... aka: Panic in the Tower
Baboons are known for many things: Their high-pitched shrieks, their big, bald red asses, having powerful jaws and sharp teeth that they often like to flash to scare away threats and potential predators, being one of the largest and most aggressive members of the primate order and, last but certainly not least, the sheer glee they exhibit on the off chance they're put in a situation that allows them to slaughter bland collegians indulging in painfully geeky pastimes like Dungeon & Dragons. Considering how wild and frenzied baboons can be when they're all wired up, it's surprising how very few horror films have utilized this animal over the years. There's of course the safari park scene in The Omen (1976) where baboons attack Lee Remick's car, but that was just one isolated scene in the film. The nowadays seldom-watched IN THE SHADOW OF KILIMANJARO (1986), which was supposedly based on a true story about 90,000 starving baboons going on a murderous rampage in Kenya in 1984, may have been the first horror film to center entirely around the baboon, but the film was a major flop. And then came Shakma, which was a low-budget limited release that did most of its business on TV and video throughout the 90s.
There isn't much need to delve into the plot too thoroughly (a good thing because there's isn't much plot), but it's basically yet another horror tale about science gone awry. When he's not busy lecturing and playing childish games, Professor Sorenson (Roddy McDowall) is tinkering around with animal brains in an attempt to reduce aggression. His latest victim, er, subject, is a baboon named Shakma. After waking up from a surgery that was supposed to calm the savage beast, Shakma is even more vicious than ever before. Sorenson instructs a few of his students to put the animal down. They shoot it up, stick it in a room and then decide to put off cremating it for another day so that Sorenson can perform a necropsy... and then it's game time!
A handful of young medical students; Sam (Christopher Atkins), his girlfriend Tracy (Amanda Wyss), Bradley (Tre Laughlin), Richard (Greg Flowers) and Gary (Robb Morris), along with Richard's teen sister Kim (Ari Meyers), then decide to use the upper floors of a six story research facility to play some silly fantasy role-playing game utilizing a computer, walkie talkies and magic crystals (i.e. rocks), with Sorenson acting as "the game master" and a 1500 dollar bounty for whoever wins. Every door in the facility is locked, the alarm system is shut off and only a small handful of keys are distributed among the players, which must be earned by finding hidden scrolls. In other words, once they're locked in, it's not gonna be easy to get out. Shakma, of course, turns out to be not so dead, destroys nearly every animal in the lab and then begins murdering and partially eating the players one by one.
This one has its fair share of flaws. The dialogue is kind of lame, numerous characters do the most moronic things imaginable just to ensure they'll die, a large amount of time is spent showing people wandering down hallways and walking up and down the stairwell and it's extremely annoying that no one just busts out a window and starts screaming their head off until the police arrive (or even just barricade themselves in a room until help gets there). No sir! These people just needlessly and brainlessly make themselves vulnerable to attack throughout, which nearly had me screaming at my TV at times. And yet, despite all that, I still kind of enjoyed the film. It's rather simple, but in a good way, and the directors are at least able to balance out the violence (several of the baboon attack sequences are excellent) with genuinely suspenseful moments. The finale is also both clever and surprisingly grim.
Most of the actors are at least tolerable but the real star here is the aptly-named Typhoon the baboon, who is currently being robbed of having his very own page on IMDb. I may have to remedy that oversight one day. Typhoon was such a ladies man that no menstruating women were allowed on set or else he'd go crazy and, to get him to go buck wild and start attacking the doors, a female baboon in heat had to be placed on the other side. It was noticed later on that the "star" had a highly- visible erection during these 'rage' scenes, which had to be airbrushed out by the studio before the film could be released!