Blue Monkey (1987)
"THEY BREED. THEY HATCH. THEY KILL. Maybe it's just a phase they're going through."
Shortly after a feverish old man suffering from a strange insect bite is whisked into hospital, a large worm-like creature craws out of his mouth and he dies. The insect is quickly taken to the lab to be studied whilst a local entomologist is called for advice. As more people begin to die from the same symptoms as the old man, the hospital is quarantined by the authorities to prevent the spread of this outbreak. Meanwhile, an accident in the lab involving the insect and a genetic growth hormone causes the insect growing to enormous proportions. Now trapped inside the hospital, the quarantined staff and patients must battle this parasite that needs living organisms to feed its offspring.
A rather obscure little 80s horror film from Canada, Blue Monkey at least lives up to the ‘blue’ part of its title without giving away much about what it has to offer. I initially ignored it, thinking that it was about some killer monkey (I wonder where I got that idea from!) and wasn’t really in the mood for some simian shocks. But when I did go back over a catalogue of horror films I was yet to sample, I was surprised to read further that it was about a giant insect terrorising a hospital. That kind of sold me on the idea, with the added bonus of this being an 80s horror. In fact, Blue Monkey is a great example of 80s horror – a film clearly sold on a central concept (usually the monster or a particular set piece) and then having some form of wraparound narrative to bring it all to life. What you have here is a pretty cool monster, something that would allow for plenty of gross goings-on and sickly scenarios to occur in the film, with a lot of unnecessary padding around the edges. Can you slog through the padding long enough to get to the good stuff?
Blue Monkey starts off promisingly, with a slow-burn prologue that has worms coming out of people’s mouths and top-notch make-up effects within the first ten minutes. The script sets up plenty of side characters, presumably to be dispatched at a later time in the film. Conveniently, the hero of the piece is taken on a plot-specific tour of the hospital not long after he arrives and the audience is introduced to all of the key locations that will come into play later on, including a laser room which is seemingly bigger and has far more money invested into it than the rest of the hospital put together, as well as the dark underground tunnels which used to house all of the insane patients for the asylum that used to be there. There is little in the way of bug action, but you take that on the chin as the film is shifting the pieces into play.
Only this shifting of pieces continues far too long into the running time. With an ok opening act in the bag, Blue Monkey’s middle section sags any energy and life out of the narrative. The script has introduced too many ideas and characters by this point and there is little attempt to even get them working together. Too much emphasis is placed on a pregnant woman and her eccentric husband, who has the entire pregnancy planned out on a spreadsheet, plus a couple of elderly patients who spend the better part of their screen time getting drunk and fooling around. The fact that neither sub-plot really has any interaction with the insect means the film spends too much time goofing around with these pointless distractions. An odd bug attack here and there does little to stir the pulse because too much has been crammed in which adds nothing to the film’s effectiveness as a horror.
Thankfully, the final third of the film picks the pace up and starts serving up some excitement with the insect finally making its presence felt around the facility. The giant insect is either a big animatronic or puppet or just a man in a suit – it’s ‘real’ whatever it is. I can’t quite tell because half of the time it’s shot from a distance, with various obstructions in the way to mask deficiencies whilst the other half of the time it’s skulking around in dark tunnels or, annoyingly, lots of blue-lit corridors. I get the director wanted to go for the James Cameron Aliens-like cinematography vibes with the lighting but most of the time, given the hospital location, the blue lighting makes no sense. It’s impressive enough for the budget they had to work with, you just wish they did more with it. There are promises of gore and some nice practical make-up effects, both with the bug and its victims, scattered through but too few to be impactful and memorable. The showdown in the laser lab at the end is decent and belies the obvious low budget, with director William Fruet making every attempt to eek each possible penny on the screen. If only this much attention had been given to earlier on when the film needed an injection of pace and excitement.
Blue Monkey has a cast of familiar faces, with Steve Railsback taking on the lead role. Railsback is a decent actor but he’s not the straight hero type. To put it bluntly he looks too odd and quirky and is much better in creepier supporting roles (check out his amazing work as Duane Barry in The X-Files episode of the same name) than he is trying to play up the hero. Canadian actor John Vernon shows up in a trademark asshole role but, despite being the hospital’s administrator, the role is virtually a glorified cameo and is too small to have any real impact. Heroine Gwynyth Walsh would find later fame in Star Trek as one of the Klingon Duras sisters, though you wouldn’t recognise her here without her ridged forehead make-up.
Once the realisation that there is a lack of blue monkeys anywhere to be seen has set in and your anger at being mis-led by the title has subsided, what you’ll find with Blue Monkey is a run-of-the-mill 80s low budget monster movie which could have been great had it packed a lot more genre goodies into the running time. It’s just not gory or gooey enough and when a film like this is clearly pitching towards a certain audience, it needs to deliver the goods.
Also Known As: Invasion of the Blood Suckers
Director(s): William Fruet
Writer(s): Alberto Alfieri (story), Leandro Lucchetti (story), Augusto Caminito (screenplay)
Actor(s): Ivan E. Roth, Steve Railsback, Gwynyth Walsh, Don Lake, Helen Hughes, Sandy Webster
Duration: 96 mins