Monkey Shines is a befuddled story about a man constrained from the neck down told by a director confused from the neck up.
Jason Beghe starts out as a very virile, able-bodied young man with everything going for him, an up-and-coming physical specimen much desired by girlfriend Janine Turner and fawned over by mother Joyce Van Patten.
An accident robs Beghe of all physical ability below his jawline, leaving him despondently dependent on an array of technology.
As melodrama, this is all pretty good stuff and could have continued to a convincing conclusion. But by contract, inclination and reputation (not to mention the book [by Michael Stewart] the film’s based on), Romero is a horror-film director.
So here comes Beghe’s best friend John Pankow, a yuppie mad scientist busy at the nearby university slicing up the brain of a dead Jane Doe and injecting the hormones into monkeys to make them smarter.
To help his friend, Pankow volunteers one of his highly intelligent, chemically dependent capuchins to be trained by Melanie Parker to serve as Beghe’s companion and helper. For a while, this all works beautifully. Until something dreadful happens.