Within horror there is a multitude of evil monkey movies. From Congo to King Kong to Monkey Shines to Planet of the Apes to Marcel in Friends, big or small it seems some of our simian cousins are seriously intent on destroying us. The 1986 horror Link takes this to a whole different level aiming to inject some actual science and study into its story.
Directed by Psycho II helmer Richard Franklin who was inspired by Hitchcock and real chimp research he described the movie by saying “Link is based on anthropological realities. I’m calling it an anthropological thriller as opposed to a psychological thriller.”
Having seen a National Geographic article by Jane Goodall about violence among chimpanzees Franklin said he realised that “The whole ’60s idea of man being the only animal to make war against its own kind was suddenly thrown out the window. Since then, they’ve discovered that lions and other animals do it as well, but that, to me, was a really interesting idea for a good thriller.”
This concept is stated very early on when arrogant anthropologist Dr. Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp star of Superman and The Limey) is giving a lecture at the London College of Sciences on the differences and similarities between man and ape. Fascinated by the subject, eager American zoology student Jane (Elisabeth Shue from The Karate Kid, and The Boys) offers her services to the professor who invites her to his remote home to learn all about his research.
In a huge cliff top mansion in the barren English countryside Jane meets the Doctors three chimps; Imp the affectionate baby of the group, Voodoo a savage overprotective female and Link a much older ex-circus ape trained to act as the professors slave and closest confidant
Disapproving of the aggressive and uncaring attitude Dr Phillip has to his subjects which involves strict rules and constant threats of violence, Jane is convinced there is another way to get through to the super intelligent and super strong simian’s. However when the head of the house mysteriously disappears the inexperienced student is left alone with the troubled trio of apes and her beliefs are truly put to the test.
With its minimal cast and original concept Link grabs its audience at the start, helped along by the engaging and exceptional performances from Stamp and Shue. As the obsessive ape expert Stamp balances brilliance and bravado with a mean spirited streak believing he is not only better than the chimps but also the far younger female protege.
Plucky and opinionated from the off Shue imbue’s Jane with a modern, determined and dedicated attitude that kindness and compassion are better tool’s than hostility and punishment in understanding and connecting to the animals. As the story slips further into the realms of horror roles are reversed between master and servant and Jane must face not only her tormentor but also question own values and decide if they are worth sacrificing to survive the nightmare she has entered into.
In the opening scene of Link we see a clip from Marlene Dietrich’s 1932 Blonde Venus featuring a monkey that is clearly just a man in a suit. This is a deliberate move from Richard Franklin to differentiate his horror from many other animal attack films that overly rely on the use of special effects or costumes.
Link features actual apes all trained by legendary animal trainer Ray Berwick and it is noted as one of the very small number of films to be made with animals not to have received a single complaint of cruelty; a shocking fact when faced with images of the chimps fighting wild dogs, smoking cigars, jumping through windows and breaking down doors.
Although it is a great achievement to get a chimpanzee to do all these things (or a orangutang masquerading as a chimp in Link’s case) there is a fundamental issue having an ape as the main aggressor.
Unlike the stars of other creature features such as dogs, sharks or snakes whose motives and machinations are ultimately unknowable and therefore far more menacing, the primates extra close resemblance to a human leads to us expecting more expressive acting and readable facial expressions, something no animal trainer could ever teach.
There is also a severe pacing problem in Link that leaves the audience slightly bored after the midpoint when the monkeys master plan has been set in motion. As body’s pile up the dreadfully delayed discoveries deflate any dread and although Shue does her best the tension and terror start to unravel as the story starts to drag on and on until its slightly unconvincing conclusion.
Regardless of its flaws Link is still a horror well worth adding to your collection especially if you are a fan of animal attack films. Studiocanal’s brand new 4k restoration comes complete with brand new bonus content including Audio Commentary by Film Historian Lee Gambin and Film Critic Jarret Gahan, an interview with film programmer and horror expert Anna Bogutskaya and much more.
An anthropological horror with some serious science behind its bonkers story, Link is the sort of chimp even David Attenborough would find it hard not to fear.