Blue Monkey (1987) Retrospective

SUMMARY
Marwellia Harbison is an eccentric old woman who owns a greenhouse. Handyman Fred Adams stops by to do some work on the light fixtures and comments on how one of her plants is drooping. It’s an odd looking plant with yellow flowers. According to Marwella, it came from a newly formed volcanic island off the coast of Micronesia. Its current state happened overnight and Marwella is at a loss to explain what could have caused it.

Fred inexplicably hurts himself on the plant, as though he pricked his finger on a thorn. However, Marwella claims the plant has no thorns and neither she nor Fred can figured out of what could’ve pricked him. Nevertheless, he seems okay, and after bidding Marwella goodbye he walks out to his truck whereupon he immediately starts feeling strange and collapses. Marwella calls the paramedics. Fred is taken by ambulance to the Hill Valley Hospital with a very high fever. On call are Doctors Rachel Carson and Judith Glass, who are astonished to see that the man has already developed gangrene where he pricked his finger. Their attention is taken away from Fred when police detective Jim Bishop brings his partner in with a bad gunshot wound. The two had been involved in a stakeout that went poorly, and Jim’s partner got shot at point blank range. However, Rachel is confident that with surgery, he should to be okay.

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In the adjacent bed, Fred begins convulsing and winds up vomiting an insect pupa out of his mouth, after which he seems to stabilize. The pupa is hurriedly contained in a bell jar in the hospital’s in-house laboratory. Rachel is concerned that whatever Fred had might be contagious and orders mandatory checkups of everyone, including Jim. When Jim comes back clean of any mysterious parasitic insects Rachel decides to show him around the hospital, including their high-tech research facility where they’re testing out new and powerful surgical lasers. Attempts to x-ray the pupa prove futile, so it is decided to slice it open. In doing so the doctors unleash a particularly feisty insect-like creature, but with Jim’s help they’re able to get it contained. Meanwhile, Fred is faring worse. In addition to having been parasites from the insect, he’s come down with a mysterious disease the creature was carrying. He goes into cardiac arrest and when Judith Glass attempts to revive him with shock paddles, his chest violently explodes. Meanwhile, Marwella and the paramedic who brought Fred in are coming down with the same symptoms.

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Hospital director Roger Levering is resistant to quarantining the facility for fear of causing a panic, but Rachel is at least able to get him to bring in entomologist Elliot Jacobs in the hopes of identifying the mysterious insect. Before Elliot arrives, a group of children from the hospital’s pediatric ward start roaming the halls. Lab technician Alice Bradley, tasked with guarding the insect specimen is lured away from her post by her boyfriend, laser lab technician Ted Andrews, to have sex, which leaves the insect completely unguarded. The children wander on into the lab unnoticed. Seeing the insect, they decide to feed it some bluish powdery substance one of them finds in a bottle on a shelf. They argue over who gets to pour it into the jar with the insect and, as a result, they pour in an excessively large amount of the powder. Hearing the nurse and orderly returning, the children quickly leave. Unbeknownst to the two, the insect has grown to gigantic proportions and broken free of its glass prison. It promptly kills them both.

Elliot Jacobs arrives and he, Rachel and Jim survey the carnage. Elliot is horrified when he discovers that the bluish powder the children fed the insect was a growth hormone. Now the insect is giant and it could be anywhere. It turns out the insect is in the utility tunnels underneath the hospital, where the creature kills a hapless janitor and then begins building a nest for its brood. Rachel, Jim and Elliot figure out how to stop the insect while Judith deals with the consequences of the disease the creature has spread throughout the building, before the military, summoned by New York’s Lincoln Institute (a facility for disease prevention), take drastic measures and destroy the facility.

The film’s budget was around a modest $3 million (Canadian). Sandy had theory on a $2–3 million budget: unless you were totally drunk and didn’t know what you were doing … it was hard to lose any money. But if you made a low budget film for 5-10 million dollars and it was a piece of crap … you could lose millions. Blue Monkey never did well or made any money in the U.S.A. but I think it made a modest profit in the international markets. – Michael Masciarelli (executive producer)

PRODUCTION/BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS
The veteran filmmaker reveals just why a $4.6 million movie about a giant insect is called Blue Monkey. “Originally, in the script, we were working with a more monkey-like character, but we decided instead to explore the insect world, the cocoons and so on. It is a more horrible, brutal world in itself, and that’s what interested us. There is a certain kind of hornet, for instance, that stings a tarantula, just paralyzing it. It then carefully deposits its eggs all around the live tarantula and the larvae feed off the trapped animal until they metamorphosize. This is a terribly painful death for the tarantula, but it lives through all this so the things will have fresh meat. You can’t get much more horrible than that. The original title just stuck, that’s all.”

The hospital is the setting for virtually the whole movie. To provide the kind of atmosphere needed, an old psychiatric hospital in Toronto was chosen. “We had something else in mind that we were thinking of using, but we decided that it wasn’t grand enough for our requirements,” assistant director Neil Hahta says. “So we came down here and found most of the locations we needed. We shot over in the power station by the lakeshore. It has a very impressive four-story blower with catwalks and everything, and we built our hospital sets inside the other sections. Underneath the facility, it’s honeycombed with lots of old tunnels. They were used back when this was an insane asylum to bring patients back and forth between the various buildings during winter. They’ve fallen into disrepair over the years, so they actually look very creepy. We shot down there for four or five days.”

One set was built completely from scratch: Blue Monkey’s hospital needed a laser research laboratory. Constructed in the real hospital’s cavernous gymnasium, the laboratory boasted a huge laser over 80 feet in length. This was an exact reproduction of an existing ND YAG or Yttrium Argon research laser. Its array of control computers creates a strong hi-tech backdrop, quite different from the mundane Victorian hospital corridors and Gothic looking tunnels. Here, after a two hour setup, an intense confrontation between insect and man was shot, with impressive pyrotechnics that include a massive fireball.

Like many good monster pictures, Blue Monkey is set largely indoors to create the oppressive sense of being trapped with no escape. What exteriors we do see may be recognized by some viewers as the ones used in Police Academy 4. As for other reasons for shooting in Toronto, Neil Hahta admits, “There’s the dollar exchange, of course, and Toronto is the New York of Canada, so there’s a good many experienced people here. The crews here are as competent as, if not more competent than, the Americans.” The fact that both William Fruet and the Howard International Film Group, who are producing the movie, are Canadian also played a hand in the decision.

William Fruet
William Fruet

A good deal of the talent on Blue Monkey is American, however. Susan Anspach co-stars as Dr. Judith Glass, who first discovers the strange insect while it is still a worm, and who works in her lab to discover a way to defeat it once it grows to mammoth proportions. Top billing in the movie goes to Steve Railsback as police detective Jim Bishop. Railsback achieved wide recognition as Charles Manson in the CBS special Helter Skelter (1976).  Railsback observes. “Blue Monkey has science fiction in it, but it’s more of a horror movie. He goes on to say that Blue Monkey is in a much lighter vein due to the aforementioned comedic matter.

Gwynyth Walsh portrays Dr. Rachel Carlson, the tough lady who battles alongside Bishop to destroy the “bug.” “Doctor Carlson is obviously quite bright,” Walsh says. “She must be a very determined lady who cares about her work and about the people she works with. She’s supposed to be a heroine in the classical sense of the word. She’s very strong and independent, but sometimes she gets frightened by what she’s confronted with. As a character, you should always have your little Achilles heel, because we all do. So she has a vulnerable side like everyone else. “I would consider Rachel a very equal partner to Bishop,” she continues. “They are equally instrumental in the bug’s ultimate demise. I don’t have any trouble with the fact that the first time anything happens, she freaks out, or that when she’s at death’s door, she gets a little scared. That’s human and natural, but she’s not a wimp.” Walsh is enthusiastic about mak ing her horror debut. “It’s fun. On the very first day I did this thing where I get splattered with blood, and I loved it. It’s just fun, getting to do all sorts of things you never get to do in regular roles. I long to do more roles like this.”

 However, aside from its horrific aspects, Blue Monkey has a very strong element of humor, which is what attracted Canadian actor John (Curtains) Vernon to this horror tale as a hospital administrator. Known primarily for his dramatic roles, Vernon has also done well in comedy, notably as Dean Wormer in Animal House.

“Blue Monkey has a tongue-in-cheek feel, but in a movie like this, you have to be totally believable,” Vernon explains. “You have to be dead serious, otherwise you will lose your audience. You can’t cheat, you can’t be corny, but there should always be a little twinkle. I like this film because there’s humor in it.”

Producer Martin (Pretty kill) Walters echos these same feelings. “There are some situations which are quite funny,” Walters says. “I mean, there in the midst of this hospital which is being rampaged, humor can still be eked out. The horrific aspects of the film we’ve executed in very realistic fashion. It’s our intention to scare, but it’s a neat trick to make the audience laugh from time to time.”

“We’ve taken a purely comic-book approach to the whole movie,” Fruet, amplifies. “Our characters are straight as arrows. Everybody is just a little bit bigger than life, and I think it works. We’re hoping for a PG rating if we can get it, but I don’t know; there are a few spots of gore that we may have to edit.”

The main comic freight of Blue Monkey is carried by Joe Flaherty as George Baker, who tries to assist his pregnant wife Robin Duke to deliver her baby right in the midst of the carnage. It’s difficult to find out much more than that about the film’s humorous tendencies. Nobody wants to give the game away. One thing is certain, though: In a movie about a giant bug, we can expect at least one Volkswagen joke.

SPECIAL EFFECTS
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I remember more of pre-production. We first met with Carlo Rambaldi who designed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. He worked up his budget for doing the Alien special effects for the firm. It was like $2 million also; as much as our whole budget. We also met with Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead/Creepshow). We finally lucked out when we found an up and coming special effects artist, Steve Neill (Sirius Effects). He was talented and could work with our limited budget. – Michael Masciarelli (executive producer)

The creature was designed and built in Los Angeles by Todd Masters and Todd Foote, under the supervision of Steve Neill. “We’re working on a ’50s horror picture here, brought into the ’80s-a very simple storyline, a giant bug on the loose,” Masters states. “But Blue Monkey is more psychological. It plays with the fear of not knowing what’s going on. This creature can go almost anywhere: It can crawl on ceilings and crash through walls. When you walk in a dark room, it could be anywhere around you.”

Whatever Blue Monkey’s comic content may be, its main interest lies in its monster and the battle to defeat it. “We spent three months on this thing,” says Masters. “Almost every waking hour was spent in the thought or construction of this creature. We read a lot of books, we caught live insects and studied them to see how they moved. This insect is as close to a real insect as you could get. We made a 9-foot bug, but each piece of the · creature is based on a real insect.fan69026

“The head is from a wasp, the eyes are from a dragonfly, the stomach is , from a scorpion, the back parts are from various beetles and it has these arched praying mantis arms,” he continues. “Steve Neill let me have complete control over what it looked like, so I came up with a really outrageous creature.”

Asked if he was influenced by the design of the creatures in ALIENS or The Fly, Masters replies, “Well, considering I worked on them, yeah, I was influenced-not so much with the actual texture of the creature, but by the feeling behind it. We didn’t have millions of dollars to spend, but we had to make the thing look as good as the Aliens. That’s what Steve is known for, producing quality effects on lower budgets.

Steven R. Kutcher, once a professor of entomology, was also consulted on the insect design. Known in Hollywood as “the Bug Man,” Kutcher has provided and handled insects for many projects. He also deals very usefully with actors’ fear of insects. “Kutcher was pretty helpful,” Masters praises. “He made comments and suggested changes, all of which were valid.”

Three different creatures were constructed for the film: a suit worn by Ivan E. Roth, an articulated mechanical head, arms and shoulder construction, and a complete creature used for the flying sequences and long shots. Still, audiences will have to look hard to see what the creature really looks like.

Todd Masters works on the set of the Blue Monkey.
Todd Masters works on the set of the Blue Monkey.

“Do we ever get a clear look at the whole thing?” director of photography Brenton Spence ponders. “Yes and no. We’ve all see our favorite monsters-King Kong Godzilla, Gorgo-but those thing were always destroyed for me when: I saw them full at the movie’s end We don’t do that with our creature We give hints, like a puzzle. We hold it really close to the camera. You see it in silhouette, in really low light through smoke, in strobe light, or with back lighting. We show it in extreme foreground with the actors in the background, just to give bits and pieces. Only in one scene do we pan down the whole monster and show you every last bit of detail, but we don’t see him stark naked in on frame standing there.”

[Why did the title change from “Green Monkey” to Blue Monkey?] During the 80s AIDS/HIV was still a very taboo subject and not a lot was known. Actor Rock Hudson had just died of AIDS and there was a great fear of getting it. A theory came up from scientists that AIDS had been started by infected African green monkeys and at the time and for a number of years people still believed that’s how AIDS started. So of course the title “Green Monkey” had to be changed as not to be associated in any way with AIDS. Calling it “Blue Monkey” never really made any more sense since the alien was never really blue, but that’s why the title was changed so as not to be associated with the African green monkeys. – Michael Masciarelli (executive producer)

Blue-Monkey-Posterler

CONCLUSION
“I know others have had bad experiences with Sandy, but he was really good to me,” says Fruet of the film, whose title has puzzled viewers, given that its creature is a rapidly growing insect. What did ‘Blue Monkey’ mean? God knows,” he shrugs. “It was originally called Green Monkey-that was Sandy’s idea, because the AIDS thing was exploding and there was talk of green monkeys causing it. Another reason for the Monkey title was that it was originally going to be an ape monster, which would have been real silly.”

Although Children of the Corn’s George Goldsmith receives co-scripting credit for Blue Monkey. Fruet insists the film was literally being penned on the spot. “That screenplay was written in Sandy’s office,” he recalls. “It was a stupid script. Sandy wrote lots of it. You have to understand that he had about three or four projects besides Blue Monkey going at the same time, and they were all low budget. First we had the monkey creature, then it turned into the bug.” From previous experience and given the low budget he was working with, Fruet knew he wouldn’t be able to deliver the goods technically, ” ‘Not a silly bug movie’–that’s what I kept saying to myself,” he recalls.

“Ironically, Blue Monkey is probably my favorite horror film I’ve made,” Fruet says. “It was done so cheaply. maybe that gave it some charm. If I’d just had some more money to work with, I think we really could’ve delivered with the film.” He adds that the picture took a year’s worth of prep time for the three month shoot. The bug took forever to make, and it looked really lousy, big surprise.”

CAST/CREW
Directed
William Fruet

Produced
Martin Walters
executive
Sandy Howard

Written
George Goldsmith
Chris Kosulek (uncredited)

Steve Railsback – Detective Jim Bishop
Gwynyth Walsh – Dr. Rachel Carson
Susan Anspach – Dr. Judith Glass
Don Lake – Dr. Elliot Jacobs
Sandy Webster – Fred Adams
Helen Hughes – Marwella Harbison
John Vernon – Roger Levering

Special Effects by
Don Albon … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
T. Dow Albon … special effects technician
Beth Hathaway … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
Michael F. Hoover … creature maker: Sirius Effects / special effects technician
Makio Kida … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
Todd Masters … creature maker: Sirius Effects
Steve Neill … creature maker: Sirius Effects / creature supervisor: Sirius Effects
Steve Patino … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
Rick Schwartz … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
Mark Siegel … creature shop staff: Sirius Effects
Mark Williams … creature maker: Sirius Effects

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Fangoria#69
Fangoria#213
It Came from the 80s!: Interviews with 124 Cult Filmmakers

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