Friday, March 7, 2014

Monstrous Mayhem: BLUE MONKEY (1987)

Throughout history there have been a lot of monkeys, barrels of them, if you will. Some amusing (Coconut Monkey), some scary (Sock Monkey) and some annoying (Brass Monkey), but only one of them is a giant insect. That's right, insect.

Opening with a great scene in which a dottering old lady, Marwella (Helen Hughes), is chatting with her plants while being chatted up by local handyman, Fred (Sandy Webster). While inspecting one of her newest acquisitions, a plant from Koh Kahi, which Marwella tells us is "a newly formed volcanic island just south of Micronesia" (never mind that Koh Kahi is actually in Thai waters), Fred cuts his finger. This is odd as Marwella is sure that none of the species has thorns. Fred waves off the notion of seeing a doctor because he has a date, and in a stroke of luck that I can completely relate to, Fred collapses and has to be rushed off to the hospital.

Also being rushed into the emergency room is Jim's (Steve Railsback) partner Oscar (Peter Van Wart) who has been shot. Jim is a police detective, don't go there. While fussing over Jim's partner, a large white worm escapes Fred's mouth. The doctor, Rachel Carson (Gwynyth Walsh), is a fat lot of help as she has no idea what the parasite is, nor is she very proficient in gunshot wounds, saying "it's not often we get a gunshot victim in County Memorial, they'll be talking about this day for a long time." So big, fat parasite erupting from an elderly man's mouth happens every day, but a gunshot victim is unheard of. Seriously, where the hell is this hospital? Canada? That would explain an awful lot about David Cronenberg's films.

In addition to being unfamiliar with gunshot wounds, this hospital hosts a laser research facility which, as all laser research facilities are, is lit with blue neon and staffed by guys in clean suits with goggles. Of course Dr. Carson invites Jim to check out the clean room in their regular clothes with no eye protection. I'm beginning to have some seriously doubts as to the credibility of this hospital. As if that wasn't bad enough, when a group of terminally ill children (one of whom is a very young Sarah Polley) is discovered wandering the halls, Dr. Carson advises them to run back to their rooms, endangering the well being of them and the patients simply trying to make it down the hall.

Also running amok in the hospital is Marwella's blind friend Dede (Joy Coghill), who smuggles in some likker (nothing funnier than the drunken elderly); Roger (John Vernon), the hospital head, who wants to keep this whole "parasite" thing hush-hush; an expectant couple (Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke) who might be a bit too expectant; the head of hospital security, Tony (Philip Akin), who is asked to leave the hospital to pick up an entomologist (Don Lake) to inspect the site of the incident instead of, oh I don't know, provide security in a hospital that is being over-run by a parasite that's been let loose by those damn pesky kids!

Yes, it's all the fault of the terminally ill children and the hot doc that just wants to get stoned and boned. The kids decide to dump some NAC-5, a growth hormone that was just laying around the lab, on the insect and the next thing you know, we have an hospital that is infested with giant bugs! This is another big tip-off that this isn't America, particularly Florida or Louisiana. A giant bug infestation wouldn't cause a single eyelash to bat.

There are so many great moments, to pick out just a few is difficult, but some of my favorites include a shot of a nurse who screams in utter terror, only to cut to a slightly trashed room. When the hospital is quarantined and surrounded by armed soldiers, the nurses all decide to quit so that they can leave due to the danger. The LIDC doctor demands that "we initiate a class four, immediately!" His colleague looks shocked and says "that's impossible!" To which the doctor replies, "of course it is." I have no idea what that means, but it sure sounds important! Oh, and the massive mutant insect roars. Then again, maybe giant bugs do roar, you don't know.

In addition to a big rubber monster running around killing people for no apparent reason, we discover that like Homer Simpson once said, "alcohol [is] the cause and solution to all of life's problems." Pass the Molson, eh!

As you may have guessed, it is in fact Canada as Jim says that he drove over from Williamsburg, which you might be thinking is Virginia, except the police uniforms give it away. It is clearly Williamsburg, Ontario. The characters refer to a fictitious LIDC (Lincoln Institute for Disease Control) center that sure sounds American, but in fact refers to Lincoln, Ontario. Factor in a nurse who wants to go out for a "smooke, eh." Then there is the fact that nearly everyone in the cast and crew is Canadian. It's interesting how this is one of those movies from the '80s where Canada is not actually being passed off as America, but that doesn't go out of their way to try to make any noise about the fact that it's Canadian. Of course, that is to be expected from the denizens of the Great White North.

Note that in the movie it is "County Memorial Hospital."

Clearly Jim Wynorski is doing
the hiring in this hospital
Directed by Canuk maestro William Fruet, who also gave us many great, off-beat outings such as SEARCH AND DESTROY (1979), FUNERAL HOME (1980) and SPASMS (1983). Fruet this sucker humming along at such a fast pace that there really is never enough time to question any of the completely ridiculous events in George Goldsmith and Chris Koseluk's surprisingly eventful script. There are multiple subplots rapidly speeding along that only seem patently absurd after the movie is over. For instance, one of the impossibly hot nurses is enticed by her boyfriend to take a break from keeping the parasite company and go outside for a joint. At first I was kind of shocked by this sort of behavior from a Canadian, then I realized that Rob Ford has held elected office for 14 years.

Unless there was another title on the original script, the film started out life as GREEN MONKEY, which was then changed to BLUE MONKEY prior to distribution. If I could ask Fruet one question about his entire career it would be "what makes a non-existent blue monkey more marketable than a non-existent green monkey?" One of the biggest bones of contention, at least here in the US, was that very title which was changed for it's UK release to the almost equally nonsensical INVASION OF THE BODYSUCKERS. In addition to a lack of sucking, bodily or otherwise, it's hardly an invasion, is it?

Critics seemed to like the movie during a time when most of them hated everything with a genre bent, much less one that featured Steve Railsback fending of a giant cockroach with a medical grade laser. In spite of being rather favorable, the reviewers spent an inordinate amount of time hashing over the perplexing title. As any fan of the movie will tell you, the title only comes into play during the film when the kids (who are thankfully not too cute) decide to go exploring and one says that "I bet we're going to find a big blue monkey!" We never find out if that is the case as one of the girls needs to pee. So basically if women could hold their bladders, the title of this movie would make sense. Thanks for letting us down ladies, now we'll never know.

This is one of those movies that I have fond memories of playing at the local drive-in, where it played far longer than anything with such an incomprehensible title should have been allowed. While a handful of Fruet's films have been given beautiful DVD releases, this (the most important, in my opinion) still has not. The only DVD release that I am aware of is a German issue that was simply a shoddy VHS transfer bearing the European title INSECT! (yes, with an exclamation point). It's a damn shame as the poorly cropped and panned video release leaves a lot to be desired, but even in this age of shiny disc technology, it's still one of the few tapes I've given a prominent spot on my video shelf.*

* [Edit] As it turns out this is a baldface lie, as I had forgotten that I sent my copy to be ensconced in the VJ Archives of Williamsburg. Virginia, not Ontario.

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