Monday, June 13, 2016

Blue Monkey (1987)

Written by: George Goldsmith and Chris Koseluk
Directed by: William Fruet
Steve Railsback as Detective Jim Bishop
Gwynyth Walsh as Dr. Rachel Carson
Don Lake as Elliot Jacobs
John Vernon as Roger Levering

Welcome back to yet another installment of June Bugs. I almost didn't do one this year (and I can hear your sighs of relief from here), but I discovered that someone finally put an exceptionally lousy VHS rip of this flick on YouTube. I'd been wanting to include Blue Monkey in a June Bugs since I started doing these things, but it was impossible to find. It was one of those movies that I spent all the time at the video store staring at the box of when I was a kid, when I was meant to be selecting an appropriate cartoon instead. I remember the image of the old man with the larva crawling out of his mouth burned itself into my brain and made me think this movie must be terrifying. I did eventually see it many moons ago, and recall being pretty disappointed after all that time building it up in my head. Will it hold up to a second viewing? Will I even be able to see what the hell is going on in this awful copy? The answers to these pulse-pounding questions and more in the paragraphs below. Read on, if you dare!

Ah. You dare. Very well, then. An old handyman named Fred gets the ball rolling when he gets stung by something hiding in the foliage of a flower which gardener Marwella recently obtained from a newly discovered Micronesian island. She calls an ambulance, and by the time he reaches the hospital his condition has worsened to the point that he's comatose. Then his throat begins swelling and he regurgitates a semi-mobile pupa that Dr. Rachel Carson (and yes, she is named after the author of Silent Spring) captures and takes to a lab for further examination. Detective Bishop comes along because he was hanging around the hospital waiting to hear if his partner will to survive a gunshot wound, and apparently death by gross weird bugs is now a thing the police handle.

Meanwhile, a checkup of Marwella has revealed that fatal insect stings aren't the only surprise that Micronesian flower had in store. A strange bacterial infection has her quarantined to bed rest. The doctors can't figure out what kind of bacteria she is carrying or how to stop it since regular antibiotics seem to have no effect. Her granny hooligan roommate (is it a good idea to quarantine people with unidentified infections in shared rooms with no kind of hermetic precautions?) Dee Dee, however, insists she has the cure; a bottle of whiskey. I'm a sucker for rebellious old lady characters in movies, and Dee Dee deserves to take her rightful palace in the pantheon of great cinematic geriatric hellraisers who fix everything with booze.

Entemologist Elliot Jacobs is also conveniently on hand to dispense invaluable bullshit science he has no possibly way of knowing once that gross pupa grows into a seven-foot praying mantis-like insect which wreaks havoc in the hospital's basement, because having it rampaging around slicing patients to pieces would be too expensive. It's a good thing the hospital is surfing the wave of the future and has a brand new surgical laser in its lab, which the tech boys haven't been able to figure out how to get off the PEW PEW PEW setting yet.

This movie is pretty dumb. This should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen one of the infamous Canuxploitation tax shelter movies of the 80's, when everyone and their dog decided they could become a producer in Canada. Implemented in 1974 and lasting 14 years, the Capital Cost Allowance was designed to entice filmmakers to bring their business to Canada by offering 100% tax deductions and deferrals for money spent on making movies in Canada until said movies started turning a profit. If any of you readers out there participate in or at least have any knowledge of Health Savings Account programs through your employers, basically imagine if your boss told you you could do the exact same thing except with hundreds of thousands of dollars and you got to do something awesome with it instead of buy blood pressure medicine and topical cream. Like make a movie about Charles Manson and some alcoholic old ladies fighting a giant bug with a malfunctioning laser gun.

How dumb is it, you may ask? Remeber when I said the entomologist character is there to dispense bullshit science? Think about how easy it would be to have him just say some stuff about actual praying mantises. It's not like they aren't fearsome predators, and blown up to roughly the size of a pony they wouldn't be utterly terrifying. But no. This bug is a hermaphrodite, which in the world of Blue Monkey means that the male gives birth to a smaller, fully pregnant female who will lay dozens of eggs that will hatch males which get the idea.

It came as a bit of a surprise, then, that the laser which seems faintly ridiculous on its face is actually represented with a fair bit of accuracy. When Dr. Carson is showing Detective Bishop around the research lab, she describes it to him as an Nd: YAG laser and goes on to list a series of applications that such a piece of equipment may be more or less used for in reality. Nd: YAGs are solid state lasers which use man-made yttrium aluminum garnet crystal doped with neodymium as the lasing medium. When a laser is switched on, atoms of the doping agent carry out a population inversion with atoms of one of the elements that form the crystalline lattice. This excites the electrons of the swapping atoms, and when photons of a specific frequency are forced through the crystal, they interact with these electrons and drop them out of their excited state to a lower energy level. The energy released into the electromagnetic field by this process then creates new photons with properties identical to the incident wave (the original batch of photons). Now you've got a boatload of extra photons to shoot at whatever nasty creatures have invaded your hospital.

While it makes absolutely no sense that a hospital would have a weaponized laser, solid state lasers like the Nd: YAG are indeed being developed for military use. Goldsmith and Koseluk must have had a crystal ball, though, because it would be twenty years from Blue Monkey's release before defense contractors Northrop Grumman announced their FIRESTRIKE as the world's first combat ready laser weapon. They're also being developed as modular add-ons for the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. Then in 2011 the United States Navy test fired an extremely high powered laser that they claimed had an effective range of miles. Just think of all the giant bugs you could zap with that!

There you have it. Blue Monkey is a reasonably amusing way to kill 90 minutes. If you don't see it, you're not missing anything, and if you do see it, you won't wish you hadn't. That's about all there is to say about that. But hey, if the women don't find you entertaining, they should at least find you informative. Remember, we're all pulling for you, so keep your stick on the ice.

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