The relationship between people and apes is long and quite complicated, and not just in films. You still occasionally hear stories in the news about chimps and the like bought as exotic pets turning against their owners in horrific ways. Some people don’t realise how dangerous such animals are, despite an initially cute or amusing appearance. As the 1986 film Link directly points out “Try babysitting a baby that’s ten times stronger than you are”.
Jane (Elizabeth Shue) is studying zoology, and has just gotten a job as an assistant to Dr. Phillips (Terence Stamp), a specialist in primates. She will be assisting him at his cliff-top home with the specimens he keeps there, including the former circus ape and now “monkey butler” Link. But suddenly the doctor vanishes, leaving Jane with Link and the others, and Link’s more animal instincts are very much in control.
Director Richard Franklin had directed quite a few good titles before this, including the surprisingly successful Psycho II. He has a great knack for the set up of a thriller and all the elements are here. An isolated location, a strong and intelligent antagonist and letting the audience know that little bit more than the protagonist. It all comes together even if it takes a while getting there. The film spends a little too long with Jane either oblivious to or not willing to see what’s actually going on, and it can grate a bit. Also, it’s not made entirely clear why exactly Link starts on his reign of terror; it’s implied why he might have rebelled at one point but it’s not made clear.
That being said, it’s never dull. The storyline does lead to some interesting musings on the nature of our connection to animals, presented well by a good cast. This is enhanced by some suggestions over how precisely intelligent Link and the other apes are, a major theme of the story. Mind, this does lead to some “Oh come on!” moments later on when, smart or not, you do wonder how Link pulled off some of his tricks in here. Nevertheless, it all leads to a pretty intense final act, when the gloves come off with a fast paced climax.
On the production side, Richard Franklin is a very stylish director, with lots of great uses of unusual camera angles and POV shots. This is especially noticeable during the climax and a good but tad redundant opening scene setting the mood. The acting is fine all around, with Terence Stamp as intense as always, though one wishes he was around more, and Elizabeth Shue’s an endearing lead. Special mention must be made of Locke, the orangutan playing Link, who gives a very effective animal performance, considering the amount of screen time he gets. The one issue with the film’s production is the score by Jerry Goldsmith; it’s not that it’s bad but it does feel very inappropriate at places. More than a few scenes end up sounding more like a Gremlins sequel than the more serious tone the film’s going for.
Overall, Link has quite a few flaws against it but it is an interesting little thriller that works well in the end. It’s worth watching, if only for a film that for once does an ape antagonist fairly realistically for a change, and losing no tension or excitement as a result, in fact quite the opposite. Link is a solid British made horror, from a time when those were in preciously short supply but it’s not one you’ll go completely bananas for.