Shakma (1990) aka Panic in the Tower
Dir. Tom Logan
Written by Roger Engle
Starring Chris Atkins, Amanda Wyss, and… Roddy McDowall? Really?
|I agree, this is an awesome poster. Do not be fooled. Also note the obvious greatness of the original tagline: "The World's most aggressive primate... just got mad."|
Let’s be honest with each other. I don’t think either one of us expected this 1990 horror cheapie about a killer baboon on the loose inside a locked med school to be a good movie. This is not the sort of movie you make as a labor of love and struggle for for years to bring your uncompromising artistic vision of the baboon/med student relationship to the imploring eyes of the American public. This is the sort of movie you make because HBO has a hundred minute window available to fill next month, and you know a guy who owns a baboon. But don’t get me wrong, that’s a perfectly honorable reason to make a killer baboon pic; many movies I thoroughly enjoy have emerged from motives far more sordid, and there’s no reason a lack of artistic hubris should get in the way of making a perfectly delightful “When (insert whatever animal John Peters saw a National Geographic special about this week)’s attack” type of love letter to pure cinema. So ok, we don’t expect this to be a good movie. But it ought to at least be entertaining, which I’m sorry to report SHAKMA is not, at all.
By the time the movie establishes that its five or six principal characters are hip, sexy med students locked in an abandoned building to play some sort of stunning lame Live Action Role-Play game, you are already starting to identify with that guy from 127 HOURS, and coming to a similar conclusion about whether it’s worth it to gnaw off a major appendage. Things start to briefly look up for a little bit with the introduction of the title character, who has immensely greater screen presence* than any of these clowns, and with the fact that the most annoying character dies pretty early on in a pretty wonderful way. Faced with the wrath of a rampaging baboon, he does the only logical thing you could do in this situation, which is to sneak into a supply closet and grab a beaker of acid to throw at his pint-sized attacker. I’ll let you guess which one of the two of them ends up with his face burned off, and which one goes on to continue to be a rampaging baboon. But it’s pretty funny, and ever so fleeting stirs hopes that this might at least be an entertaining terrible movie.
|Expect to see this hallway a lot.|
Alas, absolutely nothing remotely interesting whatsoever happens for the remainder of the punishing 100 minute runtime. I like Shakma, and I appreciate that his (her?) performance seems to be mostly real baboon, with maybe 10% decent baboon puppet mixed in there**. But the poor little bastard doesn’t get anything interesting to do, and the ratio of interminably uneventful scenes of these LARPing fuckwads slowly walking down identical hallways to scenes of Shakma jumping on their faces is disastrously high in the wrong direction. In a better movie than this (a much, much, vastly better movie) I might applaud the director for milking the suspense, but listen dude, you’re not directing A HAUNTING, this is fucking SHAKMA. We’re not sitting there in rapt suspense while these interchangeable asstards walk slowly down the same well-lit atmosphere-free school hallway over and over for what must about 80% of the movie. Instead we’re praying for Shakma to unexpectedly attack the guy behind the camera and put an end to this in the only possible dignified way.
|This is about the most that Shakma can manage, but you gotta admit, he really gives it his all.|
Alas, no such luck; the 20% of scenes that do not involve slowly walking down the same hallway are all either a) LARPing, b) Roddy McDowell looking confused and disoriented about how he got here and why these people won’t let him leave or c) Shakma flipping the fuck out and hurling his tiny body against a closed door like a killer fraggle on PCP, while on the other side of the door some cracker fucko screams and frantically holds onto the doorknob, which is an odd decision because in no way, shape or form does Shakma appear to be capable of (or interested in) manipulating a doorknob. That’s it, that’s all you get, I just described the entire movie. Despite the consistent 20 or so emotions that remain fixed on Chris Atkins’ face at all times, the movie is a barren wasteland of the soul with occasional footage of a baboon***. Except for the acid guy, everyone dies the same way and all off-screen. And frankly, Shakma is an angry little guy, but is also maybe two foot high. If a two-foot high primate can manage to kill you, well, you didn’t really want to live very badly anyway, did you? I’m sorry but that’s on you.
Obviously, you’re gonna have to sort of love that adorable fuzzball Shakma, and as a star-making vanity piece I guess it is slightly more eventful than 8 MILE. But seriously guys, a movie about a killer baboon deserves to be better than this.
*I was going to say “charisma” but I don’t want to encourage these LARPing fucktards.
**By the way, “Shakma” comes from “Chacma” Baboons (Papio Ursinus) a species native to Southern Africa. I know my readers expect me to go deep, so that’s your morsel of hard-nosed journalism for today.
***I guess some people online seem to sort of enjoy how ridiculous and incompetent this is, but man, you'd have to trim 40 minutes off the runtime for it to be worth it in terms of so-bad-it's-good payoff. At 100 minutes it just turns into a slog, even with friends and copious amounts of alcohol.