Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Christopher Atkins, Amanda Wyss, Roddy McDowell, Ari Meyers, and Typhoon as “Shakma”
Directed by Hugh Parks
I’m absolutely convinced that if the Afterdark Horrorfest had been around back in 1990 then Shakma almost certainly would have been one of their selections. Amazingly, even without a Horrorfest around, this very low budget independent horror flick did get a very limited theatrical run; I’m one of the lucky few who can testify to having actually paid money to watch it on a big screen. Being this was before the internet, I went in practically blind having seen no advertising for it; even the movie listings in the newspaper offered no plot synopsis. All I had to go on was the poster reproduction in the newspaper giving the impression Shakma was essentially a slasher flick with a monkey in place of a masked psychopath. Even more amazingly, there were other people in the theater the day I saw it. As a matter of fact, there were more people there for it than there were in most of the Horrorfest screenings I attended this past weekend. That’s kind of depressing now that I think about it.
Shakma is a movie I remember watching and thinking afterwards, “Well, that sucked.” Strange thing is, for a movie that sucked, something about the film has always stuck with me. So when I heard Shakma was finally getting the DVD treatment (the budget DVD treatment: under $10, pristine print, but no extras of any kind) I decided what better time to revisit this blast from my past. So does Shakma still suck? Well, sorta. The film isn’t very good but it is oddly watchable and does possess some real camp value.
For starters, they used an actual live baboon, which, while good in theory, actually ended up limiting what they could pull off with it. Despite vows of delivering the most horrifying killer primate footage ever caught on film, I suppose if you consider a baboon spastically humping closed doors to be horrifying then, yeah, they succeeded. Watching this screeching furball spaz out trying to get through closed doors characters are hiding behind, it’s like watching a Tina Turner wig that sprouted limbs, came to life, and began having a series of violent epileptic seizures. Same goes for when it pounces on people like an Alien facehugger. What was supposed to frightening animal behavior just made me giggle.
If ever there was a movie that needed to have Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” playing over the credits…
It’s all about a group of not-so-bright medical students getting together to play a live-action fantasy role-playing game in one of their school buildings after hours. It just so happens that this med school has been performing aggression experiments on baboons. The one named Shakma is the favorite of a med student played by Christopher “Blue Lagoon” Atkins; so much so he can’t bring himself to toss its corpse into the incinerator when it comes time to put the monkey down. Whatever they’ve been pumping into it brings Shakma back to life and causes it go all 28 Days Later on everyone in dry humping distance.
The film is more or less a slasher flick from then out with live action role-players (no sex, drugs, or booze – they are dorks after all) wandering around an office building – a lot of wandering around – while being systematically stalked and killed by a psychopathic baboon with serious anger management issues. Throats get torn out, acid gets splashed into faces, and the furious fuzzball power humps many a door jam. But the most terrifying aspect of all: Christopher Atkins acting. Oof! I will say that his goofy facial expressions during the climax are priceless.
Then there’s the matter of the great (and sadly late) Roddy McDowell playing the med teacher who not only joins these young adults in playing their little LARP (That’s Live Action Role-Playing for the uninitiated), this esteemed doctor is actually one of the game’s organizers. His character just seemed entirely too old and, frankly, pedigreed to be playing some goofy LARP where they try to rescue the teenage kid sister of Atkin’s character’s girlfriend dressed like a princess from another student running around in a cheap werewolf mask. I’d reckon about 85% of McDowell’s dialogue consists of him blathering into a walkie talkie about the rules of the game – a true waste of the man’s talents. Guess even the great Peter Vincent had to eat?
An even better question: who picked out McDowell’s wardrobe? The moment he takes his lab coat off revealing this white shirt/black tie combo making him look quite the sissy, his attire brought to mind an old time ice cream vendor.
Though I find it hard to imagine anyone but the most easily scared by freaked out by the film, there is a character death or two that might come as a bit of surprise to viewers and, if only momentarily, add some genuine intrigue as to how it’s all going to turn out. That said, camp value remains the primary entertainment value to be found here. I mean the actual finale is designed to be a battle of wits between a deranged baboon and Christopher Atkins and yet we’re supposed to believe Atkins stands a chance?
2 1/2 out of 5