Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - MONKEY SHINES and THE DARK HALF on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scream Factory - MONKEY SHINES and THE DARK HALF on Blu-ray

MONKEY SHINES (1988; George A. Romero)
As a longtime horror movie fan, I find myself getting a funny feeling when I see a character going for an invigorating jog outside to the strains of life-affirming music when the credit "Special Makeup effects by Tom Savini" pops up on a screen. It feels like it could be foreshadowing some stuff and in the case of MONKEY SHINES it kind of is. I think MONKEY SHINES also reminds me of a time when I was really getting into horror movies in a more serious way and I know I stumbled across it on the VHS shelves of my local video store. There's still a nostalgia there for me as I didn't see any of the flaws in the movie back then and instead, I felt all the suspense that Romero brought to it. I'm sure this movie scread the crap out of me as a teenager. Now I see it differently, but I still have a fondness for it.
I have a great affection for movies where animals turn on people and become deadly. There's just something about the idea that humans see themselves as the dominant species and how easily that can be undercut (at least in terms of this  "genre" of movies) has always fascinated me. Maybe I'm just a bigger fan of animals than of people, who knows. MONKEY SHINES is an interesting entry because it deals with a rather helpless main character (a paraplegic) and that creates this incredible tension in terms of the vulnerability that is inherent to that situation. It's especially interesting in light of recent "monkey" films like RISE and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. MONKEY SHINES is obviously on a much smaller scale and is a more emotional love story at its core which is a very fine line to walk and pull off. I can't say it all works for me, but the last 15 minutes or so has some wonderfully tense stuff that Romero does a nice job with. Romero has mentioned Hitchcock on many occasions as an inspirational figure for him as a filmmaker. I really think he has  a solid knack for putting together a lot of nice suspenseful sequences and I give him a lot of credit for that. Also, there are two good villain roles in here for Stanley Tucci and Stephen Root and they are both neat to see in earlier roles nowadays. Overall though, I think MONKEY SHINES is a fun ride and one of the more unjustly overlooked films in Romero's career. 
Special Features:
-An audio commentary from Director George A. Romero.
-"An Experiment in Fear: The Making of MONKEY SHINES" (49 mins) - well-done look back at the production via interviews with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Peter Grunwald (executive producer), actress Kate McNeil, actor Jason Beghe, actor John Pankow, Greg Nicotero and Everett Burrell (special makeup effects). Romero talks about leaving his partner/company he had made his previous films with and going out on his own and how he was suggested for MONKEY SHINES. They touch on the development process, casting, the special effects, the problematic nature of working with monkeys (& how instrumental the effects team was in filling in the gaps for the things that the monkeys themselves wouldn't do), and the issues that the movie had overall with its reception and Orion's poor approach to the film's marketing.
-The Alternate ending to the movie (5 mins) - which is highlighted by a killer psychotic grin from Stephen Root.
-Deleted scenes (4 mins)
-Behind the Scenes footage (1 min) - a quick assembly of on-set video footage from various scenes.

THE DARK HALF (1993; George A. Romero)
George Romero and Stephen King came together previously just over a decade prior to this with the horror anthology classic CREEPSHOW. This time it was Romero who did the screenplay, basing it on King's book. The result is not as successful as CREEPSHOW, but it is nonetheless interesting. He had also written the script for CREEPSHOW 2 which featured adaptations of King's work as well.
I have a soft spot for artists commenting on their art via the medium they work best. Movies about making movies for example are almost always fun for me. The same can be said for authors writing about writers. I enjoy that. My favorite part of THE DARK HALF comes near the beginning when Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is giving a college lecture about the duality that he believes all humans have. He basically says that we all have this side of ourselves that we show to the world and then there's the inner more passionate, uninhibited part of us that has to be set free in order to achieve  genuine and authentic writing from yourself. I've heard other writers echo that same sentiment and I think there's a lot of truth to it. The whole idea of a writer (or a filmmaker) trying to create    either a more personal versus a more commercial book or film is a struggle that I am quite sure many many artists deal with all the time. George Romero is traditionally a very independently-spirited and minded director and so it must have been a dicey thing to take on a large scale, tricky effects-heavy proposition like THE DARK HALF. CREEPSHOW's budget was $8 million (in 1982), whereas THE DARK HALF cost about $15 million (in 1993). Both those budgets seem like nothing in the current climate of Hollywood tentpoles regularly running up tabs of $150 million plus, but if you consider that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD topped out at $114,000 it's easy to imagine things being a little more high pressure at THE DARK HALF price point.
As I said, while the film isn't entirely successful in its endeavors, it is still an interesting take on what is basically an "evil twin" kind of film. The supporting cast is solid and included the likes of Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Royal Dano and others. It is certainly a hugely ambitious effort on the part of Romero, who is a guy I always root for. And he goes to some pretty dark places (pun not intended) for a big release like this and hats off to him for that as well.  

Special Features:
-An audio commentary from Director George A. Romero. Romero speaks to his experiences with Orion and the troubles that the production had as well as his thoughts on Stephen King and how the special effects in the movie were done. Romero is a thoughtful, intelligent director and gives a lively and jovial commentary track. 
 -"The Sparrows Are Flying Again" - a 36-minute making-of retrospective doc In which Romero discusses the things that drew him to the material (the Jekyll & Hyde side of things and so forth). Also touched upon interestingly is the friction that Timothy Hutton brought to the set with his method approach to his character(s). This is mentioned not only by Romero, but also some of the FX people and even co-star Michael Rooker. Also discussed are the motion control and bird effects which were pretty complex especially for the time. It's really a fascinating story of Romero and all the difficulties he had finding his way through on this production which was the biggest he had taken on at that point.
-Deleted Scenes (8 mins)
-Behind the Scenes Footage: Special Effects (16 mins)
-Behind the Scenes Footage: On the Set (9 mins)
-Storyboards for the Original Ending (2 mins)
-Original Electronic Press Kit (7 mins)

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