Did you ever watch that episode of Malcolm in the Middle with the monkey butler and think, “This, but a feature version with General Zod as an anthropology professor and a young Elisabeth Shue”?
If so, I firstly applaud the specificity of your tastes and, secondly, boy, have I got some news for you.
Link, a so-called “anthropological thriller” from the director of Psycho II, is to Jaws what Roar was to The Birds: it takes a lot of the lessons, but doesn’t quite know how to execute them.
Take the opening sequence, which has a low, mysterious POV prowling the streets of London. This isn’t an ocean predator silently stalking through seaweed, invisible to its prey above, but 100lbs of chimp clambering up suburban trellises and savaging household pets.
Instead of the elegant, iconic dum-dum of John William’s score, you have Jerry Goldsmith (marvelously) conducting a demented circus.
Phillips is a tweedy, wild-haired intellectual, who challenges his students on their assumptions about the differences between man and beast. Jane (Elisabeth Shue), an American zoology student,3 wants to be his assistant, but instead he drafts her in to look after the chimps at his isolated Gothic manse on the coast4
Here she meets Link (Locke), a former circus performer now committed to what Phillips calls his “family retainer routine”, and the wildest of the bunch, the untamable Voodoo (Carrie). As you might suspect, though, it’s not Voodoo they should be worried about…
Link’s early stretches, as Jane settles in, are characterized by intellectual musings – Jane competes in a pattern recognition test with Imp – and wry, suggestive humor (“Now that he’s a sexually mature animal…”). However, when Phillips disappears off, presumably back to London, the film shifts gears as Link’s behaviour escalates from playful tormenter to generally homicidal.
Director Richard Franklin makes subtle use of slow-mo to highlight the similarities between the chimps and their supposedly more refined brethren, but this never develops into anything beyond the stylistic. For every moment of insidious threat, like an unclothed Link refusing to leave so the naked Jane can bathe, there’s one of, presumably inadvertent, comedy; like Link battering a wild dog to death against a wire fence.
Not funny enough to be a comedy or scary enough to be a horror, despite some overt slasher elements5, Link is nevertheless endearingly oddball.
It’s hard not to have affection for a film in which the chimp antagonist is actually an orang-utan dyed black. If your aforementioned list of desires extends to seeing an orangutan disguised as a chimpanzee, dressed in a Regency Era shirt, crawl through an air vent like the simian lovechild of Mr. Darcy and John McClane, well, where else are you gonna turn?
A newly restored version of Link is now available from STUDIOCANAL on Blu-ray, DVD, or for Digital Download
- Well, two gorillas and one disguised orangutan – more on that to come.
- In a role intended for Anthony Perkins.
- Named for Jane Goodall.
- Gothic not least in the fact that wild dogs attack anyone who attempts to leave on foot.
- Though the climax is more like King Kong meets Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.