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Richard Franklin

USA/UK, 1986


Review by Katherine Follett

Posted on 07 October 2008

Source HBO Cannon Video VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror V

In March of 2005, St. James Davis and his wife LaDonna went to a wild-animal shelter outside Bakersfield, California to visit Moe, a chimpanzee they had raised as a companion. It was Moe’s birthday, and they brought him a cake. While St. James waited for Moe, two other male chimps suddenly escaped their cages and brutally attacked him. According to news reports, the chimps “chewed most of his face off” and “tore off Davis’ testicles and foot” before being shot to death by workers at the animal shelter.1 In 1995, a primatologist studying orangutans in Borneo published an account in which a large male orangutan living in the research camp raped the camp’s cook.2

While most films include apes as little more than sight gags, tumbling diapered clowns with gap-toothed grins, real apes can be horrifyingly violent. Incidents like those above are recounted to Jane, the protagonist of Link, which bills itself as a horror film about apes on the attack. Though disappointing to an animal lover, a film in which apes are savage and brutal is much closer to the truth about these animals than the usual modern Hollywood picture.

In fact, great apes are almost ideal horror-film villains. Like many deformed killers of classic slasher movies, apes are recognizably similar to regular humans, yet different enough to be uncanny. They are intelligent, and can plan, adapt, deceive, and possibly even have foresight into their victims’ future behavior. Unlike many animals in the “when-nature-attacks” subgenre, apes attack and murder for reasons frighteningly similar to the motives of human violence: hierarchical aggression, jealousy, and vengeance. For almost all intents and purposes, apes are nearly identical to human adversaries, but without any reason, moral laws, or common humanity to appeal to. Chilling indeed.

It fits that Link is less a gory horror film than a psychological thriller. Jane is a good-hearted student who becomes the assistant of a primatologist, Dr. Phillip, joining him at his remote manor where he studies ape psychology. His subjects are an aging, violent female chimp named Voodoo, a more friendly adolescent chimp named Imp, and Dr. Phillip’s butler, a retired circus orangutan named Link. Link wears elegant clothes and occasionally repeats his circus act (as the “master of fire”) of lighting and smoking cigars. Dr. Phillip has an iron fist over his charges, asserting his dominance at all times, while Jane somewhat naively wants to believe in the apes’ better nature and unique intelligence. A good portion of the film spends time setting up these characters, animal and human. Dr. Phillip constantly warns Jane about the dangers of her kindly -babysitter attitude around these powerful wild animals, who appear friendly but show hints of having their own agendas. Things start to take a sinister turn when Dr. Phillip arranges to have Link and Voodoo put down because they are “no longer useful.” Soon, Dr. Phillip is missing, and Jane is left alone with the increasingly rebellious animals.

Though the setup sounds goofy, the film is not a low-budget camp-a-thon. Jane, played by Elizabeth Shue, and Dr. Phillip, played by veteran British actor Terence Stamp, are both believably acted. The location is a gorgeous British seaside manor, the cinematography is skillful and often beautiful, and the apes are well-trained and wonderfully expressive real animals, saving us from the bad costumes and rubbery puppetry so common in animal movies. On the other hand, Link is not a particularly accomplished thriller. Shue’s bland nice-girl performance (and her thoroughly unflattering costumes) deaden any suspense; she never acts as though she’s in peril.3 All the action takes place during the daytime, and the director takes very little advantage of his exterior location’s tendency to be anything but pretty. Overall, there isn’t much tension or suspense in the film. More than one scene lets an ape’s increasing rage and murderous cunning build and build, only to cut away before any real action happens; inevitably, Jane finds the body later, all the violence having taken place off-screen.

Though the arc of the film as a whole is a bit unsatisfying, there are some incredibly creepy scenes. At one point, before Jane fully comprehends Link’s devious nature, she tries to leave the compound on foot to find the missing Dr. Phillip, forgetting about the attack dogs that guard the facility. She is chased to a dead-end by a vicious dog. At the last moment, Link bounds in and, with a terrifying display of power, bodily slams the large dog against the post of a chain-link fence, breaking its neck. In another scene, Link repeatedly tries to microwave the phone. What seem like silly ape hijinks become very dark once we realize that Link has cut off Jane’s communication with the outside world. And in perhaps the film’s most disturbing scene, Jane prepares to take a bath. After stripping off her bathrobe, a hairy hand comes around the door. There stands Link, shirtless (we’ve been told he never parts with his clothes), staring at Jane’s nude body. Until this point, Jane had tried to see the apes as something like innocent children. This scene finally makes it clear to her that she’s dealing with an adult intelligence that may have something more on its mind than bananas. The scene is supremely icky, but also disturbing in a profound way, suggesting the interbreeding of species (us and apes) that are just close enough to be plausible, yet far enough to be repulsive.

Jane’s boyfriend and two of his friends arrive to find out what’s going on, and the body count rises. The film hits all the right notes, though not very hard, as the friends are picked off one by one and Jane uses carefully foreshadowed details to finally bring about Link’s doom. In the final scene, she drives away with her injured boyfriend and Imp, the young chimp who seemed harmless. But as the shot pulls away, we see a field of mauled sheep, victims of Imp’s violent boredom. Ultimately, the film isn’t quite tight enough to fully succeed as a strong psychological thriller, and definitely not gory enough to satisfy fans of “when nature attacks” movies. (Then again, how much do you want to see a furious ape really tear off somebody’s face and testicles?) But Link is well made and entertaining. It probably could have done more, but I have to admire a horror film for accurately depicting a sophisticated animal’s true frightening - and frighteningly human - nature.

  1. For realz:
  2. From the book Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin 1996, pages 137–138). A fascinating survey of intraspecies ape violence, the book places human violence solidly within the norms of great-ape social interaction. In my mind, it also explains why horror-movie predators always charge and roar intimidatingly at their human “prey” (think of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park), when real predators are almost universally silent when on the attack. Humans (and other apes) don’t have many real predators, but we respond very strongly to confrontation and aggression from other humans, which involve a lot of charging and noise. Yet another reason why apes make great horror-movie adversaries: they have the same ways of intimidating a foe as we do. Sorry about all the science.
  3. Though it is a nice change that, in the end, Jane’s wits and ingenuity end up saving both her and her dude-in-distress boyfriend in the final showdown with Link.

Information from VHS Sleeve



Run Time
103 minutes

Richard Franklin

VHS Distributor
HBO Cannon Video

Relevant Cast
Elisabeth Shue, Terence Stamp

Relevant Crew
Jerry Goldsmith (music)

Tag Line
For Thousands of Years Man Has Enslaved the Ape. Now, the Tables are About to Turn…





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