The story of the Monkey’s Paw has been adapted so many times, one might ask why bother? If someone told me they were making a new version of it, that’s probably what I would say to them. But when I walked by it in the video store today, I immediately grabbed it without a second thought. I suppose it’s because of all the charmless, uninspired modern horror movies that line the shelves, seeing an old friend, even in a new version (just released on disk today, after an extremely limited theatrical run in October 2013), was appealing.
The original story was written by W. W. Jacobs in 1902 and became a big hit. There actually haven’t been that many straight filmatic versions of it, however it’s themes have been coped ad nauseum in many different mediums- movies (Leprechaun, Wishmaster), books (Richard Matheson’s Button, Button), and tv shows from the Twilight Zone to The Simpsons. I was hoping for a newly made sumptiously filmed period piece with lots of creepy atmosphere and an old fashioned chilling plot without all the false grandeur and jump scares of modern horror. What I got was not what I wanted, but still not what I was dreading either (a typical, soulless and predictable modern horror movie).
As old and quaint as the original Jacobs story is, it’s still fairly creepy. In it, a couple (the Whites) are entertaining a friend who tells them of his monkey’s paw, a charm he got in India which grants three wishes. The wishes, however, are cursed to show that fate rules people’s lives, and that those who interfere with it do so to their sorrow. The couple wish for money, which they receive from their son’s insurance policy when he is crushed by heavy machinery at his job. Then they wish for him to be alive, but he returns from the grave as is, mangled and zombified.
The movie uses the original story as a starting point. Most of it is set in modern day Louisiana and involves several workers in a factory. The supervisor (Daniel Hugh Kelly of Cujo) is fired because of the laziness of some of the other workers. As it turns out, he was the Whites’ other son, and has carried the monkey’s paw around with him ever since the incident with his undead brother (who in this movie, evidently killed his parents). When his foreman Jake tries to apologize to him for his part in the firing, he gives Jake the monkey’s paw and convinces him to make a wish on it. It all goes predictably downhill from there.
Director Brett Simmons made a movie called Husk that I watched a few years ago and had completely forgotten about until I looked him up after watching The Monkey’s Paw to see what else he had done. Husk was competently made and had some interesting ideas, but the execution was bland and the pacing pretty slow. Overall it was forgettable (which is hard to do with a movie about killer scarecrows possessing people). The Monkey’s Paw is an improvement in looks- the cinematography is pretty inspired (and benefits quite a bit by being filmed on location in New Orleans) and saves the film from being completely mediocre. The direction is still just workman like and not too phenomenal. This could actually be a TV movie. It has that feel to it, complete with commercial break points and very little gore or nudity. Made for TV movies just have a certain atmosphere to them, and this one has it in spades. Having said that, if this was made for TV it’s better than the average TV movie, more along the lines of Dark Night of the Scarecrow in feel and tone than the average 2 hour time waster. The characters are decent and the acting pretty well done (it includes the reliable Charles Dutton as a cop (per his usual); and Stephen Lang, who played a generic evil army commander in Avatar, stands out as the ill-fated redneck Cobb), but still this is a fairly forgettable effort.
It’s competent, and might be worth a rental to fans of the original story, but it’s slow pace and lack of many thrills will likely grow tiresome to a lot of horror fans.
My fav Monkey’s Paw adaptation is still the one from The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror (Halloween special) #2: