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Retro Review: BLUE MONKEY (1987)

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BLUE MONKEY
(Canada - 1987)

Directed by William Fruet. Written by George Goldsmith. Cast: Steve Railsback, Gwynyth Walsh, John Vernon, Susan Anspach, Joe Flaherty, Robin Duke, Don Lake, Helen Hughes, Sandy Webster, Joy Coghill, Stuart Stone, Sarah Polley, Peter Van Wart, Cynthia Belliveau, Philip Akin, Dan Lett, Michael J. Reynolds, Ivan E. Roth. (R, 96 mins)

A cult classic due almost entirely to its ridiculous title, 1987's BLUE MONKEY is a low-budget Canadian monster movie that's a blatant response to the previous year's box-office smash ALIENS and, to a lesser extent, David Cronenberg's remake of THE FLY. A staple of any self-respecting video store back in the day, BLUE MONKEY has been MIA in the modern era but has just resurfaced on Blu-ray from Code Red offshoot Dark Force (the print used has the alternate title INSECT), because physical media is dead. It's moderately entertaining trash if approached with realistic expectations, with plenty of slime, ooze, and general grossness to go along with some generally well-done practical creature FX. It's got an eclectic mix of American and Canadian faces and an energetic score by Patrick Coleman and Paul Novotny that would be right at home in something from Empire Pictures. And it boasts a fine cult B-movie pedigree with a script by FORCE: FIVE and CHILDREN OF THE CORN screenwriter George Goldsmith and reliable Canuxploitation director William Fruet (THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE, FUNERAL HOME, SPASMS, BEDROOM EYES) at the helm, guided by executive producer Sandy Howard, a noted purveyor of '80s exploitation who bankrolled hits like VICE SQUAD and ANGEL.






Released in the fall of 1987 by the short-lived Spectrafilm, BLUE MONKEY opens with elderly handyman Fred (Sandy Webster) flirting with sweet old Marwella (Helen Hughes) before being bitten by an insect hiding in one of her plants. He's rushed to the local hospital where he loses consciousness just as a worm-like parasite slithers out of his mouth. At the same time, intense, on-the-edge cop Bishop (intense, on-the-edge Steve Railsback) arrives with his partner (Peter Van Wart), who's just been shot during a stakeout. Soon, the paramedics who brought in Fred fall ill and the parasite is moved to a lab while the ER's Dr. Carson (Gwynyth Walsh) and Dr. Glass (Susan Anspach) wait for the arrival of renowned entomologist Dr. Jacobs (Don Lake). When horny nurse Alice (Cynthia Belliveau) is left in charge of watching the secured parasite but sneaks off with douchebag orderly Ted (Dan Lett), a quartet of adorable ragamuffins from the pediatric ward (including an eight-year-old Sarah Polley in one of her earliest credits) sneak into the lab and pour a chemical on the parasite that causes it to grow and mutate, escaping from the lab and hiding in the basement boiler room. With the parasitic virus infecting the hospital, the health department orders the entire building closed and the people in it quarantined, much to the chagrin of bloviating hospital director Levering (John Vernon, cast radically against type as "John Vernon"). This also makes for a long night, as the growing and rapidly spawning, hermaphrodite creature (played by Ivan E. Roth) periodically pops up to snatch victims to use as incubators for its asexually-produced eggs, with Jacobs predicting there could be an untold number of these creatures in the hospital by morning.


Originally set to be released as GREEN MONKEY, as if that makes a difference, BLUE MONKEY has an OK set-up and third act, but the midsection is filled with an awful lot of ass-dragging, with people endlessly wandering around dark corridors or heading to the boiler room to watch the creature lay its eggs. The kids run around the hospital and cause trouble, and unfunny comic relief is provided by usually reliable SCTV stars Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke (also an SNL vet) as the Bakers, dorky expectant parents who show up to deliver the baby even though she isn't in labor yet, but obnoxious Mr. Baker's scientific calculations have determined that today is the day. Anspach's promising early '70s career (FIVE EASY PIECES, BLUME IN LOVE) had pretty much flamed out by the time she was turning up in stuff like BLUE MONKEY, and neither she nor Vernon have very much to do as both vanish for long stretches, perhaps pleading with their respective agents to get them some more reputable gigs.


Railsback is typically Railsbackian, a quirky actor who was briefly the Nicolas Cage of his day after his mesmerizing performance as Charles Manson in the hugely popular 1976 CBS miniseries HELTER SKELTER. That led to the title role opposite Peter O'Toole in 1980's highly-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated THE STUNT MAN, but beyond that, 1980s Hollywood never really could figure out what to do with him. Railsback was a promising actor who just came off as too twitchy and weird to make it as an A-list leading man, like a Christopher Walken or a Jeff Goldblum minus the eccentric sense of humor and the winking self-awareness. Even when he's playing the hero in BLUE MONKEY, he manages to look like a creep in physical pain when he's goofing off with the kids. Railsback had a long run in cult movies throughout the '80s--Brian Trenchard-Smith's ESCAPE 2000 and Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE being the standouts--and he did manage one more critically-acclaimed performance in the 1985 cocaine addiction drama TORCHLIGHT, but by 1987, BLUE MONKEY was typical of the kind of B-movie and straight-to-video gigs Railsback was getting. In the '90s, he would occasionally land supporting roles in major releases like IN THE LINE OF FIRE, BARB WIRE, and DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, and managed to channel some of that Manson insanity when he landed the title role in the barely-released 2001 indie ED GEIN. Now 74, Railsback works much less frequently these days, most recently appearing in an apparently unreleased 2019 horror movie called IT WANTS BLOOD! with such convention luminaries as Eric Roberts, Felissa Rose, Ola Ray, Tuesday Knight, and Brinke Stevens.



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