13 Amazing Horror Movies Starring Monkeys
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
Monkeys and their ilk are lovable and cute. They eat bananas and are really smart. Sometimes their disembodied paws can grant you wishes. In spite of this, movies very frequently represent them as evil and murderous, and those who make said wishes pay the price. Maybe people feel threatened by primates because they still harbor an irrational fear of Michael Jackson, may he rest in peace, who once traveled everywhere with his beloved chimpanzee Bubbles. We may never know why monkeys cause so much trouble in movies, but we love them for it. This week, in honor of the premiere of The Monkey’s Paw on Chiller (Friday, January 24th at 9pm ET - be there!), we present the 13 Best Horror Monkeys.
1. King Kong (1933)
What more is there to say about King Kong? He is the horror movie monkey, and one of the great sympathetic “monsters” of all time. The images of him carrying Fay Wray through Manhattan are some of the most iconic in all of cinema.
2. Monkey Shines (1986)
Allan, a handsome and successful yuppie, is rendered quadriplegic by a jogging accident. Ella (played by Boo), a brilliant monkey who has been injected with human brain cells by a speed-freak chemist, saves Allan from a suicidal depression. She becomes his best friend, does his chores, and fulfills all of his needs. Things go a bit awry when she starts reading his mind and making his revenge fantasies about his enemies become reality. They get really messy when Ella’s pet trainer falls in love with Allan, and Ella gets jealous. George A. Romero’s film does for pet ownership what Fatal Attraction did for dating. Where was Boo’s Oscar nomination?
3. Creepshow (1980)
A professor comes across a giant, ape-link primordial monster living in a crate under the stairs of his college’s science department. The monster kills a janitor and a graduate student (they are always the first to go in academia), before the professor has the bright idea that he’d like to introduce the creature to his insanely shrewish wife, Billie (played by the always delightful Adrienne Barbeau). Take a look at some of the monkey's reign of terror in the above clip, after a beautiful montage of Adrienne Barbeau showing why she's always typecast as a delicate, demure flower.
4. Link (1986)
Elisabeth Shue plays Jane, a graduate student desperate to become Research Assistant to the crazy-haired scientist Dr. Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp). He lives in an isolated old mansion with several apes and Link, a genius orangutan who serves as house butler and magician (one of the doctor’s rules is that Jane shouldn’t get involved with the animals’ inter-personal dramas). When Steven suggests that it might be time to put Link out to pasture, he disappears, leaving Jane alone in the house with Link, who has (of course) developed feelings for her. He won’t let her leave the house or use the phone, he develops the Michael Myers-like gift of omnipotence, and he threatens her with fire. It’s sort of like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? meets Gorillas in the Mist. Fun fact: Locke, who plays Link, was trained by Ray Berwick, who also trained Alfred Hitchcock’s “Birds”!
5. Shakma (1990)
Primate species apparently pose major threats to academics. A truly formidable cast, including Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon’s blonde heartthrob), Amanda Wyss (Freddy Krueger’s first victim in A Nightmare on Elm Street), Ari Meyers (Kate and Allie) and Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes), portray a group of medical students taking part in a Dungeons and Dragons style role-playing game in their medical facility, with their professor as Dungeonmaster. First of all, it seems like some professional boundaries are being violated here. Second, haven’t they heard that Dungeons and Dragons is a gateway to Satanism? They find this out pretty quickly when a baboon that has escaped from a laboratory kills them one by one. The PTA and PETA would both undoubtedly endorse this film, particularly the latter because Shakma gets the primary placement of last cast member highlighted in the trailer's star role call, a place usually reserved for Oscar winners ("and starring Shakma.")
If you do anything with your day, watch the above trailer and tell us you are NOT going to scream SHAKMA!!!!! at least four times today.
6. Congo (1995)
Okay, so it’s pretty bad. In spite of (or because of?) this, Congo has somehow become a legendary monkey horror movie. The son of a greedy C.E.O. and his team disappear while hunting down rare diamonds in the African Congo, leading another motley crew of oddly highbrow actors (including Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, and Tim Curry!) to go looking for them. Oh, the crew also brings along Amy, a gorilla who speaks in American Sign Language and drinks martinis. Naturally, they find themselves stalked by a gang of killer African primates, who get even more pissed off when Amy sassily tells them that they’re ugly.
7. Phenomena AKA Creepers (1985)
The mid-1980s were a big time for genius monkeys in horror movies. Dario Argento’s gonzo, beautiful, underrated supernatural slasher film Phenomena (titled Creepers in the states) offers up one of the few benevolent genius monkeys, rectifying the stigma perpetuated by Hollywood. A very young Jennifer Connelly plays Jennifer, a teenager who can telecommunicate with insects. She arrives at a Swiss boarding school right as a wave of brutal murders take place there. The girls at school make fun of her because of her gift, of course (they’re probably totally jealous). Luckily, Jennifer befriends Inga, a chimpanzee that assists an entymologist who specializes in forensics, played by Donald Pleasance. Jennifer, Donald, and their animal friends combine their talents to dig deeper into the sordid secrets that surround the local crimes. Mud baths filled with maggots, a deformed little person, and tornados of locusts ensue, all to a wild and gorgeous soundtrack by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and several popular heavy metal bands. Guess who saves the day with a razor? A clue: She’s furry and probably scratches her butt a lot.
8. In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro (1986)
The Scotti Brothers, who owned the record label that was responsible for releasing works by Leif Garrett, Felony, Survivor, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and James Brown, ventured into filmmaking with this “true story.” In Kenya circa 1984, a devastating drought leads 90,000 starving baboons to go on a murderous rampage. A British entrepreneur (Jonathan-Rhys Davis) and a game warden (Timothy Bottoms) have to get over their differences, band together, and protect themselves. The movie’s editing is sort of a mess, and its ending unbelievable. However, its killer animal scenes, which the filmmakers appear to have shot using real apes, are genuinely effective and scary. Unless you like apes more than people, in which case they’re still exciting.
9. The Attic (1980)
Louise Elsmore (Carrie Snodgress), a middle aged librarian, has been extremely depressed since her fiancé disappeared on her wedding day 19 years ago. Since then, she has devoted her life to taking care of her miserable, abusive father (Ray Milland), who she frequently fantasizes about brutally murdering. Her only happiness comes from having one night stands with random sailors and her beloved pet monkey, who she dresses up in various ensembles (including a sailor suit!). She dreams that he will transform into a giant man in an ape costume and off the patriarch. When the monkey “disappears,” and it seems that dad did something horrendous to it, Louise begins her final descent into insanity, and some horrific truths about her life reveal themselves to her.
10. Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)
In this low budget Mexican horror film, a female wrestler wearing a red devil/cat woman costume knocks out her opponent and renders her comatose. Concurrently, a surgeon tries to cure his son’s leukemia by giving him the heart of an ape (the film uses footage of real open heart surgery)! The boy becomes a nasty, pajama-clad ape-man who goes around assaulting and murdering nubile women. After his surgery, the character is suddenly played by a hairy man twice the original actor’s size, much like Krystle Carrington in Dynasty’s catfight scenes. The connection between the cat woman lady wrestler and the ape-man remains totally unclear until the end of the film, and then seems pretty arbitrary. However, all movies should have lady wrestlers, so nobody is complaining here.
11. Dunston Checks In (1996)
Faye Dunaway had a terrible, traumatic nightmare. In it, she had a supporting role—A SUPPORTING ROLE!--in a kid’s movie about a little boy who befriends a jewel thief-orangutan owned by Rupert Everett. In one scene, the film’s director (Ken Kwapis, who also—horrors—made the failed Cyndi Lauper star vehicle Vibes) made Faye fall into a gigantic pink cake. She woke up screaming, she looked around, she screamed again. The nightmare was a memory of something that had really happened. The rest of the world is grateful, because this movie is awesome.
12. Dead Alive (1992)
All hell breaks loose in Dead Alive because your typical arrogant explorer decides to kidnap a Sumatran Rat-Monkey from its native habitat on Skull Island, and bring it back to a zoo in New Zealand. The Sumatran Rat-Monkey, according to native legend, came to be when tree monkeys were raped by plague-carrying rats! As we soon learn, the monkey’s bite turns humans into hungry cannibal zombies. Can you imagine if the Hendersons had adopted a Sumatran Rat-Monkey instead of Harry?
13. The Monkey's Paw (2013)
W.W. Jacobs’ short story The Monkey’s Paw is, perhaps, the most famous and imitated horror tale involving a monkey (or a monkey’s body part!) ever made. It has been adapted into several movies (including in 1923, 1933, and 1948), reimagined in classics like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Deathdream (1972), and referenced in TV series such as The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A man acquires a monkey’s paw that will grant him three wishes. With his first wish, he resurrects his best friend Cobb (Stephen Lang) from the dead. The moral of the story is be careful what you wish for, because you might get a decomposing, criminal corpse knocking on your door.
Chiller has modernized the story, set it in atmospheric New Orleans, and given it some scary oomph by casting talented actor Stephen Lang as its villain. Plus, Dancing with the Stars runner-up Corbin Bleu is in it as well. It's on Friday, January 24th at 9pm ET so mark your calendars/iPhones/put a ribbon-on-your-finger-Fred-Flinton-style to remind yourself. You can learn more about the movie here.
Ben Raphael Sher is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where he also teaches. His work has appeared in Fangoria, Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and Back Stage. You can read more of his work here.