Chimera 1991 Review
aka Monkey Boy
Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Starring: John Lynch, Kenneth Cranham, Emer Gillespie
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now here’s a review that I never thought I’d be adding to a SLASH above. Could a feature length edition of a four-part series that was aired way back in 1991 on the comfort of a Sunday evening’s television really be classed a slasher flick? Surprisingly the answer is yes. I remember watching Chimera as a ten year old child and being absolutely petrified by the sights I was witnessing. Many years later as my love for horror grew, I often reminisced about Lawrence Gordon Clark’s opus and was enthusiastic when I discovered an ageing copy at a video store under the alias of Monkey Boy. Chimera had launched to much critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and I wondered whether it could survive the stark condensation from a four hour runtime to a measly length of a hundred and four minutes.
It launches with a suspenseful set-piece, which was drastically shortened from the sequence broadcasted on television in 1991. In its original format we were given a huge amount of development into the lives of the opening victims, whereas in this shorter version, the characters are slaughtered almost as soon as they are introduced. It all kicks off in The Jener Clinic – a remote fertility surgery in the Yorkshire countryside. A van pulls into the car park and out jump four panic stricken workers. They drag something screaming from the back of the vehicle before silencing it with tranquillisers and carrying it into the complex. Although we don’t get to see the struggling aggressor, we can tell from its screams that it’s certainly not human. As night sets in on the clinic, the alarm is raised when an unseen someone begins stalking through the surgery and slaughtering the staff Michael Myers-style with a carving knife. The unseen maniac escapes the location, leaving behind him a mess of butchered corpses and flames.
The following morning we are introduced to Peter Carson (John Lynch). Peter is apprehended by Police whilst on his way to the clinic in order to meet his ex-girlfriend, Tracy. He is forced to identify the nurse’s mutilated corpse, but when he asks for answers he is given the run-around by the senior detectives. Visibly frustrated at the lack of information he is given, Peter begins to suspect that the Police are covering up the true motives behind the massacre. He soon launches his own private investigation, which uncovers something worse than he could ever have imagined.
The days when British Hammer Horror features were at the forefront of the genre have long since passed and UK cinema has yet to produce a slasher movie to rival its American brethren. It comes as some surprise that the closest they have come is with this made for TV thriller from the early nineties. Chimera combines a gripping story with the standard clichés to create an entry that sticks in your mind long after the closing credits have rolled. Mixing shady government conspiracies and genetic engineering with approachable characters and a bogeyman that splits the viewer between moods of sympathy and hatred, Stephen Gallagher’s script generates enough complexity and terror to allow it to stand as a memorable viewing experience.
The opening massacre borrows heavily from Halloween and its sequel, and in a further nod to the cycle, the killer sports a red striped top ala Freddy Krueger. As Chimera was made for television, the gore is kept to a bare minimum, but Clark’s sharp and rapid direction and a plot that successfully delays the explanation to the psycho’s identity keeps the tension running fluidly. John Carpenter has stated that one of the reasons that the original Halloween towered so prominently over the quality of its sequels was the excellent dramatization of ‘the shape’ by Nick Castle. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a chillingly portrayed bogeyman, but it’s something that Clark was aware of and Douglas Mann does an excellent job of giving the killer a distinguishing characterisation. In the lead, John Lynch fails to take advantage of a multi-layered plot and delivers a half-hearted colourless performance, whilst the majority of the cast members never leave the comfort zone of b-grade television dramatics. Only Kenneth Cranham emerges with credibility, portraying the ruthless Hennessey with a vicious guile that offers the viewer a genuine hate figure.
The fact that Chimera is based on Gallagher’s novel from 1982 – a time when the genre was at its most productive – explains why the plot is so knee deep in slasher references. But to classify Chimera as just another cycle entry would perhaps be an injustice, because it falls into a huge number of categories. Part Sci-fi, part detective mystery and a huge part stalk and slash, Clark’s opus is an altogether interesting feature that never outstays its welcome.
Ok so this is an updated write-up from a a few years back. It’s the first of two British TV slashers that I am going to post for you all. My first review of this flick got a mixed response, with people disagreeing and some in fact said it was insulting that I called it a slasher film. Well, if you don’t think that an unseen killer stalking through POV shots with a butcher’s knife is Carpenter-esque, then I don’t know what to do with you… Check it out…
Killer Guise: √