Roddy McDowell plays a not-mad-at-all scientist who does, uh, something to the brain of a baboon named Shakma. After Shakma wakes up, he's a little p**sed off and bites one of research assistants. Well, obviously that means he has to be put down, but the numbnuts in charge of the euthanasia has come to regard Shakma almost as a pet, and is thus so upset he mistakenly injects him with a harmless anesthetic instead of poison. Seems that Shakma will be waking up in a few hours, and will likely still be just as p**sed off. Good thing everyone will have gone home for the day by then, huh? Unfortunately, today is the very day that Roddy McDowell has invited his assistants to stay for an overnight LARP at the laboratory. No, really. Seriously, I'm not making that up. Anyway, when Shakma awakens, he will have access to plenty of people to fatally rub his face against.
Shakma surprised me. The first act is pretty bad. Then Shakma wakes up and goes on the attack, and things start getting surprisingly brutal. This is a movie that treats its characters with a lack of mercy I'm more accustomed to seeing in movies from the '70s. Not only that, it makes an effort to build them up as characters before it pits them against a p**sed-off baboon. Even the jerk character, the one we're supposed to hate, manages to earn some sympathy both from his actor's unexpectedly genuine portrayal of fear and in his fairly clever (though disastrously ineffective) attempt to utilize a makeshift weapon. Shakma's attempts to make us care about its Dead Meat aren't always successful but the bare fact that a cheap-ass killer monkey flick from 1990 would put forth the effort deserves at least some recognition.
There are two directors credited on this movie and, as is usually the case in such circumstances, I'd love to know who directed what. Most of Shakma is a pretty limp affair, highly akin to a made-for-tv movie. Then, suddenly, for certain scenes (almost all of them involving Shakma himself), the acting gets better, the camera setups are more active, the editing is more lively, and Shakma almost gets genuinely good. I assume the second director was brought in specifically because he knew how to work with the baboon, and he just so happened to be a much, much better director than the other guy.
Seal Island has something of a stray dog problem. Apparently, last summer's tourists had a bad habit of bringing dogs to the island to play with for the summer and then abandoning them when they went home. Those dogs are sick, angry, and hungry now that it's the start of winter, and after they get done eating the island's only pony, there's not much left except for the people ...
The Pack surprised me, too. Aside from a few idiot moments, and one stunt scene so poorly executed it really shouldn't have made the final cut, there's honestly nothing wrong with this movie at all. It's one of the best, cheap-ass killer animal flicks I've seen. The feral dog pack behaves almost like real dogs actually would, the characters (except for those couple of idiot moments) don't behave stupidly, and no punches are pulled. When someone gets in a situation where they darn well shouldn't be able to escape, they don't escape. I especially applaud the filmmakers for not having any "narrow escape" moments for the two child characters. The movie knows that we know that neither of them is going to get killed, so it doesn't even bother going through the motions and wasting our time. Good job. The dog playing the leader of the pack is also a pretty good actor.
I think my favorite part of this movie is the subplot about the banker, his son, and the "cook" they bring along for their belated vacation. You see, the banker's son is a fat, spoiled loser, a bookworm with no interest in, well, anything but books. The "cook" is a sexy, loose woman who's visibly itching to pounce on the nearest penis. The banker contrives all sorts of reasons to get his son and the "cook" alone together. Yep, that's right. A sizeable chunk of this movie is about a guy trying to get his son laid! I've seen lots of cheap-ass killer animal movies, and they all have some sort of boring human story to pad time between animal attacks, but I've never seen one that used anything like that before.