August 01, 1988 12:00 PM

A toothsome miss punches up a tape of Peggy Lee ballads and jumps in the lap of her handsome lord and master for some heavy petting. He is Allan, a quadriplegic law student confined to a wheelchair since he was hit by a truck while jogging; she is Ella, a monkey trained to feed, find and fetch. The movie begins as the best love story between a man and monkey since Ronnie found Bonzo. But when Ella grows jealously possessive, the movie takes a sharp turn into terror. How could it not with writer-director George (Night of the Living Dead) Romero at the helm? Romero has adapted Michael Stewart’s 1983 novel for maximum thrills. Allan, adroitly acted by Jason (Compromising Positions) Beghe, harbors hostility for the girl (Janine Turner) who dumped him, the doctor (Stanley Tucci) who failed to cure him, the nurse (Christine Forrest, the real-life Mrs. Romero) who neglects him and the domineering mother (Joyce Van Patten) who nearly destroys his relationship with Ella’s comely trainer, attractively played by Kate McNeil. Intercourse is impossible for Allan, but an oral sex scene between Beghe and McNeil supplies erotic sizzle. Ella sees all, picking up psychically on Allan’s resentments and passions. This is no ordinary primate. Allan’s scientist friend, the excellent John (The Secret of My Success) Pankow, has used Ella as a guinea pig, injecting her with human brain tissue. (The Dr. Frankenstein twist gives Romero a chance to preempt criticism from Helping Hands, the Boston-based organization doing acclaimed work in training monkeys to aid the handicapped.) This isn’t real life, it’s Romeroland. While Allan dreams of revenge, Ella exacts it. Bodies start piling up. Romero is working at a lower gore level than usual, building suspense from a strong character base. Beghe’s early scenes with Ella are both funny and touching, making Ella’s switch from cutie to killer truly bone-chilling. The climactic face-off of monkey and master will fry your nerves to a frazzle. Cheers to Boo, the scene-stealing capuchin who plays Ella. Here’s the class act among summer shockers—a dazzling mix of mirth and menace. (R)

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