80’s Horror Starring a Truly Great Ape



I have just watched a movie in which the film’s strongest performance was delivered by an orangutan.  Elizabeth Shue received a Best Actress Saturn Award (from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films), and I mean no disrespect but the real award winner from Link should have been Locke, the orangutan who serves as the film’s antihero.

Jane Chase (Shue) is a young American attending the generically named London College of Science, where she’s studying under primatologist Dr. Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp).  She volunteers to be his assistant over summer holiday which means going to his mansion in the country where he lives with and conducts experiments on two chimps and an orangutan who dresses like a butler, smokes cigars, and is getting too big for his trousers.  It’s not long before Dr. Phillip has disappeared, one chimp is dead, and Jane finds herself trying to protect young Imp the Chimp while trapped by the cunning, malevolent Link.

I’ve watched Link twice now.  The first time is just struck me as bonkers.  It opens with a chimps-eye view of avian and feline murder (with a young girl in peril who never features in the film again).  That’s Imp, not Link, who is escaping from the college and going on a killing rampage. Remember that later when Imp seems to be adorable and harmless.  I couldn’t really make heads or tails of that opening the first time, but on second viewing it’s clear that Link is trying to de-romanticize animals, and animal-human relationships.   Cats prey on birds; Imp preys on both; Dr. Phillip, in his own way, preys on his study subjects; and Link is ready to turn the tables.

But Link isn’t simply a beast.  He’s highly evolved enough to think Jane is kind of a hottie, and to spy on her in the bath.  He also seems to be jealous of her affection for Imp, and above all he’s sick of the condescension from Dr. Phillip and isn’t going to wait around to be euthanized.  So it’s not a huge surprise when Dr. Phillip disappears, and so does Bailey, the creepy stranger who has arranged to buy Imp’s mother, Voodoo. When Jane’s boyfriend, David, and two of his friends show up to check on Jane, bad things happen to them, too.

Link isn’t an especially scary horror movie, but it has a chaotic energy that’s hard not to love.  It’s an 80s fever dream of bizarre camera angles and disorientingly comic music. Director Richard Franklin (Psycho 2, Cloak and Dagger) wanted the movie to feel Hitchcockian.  It doesn’t get there, but the earnestness of the attempt comes through and makes the film winsomely off-kilter.

And above all, what makes the film work is the performance by Locke.  In addition to doing the stunt work, there’s something about Locke’s impassive expression that communicates volumes.  You can feel that he’s quietly stored away grievances against Dr. Phillip, and against humans in general. He’s waiting for his chance to assert not just his dominance but his superiority, once and for all.  He goes out with a bang, in a scene reminiscent of White Heat or Scarface, puffing his cigar; defeated but unbowed.

Watch for a very on-the-nose clip from Marlene Dietrich’s Blonde Venus early in Link, and for an appearance by Scottish actor David O’Hara (Luther, The Tudors) as one of David’s unfortunate schoolmates.  Also of note, Locke was trained by famed film animal coordinator Ray Berwick who was best known for training birds (The Birds, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, The Omen 2).

Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release is a 4K restoration with a rich set of special features. Included are trailers, Goldsmith’s demo of the film’s brightly demented musical theme, an interview with director Franklin, and an audio commentary. But most interesting are the deleted workprint scenes. Franklin complained elsewhere that the studio had sliced and diced the film. Seeing the deleted scenes makes me curious what might have been. Gaps in the released film’s narrative disappear, but the movie also because much darker. I’m not surprised the studio nixed a scene in which Dr. Phillip has the Imp and Link examining Jane’s body.

I won’t make the argument that Link is a great movie, but it’s certainly entertaining and was even more fun the second time around.  And Locke, may he rest in peace, deserves all the posthumous fame he can get.