The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Chimera (1991)
Director: Lawrence Gordon Clark

review by Tony Lee
Spoiler alert!
While working in a busy NHS hospital, nurse Tracy Pickford gets a better job in a private fertility clinic. Travelling up from London to North Yorkshire, she's leaving behind boyfriend Peter Carson, a journalist heavily into film trivia (an article on Douglas Fairbanks' fencing tutor anyone?). He's not too happy about Tracy's move, especially as the first he hears about it is when he's disturbed by the noise of her going-away party. From the ensuing row, we learn that their relationship was not working - but their final parting isn't really bitter and they promise to keep in touch.
   The Jenner Clinic is out in the country, very quiet and far away from the bustle of a city casualty department. All seems normal, but for the off-limits section where they keep test animals, and the unchallenging nightshift Tracy is assigned to would be boring except for mysterious activities centring on those out of bounds laboratories. The clinic's test-tube babies programme is just a cover for advanced research into genetic engineering, and we see that Dr Jenner (David Calder) is displeased at a lack of progress in some areas of the secret project. He wants something to satisfy the clinic's financial backers, a product he can patent. A worried Tracy calls Peter for help, unsure what's really happening as nobody tells her anything. Midnight staff meetings and sudden panic actions increase her suspicions, which prove well founded when one of the experimental subjects manages to escape...
   This is the opening episode of Zenith/Anglia's TV production of Chimera (aka: Monkey Boy). Four 50-minute instalments of a miniseries adapted by Stephen Gallagher from his 1982 novel; and directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, maker of the gripping IRA thriller Harry's Game (1982). The show was first broadcast on British TV in 1991. According to producer Nick Gillott: "Chimera is a controversial story about... scientific research that may be going on in secret, and about how such developments may be covered up by the government." But how can you make a drama out of something unseen and unknown? "We aim to convey the fear that is aroused when an ordinary man or woman tries to find out what is really going on behind the façade, and meets the forces of darkness," says Gillott. Meeting those sinister forces in Chimera is actor John Lynch (best known to genre fans for his supporting role in Hardware, 1990), who plays crusading journalist Peter Carson.
   "There are some highly emotionally-charged scenes about issues which are now very topical," says Lynch, and he considers the issue of genetic engineering particularly relevant. "The stories that are around about such developments, and the things that can be done in theory are frightening, and not far away from what Chimera is dealing with." In his role as reluctant hero Carson, he has to deal with the shock of discovering girlfriend Tracy has been murdered along with everyone else at the Jenner Clinic. (Actress Emer Gillespie's heroine is unexpectedly killed off very early on in Chimera, in a plot twist reminiscent of Hitchcock's Psycho).
   While local police scour the Yorkshire Moors for whoever's responsible for the first episode's climactic massacre, and the sullen Carson struggles to contain his grief, the fiendish Government figure of Hennessey appears. Played with a dour malevolence by Kenneth Cranham (co-star of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 1989), this character brings a whole new dimension of political repression to Chimera. "I suppose I have played more than my share of nasty types, but I am getting used to it," Cranham notes. Does he think the story of Chimera is realistic? "I wouldn't put anything past them," he says, referring to the speculative SF background of Chimera's nightmarish scenario. On his arrival in the sleepy Yorkshire town nearest the Jenner Clinic, the antagonistic Hennessey orders all police out of the area, and calls up an army of khaki-clad 'specialists' who throw a security web around the site. Highly placed and powerful, Hennessey conducts the cover-up with a sorcerer's finesse, using his telephone like a magic wand; mutilated victims disappear en route to the mortuary; the press are officially gagged by a 'D' notice; and the regular police's mass-murder inquiry is abruptly cancelled without any explanation to the detective in charge.
   The narrative splinters, following a number of twists and themes. Lone survivor of the Jenner Clinic's staff, Alison Wells (a pivotal character played by Christine Kavanagh) had foreseen trouble and left work early on the night of the slaughter, she returns to aid Hennessey's plot to conceal the truth and avoid a public scandal. A sign-language expert is called in to interrogate a laboratory chimpanzee at the clinic, and this leads to one of Chimera's moments of bizarre humour, when we learn the ape can indeed communicate and hold broken conversations in an Anslang version of the system used by deaf and dumb humans. "Tell him he gets no more chocolate until we get an answer," Hennessey instructs the sign-interpreter. While on a nearby farm there's something lurking in the hayloft of an old barn, where a couple of over-imaginative kids have tea parties for their new friend, 'Mr Scarecrow'.

Mr Scarecrow's tea-party, Chimera 1991
orphans Peter and Sarah (Andrew Leighton and Jennifer Harris) are unaware of the danger they're in...   

In part three, Peter Carson's subversive investigation uncovers Dr Jenner's dark past, including details of the probably illegal, certainly unethical genetic engineering experiment, he initiated a decade ago. A revolutionary project that led to the laboratory creation of a human-ape hybrid called 'Chad'. This creature has been kept alive purely for experimental purposes, imprisoned in Jenner's secure clinic. Now he's out roaming the countryside, a lost and lonely figure on the run from paramilitary teams and helicopter patrols. The police also pursue Carson, on orders from a concerned Hennessey, bothered about reports of the journalist's prying into classified areas of MoD activity. Carson manages to escape into London's backstreets with his videotaped evidence showing the chimera Chad's existence, intact. After these revelations, the doubly tragic dénouement of part four, is neither unexpected or long in coming. "It's not over yet," vows Carson. But later, in a post office sorting room, we see Hennessey confiscate copies of an incriminating video that had been mailed to the press.
   An uneven mixture of mad doctor SF, maniac-on-the-loose thriller, conspiracy chiller and monster hunt, Chimera is peppered with obvious yet delightful B-movie imagery; broken chicken eggs, animal cages littered with childrens1 toys, blood splattered on white medical coats - all simple but effective symbols of a complex, nerve-jangling and ever-popular theme. Writer Stephen Gallagher did his homework before starting the original novel, "I came across claims [that scientists] had produced a chimera, but had destroyed it at the embryo stage," he says. The rapidly advancing technology of genetic manipulation is, he states, "a Pandora's box." Adding, "the economic pressures for such progress... could provide cheap labour and military fodder, and (chimeras) could be harvested for transplant organs... my main fear is that we could have a slave species with no rights, who would live for nothing but exploitation. It would be social cruelty on a mass scale."
   This prophetic idea is included in the TV adaptation (which Gallagher confidently tackled following his experience scripting Doctor Who), in a chilling scene showing a most unusual production line. "The story is full-blooded and does not shirk the issues," he claims. "We show a creature which does terrible things to his victims, but who is just as much a victim." The 'chimera' Chad is played by actor Douglas Mann, under sophisticated makeup and animatronics devised by Bob Keen of the Image Animation effects house that worked on such Clive Barker monster-horrors as Hellraiser (1987) and Nightbreed (1990). The problems of making Chad believable as a half-ape character, fell upon primate consultant, Peter Elliott. An animal trainer who perfected his art of 'chimping' on such movies as Greystoke (1984), and Gorillas In The Mist (1988), he coached Doug Mann in simian movement and behaviour to prepare him for the demanding role of Chad, "a monster with a heart," says Elliott. "He is just a misunderstood guy [but, he explains] ...adult chimps are eight to ten times stronger in the upper body than man, and have the emotional stability of a one-year-old (human) child."
   In Chimera, the physically 'superhuman' Chad rips and stabs his way through the supporting cast, to escape certain death at the hands of Dr Jenner when his experimental life is deemed over. The violence though, is explicit only by the usually restrictive standards of television, and it's unlikely to bother anyone who has already started school - despite the TV announcer's dire warnings about "scenes... which may disturb."
   So is this, as Ken Cranham claims, "[a] Frankenstein of the 1990s," or merely sub-Quatermass techno-fear? Chimera does have its moments of compelling suspense and low-voltage shock, which easily eclipse the highlights of that earlier TV foray into the questionable values of genetic research produce, the absurd First Born (BBC, 1988). But, compared to other topical, fantastic, small screen dramatic-thriller serials of the era, like the nuclear-charged Edge Of Darkness, or even the quirky mysteries of Twin Peaks, it's a generally tame and only mildly interesting effort. Chimera is well intentioned, certainly, but perhaps a little too polite for the fervent tastes of your average gorehound.

previously published in US fanzine, MONSTER! #76 (April 1992)
Related item:
tZ  Stephen Gallagher: Jack Of All Trades - interview by Tom Matic
Chad the chimera

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Send It
HK Flix
WH Smith
Argos.co.uk


David Calder in Chimera
David Calder as Dr Jenner



Emer Gillespie in Chimera
Emer Gillespie plays
doomed nurse
Tracy Pickford.



John Lynch in Chimera
John Lynch as investigative
journalist Peter Carson.



Kenneth Cranham in Chimera
Kenneth Cranham as
sinister government
agent Hennessey.
















all b/w photos
©Anglia TV Ltd.



Monkey Boy
The Chimera serial was
re-titled MONKEY BOY,
and edited down into a
two-hour feature, for US
video release in 1992.

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2004 Pigasus Press