-off ape with the taste of blood on its lips. Now try adding a sexually aggressive primate into the equation and you got yourself Link, which plays a little bit like King Kong meets Psycho.
Maybe this is because the film is directed by the Australian Hitchcock of the eighties Richard Franklin, who gave us the Ozploitation gems Patrick and Road Games, the highly underrated sequel Psycho II, Cloak & Dagger and F/X 2. Franklin does a very artful job at building suspense as Link begins to take out anyone that stands in the way of obtaining the main object of his desires: Elisabeth Shue. I can’t say I blame him much. I myself have had a crush on her ever since I first saw The Karate Kid.
Terrence Stamp (old General Zod himself) is on hand for the first two acts of the film as a whacked out zoology professor who’s trying to make monkeys act like people. He’s done a pretty good job of turning Link into a tuxedo-wearing butler who occasionally enjoys chilling out with a fine cigar. But, Link kills him when he suspects his master has plans to put him down and quite cunningly manages to convince Elisabeth Shue’s character that the professor has simply left without telling anyone. This leaves Shue stuck in a huge old mansion in the Scottish countryside surrounded by packs of wild dogs with a homicidal orangutan that wants to fuck her. I’m not kidding. Link has got the hots for Shue and he’s in full pimp mode.
Which brings me to the real star of this movie, Locke the ape that portrays Link. What can I say? He’s one of the best monkey actors I’ve seen since Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose, except Locke has a little more in his acting arsenal than flipping people the bird and drinking beer. Link is a stone cold playa with a palpable sexuality. He’s the Rudolph Valentino of orangutans and his scenes with Shue simmer with simian sensuality. There’s a taboo-smashing bathtub moment between the two that contains so much sexual tension you could cut it with a knife. Or a banana.
The film concludes with some major monkey violence and a fiery ending to the carnage as Link smokes a final stogie in defiance on the roof of the burning mansion ala James Cagney in White Heat. Richard Franklin did a typically splendid job of creating a really fun, strange little “animal attack” movie that definitely went for a unique and original twist on the genre and killed it. His combination of suspense, action and humor is a perfect balance. Oh, and you also have another fantastic musical score from the legendary Jerry Goldsmith that gives even the creepiest moments that light Gremlins flavor.
Is it worth a look: Just to see Link the orangutan ogle Elisabeth Shue’s completely nude body is worth a viewing alone!
Random anecdotes: Link was originally supposed to be a chimpanzee, but Locke the orangutan landed the highly coveted role. His fur was dyed black to make him look more like a chimp.
Cinematic soul mates:King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, Monkey Shines, Project X, Project Nim and Shakma.