Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of Horrors Week, we’re recommending some of the finest (or just weirdest) killer-animal flicks money can buy.
Shakma is often included in compilations of the “most outrageous horror” variety, not because its kill scenes are particularly creative or well done, but simply because it’s unsettling to watch a baboon named Shakma (in the movie, Typhoon in real life) lose his shit. He screams, and he howls, but he mostly throws himself violently against a series of closed doors, presumably a safety precaution for the actors because Typhoon is completely freaking out. IMDB claims that the effect was achieved by putting a female baboon in heat on the other side of the door, a claim that is supposedly reinforced by observing a… relevant part of the simian actor’s anatomy.
On the one hand, the effect is disturbing, but the discomfort is matched by a sense of absurdity. After three or four scenes essentially driven by the question “how much longer can they keep holding the door closed?!,” there’s no possibility of finding this scary anymore, if, indeed, you ever did at all. But it’s exactly that tension between discomfort and absurdity that makes Shakma a quintessential exploitation film.
Released in 1990, Shakma came late in the golden age of exploitation, an idea that had already started to fall apart by the time the Internet came into existence. Like all good exploitation films, it was made on the cheap, which is made evident by the anonymous setting. Shakma doesn’t seem to take place anywhere in particular, just a series of rooms with beige stucco walls and linoleum floors differentiated only by the props within them.
It’s supposed to be a medical school, anyway, and our heroes are a group of medical students, all of whom are sitcom-ready but not quite movie star attractive. (There is one exception, a gum-chewing Martin Starr-esque guy in flannel and glasses.) They’re driven almost entirely by hormones, as people with great hair often are in horror movies, and until they are literally running for their lives in monkey-driven terror, they behave like a bunch of horny Saved By The Bell extras. In an early scene, one of the students is hitting on a woman in the hallway of the building as a loud, irritating alarm sounds in the background. “Doesn’t that bother you?,” she asks. He shrugs and asks her what she’s doing later.
Believe it or not, these pilot-season specimens are supposed to be LARP enthusiasts, and much of the plot revolves around a Dungeons & Dragons-type role playing game led by the demanding Professor Sorenson, played by Roddy McDowall in a less-than-dignified later role. (Thankfully, the movie avoids making any self-referential Planet Of The Apes jokes.) Much of the film is devoted to watching the game play out in dorky detail as the students go from room to room, searching for clues to input into charmingly anachronistic computers with 8-bit graphics (passcode:FRODO) that will assist them in their quest.
In between, viewers can enjoy the dynamic between the nerdy blond guy and his bitchy girlfriend, who utters hilarious lines like “Oh great, I’m dating the goddess of vengeance” and doesn’t get why he wants to play this nerdy game instead of having sex. Speaking of, there’s a mid-game seduction scene that uses the phrase “firm grasp of the rules” as innuendo. Oh, and then the baboon gets loose after Sorenson accidentally injects him with rage serum or something and goes on a killing spree. So, yeah, Shakma is just your standard killer baboon movie laid over the framework of a LARP game, peppered with laughable dialogue delivered by sub-sitcom actors. There’s a certain kind of person to whom that’s the ideal movie-watching experience, and if you’re still reading this, it’s probably you.
Availability: Shakma is streaming on Netflix and is available at your local video store/library or for purchase or rental from the major digital outlets.