In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Monkey Business

As promised, I watched my recently acquired VHS copy of Kenneth J. Barton's 1984 flick The Devil's Gift.

After Michael (Struan Robertson) receives a toy monkey for his birthday, his father David (Bob Mendlesohn) begins to notice that bad things happen whenever it turns on.

If this synopsis sounds familiar, it's because it is. It is the exact premise of Stephen King's short story The Monkey that was collected in his 1985 anthology Skeleton Crew, but first published in a men's magazine in 1980. I mean, there's not much dispute, right? What are the chances of two stories about a toy monkey that kills people when it clangs its cymbals together existing independently? 

Monkey says it's unlikely.

In a time before the Internet, I guess you could get away with shit like that. I can't imagine The Devil's Gift was a real moneymaker, as I'd never even heard of it before I picked it up. Anyhow, plagiarism aside, it is a fairly watchable affair even if it does start out pretty rough. There's a really cheesy scene with an old lady in an attic performing a seance that was so hammy I actually expected the camera to pull back to reveal it was a bad movie the real characters were watching on television. Not so. Seriously, you could have excised that whole opening and not lost a step.

Eventually, the cursed monkey in question makes into the household by way of the father's girlfriend (Vicki Saputo) who picks it up at an antique store. Soon after, the clanging begins. Victims escalate from household plants to pets to more human quarry and this was where the movie had a definite problem with consistency. When the monkey set its sights on the kid, it suddenly needed to possess the girlfriend in order to rub him out. When that fails, we later see that it didn't even need to be so elaborate.


There's a lot of filler here. Even during the “monkey attack” sequences, things are often drawn out just a little longer than they should be. There's a silly sequence (though still entertaining) where the father is pretending to dust so he can accidentally-on-purpose knock the monkey into the garbage because a medium told him that “if it knows you know, all hell will break loose.” The thing is, he misses with the duster, so he has to go back with the vacuum cleaner to try and bump the table. I shit you not. This padded length shows how The Devil's Gift was easily gutted when used as one of three stories in the 1996 children's anthology Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

Anyway, about seventy-five minutes in, I was on the fence when David's neighbour Pete (Bruce Parry) pulled it out of the bag.

God's Gift, Moosehead Lager.

Ok, you win. Now I'm left with the mystery of how a low budget production in California got their hands on a lager from the Maritimes during the early eighties. With My Bloody Valentine, it makes sense, but Santa Rosa?

The Devil's Gift is flawed, but oft in the best kind of ways I think. The dialogue between the neighbours is actually fairly amusing and the monkey sequences, though deliberate in their execution, were fun at times. So, what have we learned here? Don't buy your kid a cursed object for his birthday and Ken J. Barton has great taste in beer.


Belial Bradley said...
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Ed L. said...

Hey Jay -

I worked on this flick, so I can give you some inside dope: it was in fact originally based on the Stephen King short story, without authorization and purportedly without the knowledge of Ken Berton, who told me that he was too far into it when he found out to fix the story or scuttle the project. Amazingly, no one was every sued to my knowledge.

About the Moosehead beer: As I recall, the brand was trying to gain foothold in the northern California market at the time. Somebody new the local beverage distributor and struck a deal for some free cases in exchange for a product placement. Glad they did, as free beer was the only compensation any of us saw from this thing.


Jay Clarke said...

That's amazing, thanks for the trivia!