Link is currently enjoying a small surge in its cult following. Last month there was a Cinefamily event in Los Angeles hosted by comedian Doug Benson, and a positive review by the one and only Vern (one of the better webcritics you could follow) around the same time. The buck seems to have stopped there; there’s no re-release or remake in the works as far as I can tell. That might be for the best, really. Link is a fun movie to watch, but not on its own terms. You know how you look back at old haircuts from the 1980s and wonder how anybody could have worn them seriously? That’s how I look at Link, and the idea that it was ever sold as a horror film.
Link opens on a rooftop, where something inhuman and murderous, something we don’t see, is hiding out in the shadows, pigeon bones strewn around nearby. Right after that mood-setting opening title sequence, we move right into the main premise, which is this: The genuinely wonderful Elisabeth Shue plays an American college student living abroad in England (where the movie was made), who is hired by an eccentric professor (Superman 2’s Terence Stamp, who is also genuinely wonderful) to help his lab for the summer. The lab is located a small summer home, which is situated on a cliff high above the coast, with a seaside view, and it’s there that the professor studies the behavioral patterns of a group of super-smart chimpanzees. The smartest of the bunch is a fellow named Link, who wears butler clothes and roams about the house freely.
While you allow that to sink in, let me hit you with the fact that the chimps are in fact played by orangutans whose naturally orange fur has been dyed black (or at least a sickly shade of brown.) That’s right, in the same calendar year as the wildly inappropriate Soul Man, the movies foisted a similar questionable cosmetic decision upon innocent ape actors. Even if he made the wrong one, at least C. Thomas Howell had a choice. Is it more wrong for me to notice, or for an entire film crew to assume that no one would?
Meanwhile, back in the movie, Professor Stamp abruptly disappears halfway through the story. An increasingly suspicious Elisabeth Shue tries to find out where he went, while trying to run his lab in his absence. Link and the others may or may not be able to help or hinder.
That’s it. That’s the story. In as many words, I’m telling you that Link is a movie where, for a significant amount of its running time, the only living beings onscreen are Elisabeth Shue and a small group of super-smart chimpanzees (orangutans). If you’re even remotely like me, there can’t be any more encouraging cinematic prospect. And I can’t pretend to get all sophisticated about it – generally, that’s enough. Whatever else Piranha 3D proved, it proved that Elisabeth Shue is still incredibly cute (and should be a much bigger star), but Link has her at 23. It’s pretty good stuff. And then there are the chimpanzees (orangutans).
Link isn’t a lost great movie, not by a long shot. It was directed by Richard Franklin, who apparently was a protégée of Alfred Hitchcock. He’s the guy who directed Psycho 2. (Yeah, it’s not just you, I forgot they made sequels to that movie too.) Link has a bizarre, unnatural rhythm that seems to be primarily due to some ill-considered pacing, but it could also have a lot to do with the fact that it’s a would-be suspenseful movie that relies heavily on animal actors. That means that a human character will speak a line of dialogue, and then have to wait for the trained orang’s reaction. That all happens in real time on film.
Link also has a weirdly jaunty score for a movie that intends to make chimps in dinner jackets appear ominous. I was surprised to see that the legendary Jerry Goldsmith supplied the music – you’d think that the guy who scored Alien, The Omen, Poltergeist, and even Gremlins could have come up with some spookier tunage, but then again it must have been a tough assignment from the outset.
I realize that I may not be selling this movie as a fun late-night choice. There are other things you need to know. There’s a scene where a perverted chimp (orangutan) stares at Elisabeth Shue as she prepares to take a bath. There’s a climactic exploding cigar scene. I’m pretty sure that there are a couple scenes where little people in ape costumes double for the ape actors. These are all moments that make me glad that I witnessed this movie.
A year later, Hollywood provided an answer to Link with Project X, where the chimps were heroes. According to Wikipedia, however, Project X was besieged by claims of animal cruelty. Link wasn’t, as far as I can tell. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.