Saturday, January 10, 2015


(R, Quest Entertainment, 100 mins., release date: October 5, 1990)

This is an Orlando-shot killer monkey film with the name Shakma.



Watch the monkey get hur...

No, I promised myself I wouldn't reference a certain Peter Gabriel song which was previously the opening credits music for another film about scared simians. There's more that needs to be said about this film than just a mere slam-dunk, MST3k-style allusion. God help me to hold out long enough to find the right words to discuss Shakma, of all things.

Well, first off, the film's alternate, international title is Panic in the Tower, whose cover art superimposes a shrieky monkey over what appears to be the Nakatomi Plaza. That gives the impression that the movie makes cunning use of its particular architectural coup, which is something that does not happen at all throughout the 100 minutes of this lame attempt at a Showtime original movie. At no point does the mad mandrill chase its victims through ventilation ducts or up to some cryptic, undiscovered floor of the building. The monkey doesn't corner anyone on the roof, which seems wrong considering it's a vital cliché for a movie of such stunning originality as Shakma.

It's just a group of people forever stuck on the fourth floor, no climbing or swinging required. You could almost call it existential given how restless the movie makes you feel.

Secondly, the filmmakers went to the trouble of casting a credited animal performer named Typhoon the Baboon. Sadly, he never would act again before or after this, but he fares better than his slumming homosapien co-stars, among them Ape-man Roddy McDowall and Blue Lagoon maroon Christopher Atkins, going from Beaks to Cheeks. The method acting going in Typhoon's primitive brain whenever he hurls himself against a door, which comprises much of his role, is a wonderful thing. Compare him to Roddy McDowall, who appears to have been in the early stages of Alzheimer's throughout. At least he's not living the self-fulfilling prophecy of standing idly by as a demented madman in a ski mask runs around, hacking up young virgins.

There's also Amanda Wyss and Ari Meyers as the dueling eye candy, Wyss being Atkins' primary love interest and Meyers the infatuated younger girl, respectively. Amanda Wyss has the edge because she was involved in three seminal 1980s films: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Better Off Dead... The former Kate & Allie teen starlet, meanwhile, went from playing Al Pacino's fictional daughter in the overlooked Author! Author! to starring alongside The Barbarian Brothers and a chicken bone. And I also kept confusing her with Lori Loughlin.

Shakma begins with some tender scenes of graphic brain surgery, no doubt intended to shock you to life (sorry), but also to introduce us to Roddy McDowall as Dr. Sorenson, chief of staff for the medical school situated in this ten-story office building meant to be a tower. Sorenson and his charges also apparently have a proud weekend tradition involving a Dungeons & Dragons-style LARP game called "Nemesis," where they adopt secret identities and wander aimlessly throughout the rooms collecting clues to help rescue the princess situated on the fifth floor, like they're Gleep Glop and the Floopty-Doos.

Enter the monkey in the wrench, Shakma, the titular baboon who reacts harshly to having his naked brain injected with corticotropin. He attacks the students, drawing blood from one of them, and is sedated by his trainer Sam (Atkins) before Sorenson arrives in a fit of exasperation and demands Shakma be put to sleep. Sam realizes he made a mistake by injecting the wrong substance into his prized pet, but shrugs it off and decides to let the resident lackey Richard (Greg Flowers) dispose of the damned, dirty ape.

Vague statements of scientific purpose aside, the game remains on, with Richard's sister Kimberly (Meyers) playing the fair maiden and Sorenson as the Game Master, tracking their progress through homing devices and walkie-talkie updates. The players in this case are Sam, his feisty girlfriend Tracy (Wyss), token black Gary (Robb Morris), and noxious nerd Bradley (Tre Laughlin), who sounds like the Comic Book Guy doing a John Malkovich impression.

But Shakma is far from dead, which Bradley learns the hard way when he goes into the specimen room to find Shakma having killed and/or eaten nearly all the caged critters before experiencing a fatal monkey pile. Sorenson sends Richard to investigate, and he too gets assaulted by Shakma despite arming himself with a glass of hydrochloric acid. Sorenson leaves his post to discover Richard's melted corpse, but cannot hitch an elevator ride to safety in time before he gets his own demise. This leaves Sam and Tracy to ponder all manner of failed distractions and escape plans, with Shakma poised to attack around virtually every corner.

Did I mention that this simian slasher film takes up 100 minutes of film? That's nearly two hours of screen time, all in the service of a thinly-plotted excuse for bloodletting which is as mediocre in its supposed scares as it is presenting the contrived scenario which isolates the various characters. It runs about as long as either King Kong Lives or Link, only without the bracingly apeshit inanity of either film. Shakma just dawdles along in its dumbness, especially in the overlong attempts of its erstwhile heroes to take charge of a situation that should not be so difficult to control.

The situation is that Sorenson has locked up the entire building, including every office where a phone may be conveniently accessed, and apparently even the windows prove inconvenient for any rescue. All this for a silly LARP more than any sense of security. Whenever Sam suggests escaping from the ground floor or Tracy produces a strobe light, the results fizzle out ridiculously. A tremendous deal of the chasing involves the duo holding the stairwell door closed as Shakma bounces repeatedly off it before scampering away. The only real moment of tension is when Tracy hides herself in a wooden bureau, Shakma clawing away murderously, but even this is defused by Sam's utter impotence as a hero, something which the finale tries to subvert by activating his own primal instincts, but instead provokes half-hearted chuckles much like the rest of the endeavor.

You'd think there would be some kind of novelty to a baboon as bogeyman, but directors Hugh Parks (another cautionary tale in exploitation history) and Tom Logan fail to capitalize. With the exception of the acid-burned Richard, Shakma's pouncing upon the human cast is dull and reliant on big reveals rather than bloody wrestling (the scenes of which you do get are reliably laughable). Furthermore, given how many times it tries to break through the stairwell door, you wonder how come Shakma's doesn't lose an arm in the struggle, or at least experience some minor injury when confronted with acid. Even the allegedly trained monkey doesn't appear to be directed properly, which further discredits the supposed bond between Sam and Shakma.

Poor Christopher Atkins, a frequent Razzie regular (A Night in Heaven, Listen to Me) who was even up for the "Worst New Star of the Decade" prize the year Shakma was released, makes for a bland male lead, routinely overshadowed by Typhoon as well as the likes of the charming Amanda Wyss (who gets away with the movie's crowning achievement in dopey dialogue with the line "You are sooo male!") and the coasting Roddy McDowall. The rest of the cast is wholly negligible given how keen the movie is to have them bumped off, which could constitute a series of mercy killings given how much color they add to the proceedings, if only the film weren't so boring.

The trailer for Shakma, however, is truly legendary. Not only does it compact the essence of the main characters in a tighter way than the movie proper, but the Percy Rodrigues stand-in doing the narration really goes bananas by the end. I mean, seriously..."Christopher Atkins, two-time winner of the National Association of Theatre Owners' 'Star of the Year' award, first for Blue Lagoon, now for Shakma." You don't even have to watch this amateurishly-edited preview to ask yourself, "What theaters did this ever play in?" But I recommend you do...

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