Movies like Shakma are a dime a dozen. Cheap, throwaway horror flicks featuring vapid characters played by talent barely holding on to their careers in Hollywood, and maybe an aging star or two. The screenplay looks as if it was less than twenty pages long, sets are plain and repetitive, and what little gore there is must have been a strain on the miniscule budget. Everything about this movie screams cheapness and lack of effort. Everything, that is, except for one of the wildest creatures ever to appear in a horror flick.
In Shakma, from directors Hugh Parks and Tom Logan, filming a screenplay from Roger Engle, Typhoon the baboon plays the title character, a research monkey at some medical school, somewhere. Shakma has been injected with a serum that has turned him into a crazed killing machine, and that’s bad for a small group of med students and their professor, who have chosen that evening to lock up the medical school for a fun night of LARPing.
The dungeon master for the game is Dr. Sorenson (Roddy McDowall). He plays a typical hard-assed surgeon, but shows quite a geeky side to his personality with his enthusiasm for the game. He has created a scenario where his students wander from room to room collecting clues, scrolls, spells and charms, with the aim of reaching the top floor of the building to rescue a princess, in this case, Kim (Ari Meyers), who has little to do in the film except look cute.
The most prominent of his students are Sam (Christopher Atkins), who is also Shakma’s wrangler, and Tracy (Amanda Wyss), who gives off final girl vibes, whether she makes it to the end or not.
Sorenson locks up the building, the game begins, and, unfortunately for everyone involved, Shakma wakes from what should have been a lethal dose of tranquilizers, bloodthirsty and wild.
According to the internet, so it must be true, Amanda Wyss was frightened of Typhoon, and I can see why. He lived up to his name. His trainers took advantage of the natural aggressiveness of baboons, baiting Typhoon throughout the film to bounce off of walls and batter doors. Typhoon was not a large animal, compared to a man-eating tiger, say, but he was absolutely terrifying in this movie. Much of this flick’s scares feature characters holding a door shut while Typhoon tries to punch, kick, shove, and bite his way through. It doesn’t matter that he only comes up to one’s knees in height. The amount of energy Typhoon displays is staggering, made even more unsettling by the fact he was…aroused…in many of these shots. I don’t know what Typhoon thought was on the other side of those doors, but he wanted to fuck it.
This movie really is trash, with Typhoon being the saving grace. The production didn’t appear to have the resources to go all-in with the gore, and the med school set is so barely-dressed and over-lit as to be a distraction. The cast had to know they were in a dog, yet they showed up and did their jobs. They were professionals, with only scattered dead reads and breaks in their dialogue.
Good on them, but this is Typhoon’s movie. He’s the only reason to watch. There is a need for more movies with crazed baboons as the killer creature. Or not, as the logical directions to go with this idea would put cast and crew in harm’s way. But, as the saying goes, ‘pain is temporary, film is forever.’ Unless a monkey chews one’s face off.
As wild as it can be at times, Shakma is not the easiest of watches, sending it down into the lower half of the Watchability Index, displacing Indian Paint at #259. It’s worth a look just to see what Amanda Wyss was so afraid of.