Back in the day (holy shit, I'm old), America got sandbagged when it came to overseas genre films. If you're a kaiju fan, you know exactly what I'm talking about. We had to settle for an artless, truncated version of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Sure, it still ruled, but only because it was King Kong vs. Godzilla. That shit is one of a kind. Other, more cerebral creature features didn't survive the inculcation of a dozen scissor-happy home video censors. Take Monkey Boy, for instance. It began its life as a BBC mini-series entitled Chimera. Based on the book of the same name, this sci-fi teleplay told a tale of foolhardy genetic experimentation over the span of four hours. I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds a little too smart for domestic consumption.
Just kidding! Or am I? OR AREN'T I? Either way, someone thought that Chimera was too high-brow for us, so Prism Entertainment whittled it down to 100 minutes, give or take. If that wasn't insulting enough, they packaged it as an exploitation film, sideshow title and all. Now, I implied that Monkey Boy suffered from exorbitant cuts, and maybe it did. That seems to be the general consensus. However, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't rapt by its layered script and deliberate pacing. Would I have a different opinion if I had seen Chimera? That is the question. Of course, it's a dubious question, since I'll probably never lay eyes on the original mini-series.
With nothing to compare it to, I'd wager that most horror fanatics would get a kick out of Monkey Boy. Admittedly, the plot is a habitual melange of "mad scientist" euphuisms that wore out their welcome in the 50's, but writer Stephen Gallagher finds a way to repurpose those conventions. Adapting his own novel, there is no doubt that he knew the characters better than anyone. I didn't spot any one-dimensional stereotypes. It's kind of amazing that the leads are fleshed out, seeing as how the film is missing OVER TWO HOURS of footage. Naturally, the exposition is rushed. From what I understand, the first episode of Chimera ends at the 15-minute mark of Monkey Boy. Wowzers.
Three paragraphs, and I haven't even mentioned the monster. What the fuck is wrong with me? Let me break it down for you. If Curious George had a Belial-esque Siamese twin (and carried him around in a basket), it would look like Chad. Oh, that's his name. Chad. Spooky! Actually, he's a sympathetic anti-villain in the tradition of Universal icons such as Frankenstein's creation and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The make-up effects are grand. In fact, Monkey Boy succeeds in staving off the trappings of the television medium. It's worth a look. I'm being somewhat generous with my rating, but I can't fault a production for its production history. Having said that, it's no King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 11:27 PM