Monday, February 14, 2022

Who's That Knocking At My Door? IT'S SHAKMA

Can you believe it's been almost a decade since I last added a monkey to February's rotation of The Shortening? 

It's not that I don't love monkeys on film: quite the opposite, especially if they're wearing clothes and doing things better than humans. No, the reason I tend to stay back on simian cinema is because, well, like I said: I LOVE MONKEYS, and if you're going to cast one as a horror villain, there's a good chance I'll have to watch it go through a lot of pain. WHO NEEDS A MONKEY IN PAIN I ASK?

Still, Shakma's been circling my queue for years. Finally, the time had come. 

Quick Plot: Sam (a curl-less Christopher Atkins) is a promising med student who likes to spend his Friday nights LARP'ing with his friends and professor, Dr. Sorensen (a slumming, but always committed Roddy McDowall). Joining are his girlfriend Tracy (Nightmare on Elm Street's Amanda Wyss) and a few of his classmates, including, as Shudder's subtitles so kindly describe, this guy:

Sadly, the game starts in a dour mood because Sam's favorite baboon test subject Shakma reacts poorly to an experimental injection, leading Sorensen to order his euthanasia. Richard, everyone's least favorite classmate, forgets to finish the job. 

With money and pride on the line, the game is on. Sorensen monitors the action via a computer program and walkie talkie communication with the players, who wander the almost-empty medical school halls without fear of being caught. After all, they've disabled the alarms and sealed off the exits in order to not call any attention to their against-the-rules antics. What could possibly go wrong? 

Obviously, SHAKMA!

Awake and pissed, our small but mighty monkey goes on a tear, leaping at his prey and attacking with more power than anyone would expect from a cute primate who barely reaches the average adult's knees. It's cute! 

For a while. 

I can't think of another horror movie that combines LARP'ing with homicidal baboons, so that's certainly a win. Unfortunately, co-directors Hugh Parks and Tom Logan seem to run out of ideas after those first two. Once the students discover Shakma's on a murder spree, every beat is basically the same: character unwittingly walks into a room and is mauled by Shakma, or character runs away and locks a door just before Shakma can leap his way inside. 


the first three times. But then there are three more. 

At least, I stopped counting when I realized this was what most of this movie would be. It doesn't help that Atkins' Sam is kind of a jerk as a leading man. The film opens with him joking about the horrors of feminism, and I guess there's some attempt to set him up as an alpha male at primordial war with the creature he once cared for. But when done clumsily, it just means your hero is less likable than the wronged primate slasher scratching the eyes out of his friends.

High Points

If you're making a movie about an angry baboon on the hunt, you better find a way to elevate that intensity with some proper angry synth scoring, and thankfully, composer David C. Williams brings it

Low Points

There's a lot of fun in Shakma's baboon-on-the-hunt antics, but as I said, about 80% of the scare scenes end with a character rushing to close and lock a door before the little guy can get there. It gets a bit stale after the 356th time

Lessons Learned

Sensitive doctors don't make much money

Engineers may have promising financial futures, but their bandaging skills leave something to be desired

Culture is best defined as the knowledge you have of your romantic partner's family


If you're a completist when it comes to movies about babboons murdering LARP'ing college students, then you know, Shakma can't be missed. It does have an appeal outside of that very tight demographic in how unusual its premise feels (coupled well with the utter 1990ness of it all) but ultimately, Shakma turns stale quickly. 


  1. I've never heard of this one, and was excited at first by the poster pic at the start of your post -- when, oh when will I learn to stop judging horror flicks based on their posters? Dang. But I'm glad I read your review and saved myself from watching it, and I lol'd hard at the 'that's bananas' pic. Top notch.

    1. If you really love baboons running towards soon-to-be-closed doors, it's certainly worth a watch!