Shakma ReviewJoe Shaffer
Dr. Sorenson (Roddy McDowall) holds an extracurricular activity that he urges his brightest students to attend. Now and then, he and a few of his med pupils gather in a research facility, lock themselves in, and engage in a session of live-action role-playing. Each player must search the premises and solve academic puzzles, thereby obtaining clues to the whereabouts of a captive princess. The students love it, as it gives them a chance to study and score brownie points with the prof. Sorenson also enjoys it because it allows him to host a LARP with college consent. Suffice it to say that each session is a big hit.
...until an incident occurs in which one of Sorenson's animal experiments goes awry. Injecting a baboon with an experimental serum intended to bring about docility in the primate instead pisses it off. The animal in question, Shakma, flies into a rage until someone manages to sedate him. Sorenson then orders for the Old World monkey's euthanasia, and for its remains to be locked up for further examination. The only snag is that the drugs meant to kill Shakma don't quite get the job done.
Worse yet, the effects of the sedative dissipate during one of Sorenson's LARP events, and someone decides to search the room containing the agitated baboon...
Shakma is not a plot-heavy film. Rather, its narrative consists of a string of misfortunes that befall fairly shallow characters as they unknowingly walk their final moments on the mortal coil, ushered off by the crazed mammal. There isn't much more to its storyline, and I'm honestly thankful of that. The last thing the title needed was loads of prattle regarding the history of each character, or overt commentary on animal experimentation, because Shakma is not a thinking man's horror movie. As with many fright flicks that emerged in the '80s and '90s, this one's all about getting spooked and having fun.
For the most part, the film hits its low target, largely thanks to one very important actor: Typhoon. As the antagonist Shakma, Typhoon exudes insanity. You can see it in his riled facial expressions, his aggressive growls, and especially in his fits of rage. Characters hole themselves up in rooms throughout the movie, and Shakma's response is to go absolutely nuts on the doors: shouldering them repeatedly, biting, clawing, and even jumping into the air and throwing his entire body into the barricades.
Of course, when you see one of these fits of rage enacted on a few of the humans, a grim realization may dawn on you: that being killed by a baboon is a horrible way to die. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, Shamka doesn't go for the throat. He prefers to beat the crap out of his victims, usually by clawing them senseless and mauling their faces (sometimes beyond recognition) until they perish from blood loss, trauma, or shock. The very notion of falling prey to an unhinged baboon is more terrifying than you might've thought, as Shakma very well demonstrates.
The primate's acts of brutality combined with the film's snappy pacing make for an enjoyable watch. Unfortunately, though, it's far from perfect, mostly because the movie hasn't aged entirely well.
Frantic scores, like the one used in Shakma, were the norm in the early '90s. It was as if composers then fancied themselves the next Harry Manfredini. Sadly, Shakma's score is needlessly chaotic at times, as if the music is insisting you find the movie scary. Granted, it's not Jason Goes to Hell bad, but the music playing in the first five minutes might be enough to scare off casual watchers.
There are also a few instances of poor acting, particularly some lame line reading from actor Tre Laughlin, who played a character named Bradley. Bradley's lines are often filled with a peculiar sort of enthusiasm, so much that it's difficult to tell if Laughlin was attempting to inject social awkwardness into his character or if he just wasn't a very good actor. He, of course, wasn't the only poor line reader, as just about everyone (with the exception of Roddy McDowall) was off mark at some point.
Shakma is not the kind of movie you start up expecting Oscar-worthy acting or writing. It's a taut natural horror flick that's fun to watch and a bit freaky, and that's about it. Ignore the flaws if you're able, grab a brew or a bite, and enjoy some early '90s mayhem.
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