LINK is a really unusual horror picture that starts out like a normal monster movie (POV of unknown beast crawls into a little girl’s room at night) but succeeds by avoiding any of the obvious formulas. Terence THE LIMEY Stamp plays Dr. Phillip, an eccentric professor at London College known for his books and lectures about primates. Academy Award nominee Elizabeth Shue (PIRANHA 3D, THE HOLLOW MAN) plays Jane, an American student who wants to learn from him and manages to become his assistant, staying at his remote property where he does IQ experiments with his apes Imp, Voodoo and Link.
Link is the biggest, he’s a former circus ape who wears clothes and smokes cigars. When Jane first shows up he pretends to be the butler and shows her to her room.
Oh, I get it. Jane like Tarzan and Jane. It’s all coming together now.
I don’t want to explain the plot in too much detail. It’s just kind of an unfolding of weird events and circumstances with this poor girl never being instructed what she’s expected to do. I don’t think anybody is evil here, but they’re not trustworthy either. The professor doesn’t mean bad but he’s a shitty boss and host, never really explaining to her what he’s up to, so when he disappears she (and we) can’t be totally sure if he just took off or if something happened to him. I mean, we got an idea. But by not giving us the definitive answer it keeps us on our toes.
Remember when I reviewed FROZEN recently I complained about the wolves being more like monsters than just animals? That’s pretty common in horror movies and often a mistake because it seems dishonest. We in the audience know that’s not a normal animal behavior so we feel like we’re being bullshitted a little and that makes it less scary. I like that LINK doesn’t do that. Link is a potential threat but he’s also as much of a goofball as Clyde in ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE. He does as many funny things as threatening things. Luckily he doesn’t talk so he’s not going around making wisecracks and puns.
So he’s not a monster, but he is a brat. Jane can’t even take a bath because he comes in and stares at her and refuses to leave. He locks Imp in a well. He gets jealous. He cooks the phone in the microwave. We also know he’s ten times as strong as a man, so all the little things he does have an implicit threat to them. But also he becomes protective of her and that’s a threat in its own way because she doesn’t want him hurting somebody on her behalf. All this is why Michael Jackson had to give away Bubbles. He probly saw this movie, actually.
When Shue is (sort of) being told what the job entails she says she can handle it because “I used to babysit.” I thought that was a little joke about her starring in ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, but then I found out this came first. So I guess ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING is a prequel meant to show what she went through that made her strong enough to handle Link.
At first I thought Shue was a little stiff in the role, a little too goodie-goodie to be likable. Early on there’s some banter with the professor that seems like it was written as funny but not performed that way. But she’s so good interacting with the apes that she really grew on me. You might expect this to be the kind of girl who’s gonna do alot of running around screaming, but actually she stays pretty in control. It had to be a tough role for Shue because about half of it is just interacting with apes, no people. And she picks them up and talks to them like kids, scolds them, reasons with them. I mean, just doing the movie must’ve been in some ways like having the job her character has. She coulda had her face eaten off if she pissed them off somehow.
The apes in the movie have been trained to communicate by pushing buttons that represent a small selection of words. One creepy part is when Imp writes “LINK DIRTY BUG.” You get the basic idea of what he’s trying to say (“Link is a fuckin asshole”, maybe), but what exactly is he trying to say? What does he know about Link to make him dislike him so much? And what does it mean to him to call an ape a bug? In my opinion LINK is in the upper echelon of movies that exploit the mystery of how well apes comprehend metaphor.
It’s these little ambiguities that make me really like the movie. There are hints that Dr. Phillip is using experimental drugs on the apes that could be the cause of anything bad they do. But I feel like most of this could happen without any mad science being involved, so I like that they don’t push it on you too hard. And there are unanswered questions at the end. For example the opening scene – when you go back and think about it it’s probly not what you assumed at the time. And how much did Dr. Phillip know? Does he know one of his apes is sneaking out into civilization, killing birds, etc.?
The story is credited to Lee David Zlotoff (creator of MACGUYVER) and Tom Ackermann, script credited to Everett De Roche (RAZORBACK, THE LONG WEEKEND, ROAD GAMES). Richard Franklin is the director. He was the Hitchcock-obsessed Australian who gave us the excellent PSYCHO 2 and even better ROAD GAMES. LINK is looser and weirder than those two but Franklin still has a strong sense of suspense and a cleverness about setting up the pieces and moving them around: the property is out in the middle of nowhere, there are attack dogs over here, the phone doesn’t work, her boyfriend is worried, the doctor called a guy about meeting him, Link likes to play with matches, etc. Our brains try to store away these various pieces of information and they slowly move toward and weave through each other until they all plug in.
During all this Jane doesn’t react like she knows she’s in a horror movie. She doesn’t panic. She just tries to do her job. We’re more scared than she is. In fact, if she needs this for a letter of recommendation I give her permission to use it. She deserves a better job.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.