The story of the Monkey’s Paw, written by the British author W. W. Jacobs in 1902, has become something of a staple for scary stories one might tell to children around a campfire late at night. The tale of a cursed item that grants wishes, but always with a malevolent twist, is one that is ripe for theatrical presentation. I was therefore intrigued that horror channel Chiller TV had picked up on this classic tale as the basis for a made-for-TV movie. With so much good original content currently being produced by cable channels, I was cautiously optimistic that a channel specialized in the horror genre might turn out a genuinely creepy original film that could capitalize on the elements that made Jacob’s story such a success.
I was intrigued by the film’s setup. Instead of adhering to the original British story, with its Victorian English setting, the film sets itself in present-day Louisiana. The characters are workers in a blue-collar factory, and the monkey’s paw is an object that Gillespie, a recently laid off worker, has had in his family for generations. Gillespie blames Jake, a younger man who had worked under him, for the loss of his job. When Jake approaches Gillespie in a bar, trying to offer his sympathies, Gillespie is at first belligerent. However, he then offers Jake the monkey’s paw, explaining that it’s an old family heirloom that grants three wishes. He claims this as his peace offering to Jake with “no hard feelings.” Of course, once Jake begins to make wishes on the monkey’s paw, bad luck follows and things soon start to go awry.
The film had a promising setup, with the introduction of an ancient cursed object into the lives of ordinary working people in the South. I was looking forward to seeing how the screenwriters could take the premise of cursed wishes and turn it into a full 90-minute feature. I was really curious what sorts of twists and turns the plot might take, and how much they could build a sense of mounting dread. With the success of supernatural horror films such as The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity, and Insidious, understated supernatural horror seems to be experiencing something of a renaissance. If any tale were ripe for this sort of cinematic treatment, surely the story of the Monkey’s Paw would be it.
Unfortunately, after the first twenty or thirty minutes, the movie jettisons all the elements that could have made for a good supernatural thriller and instead turns into a very mediocre, very run-of-the-mill slasher film. The story becomes disjointed, characters are underdeveloped, acting is wooden, but, worst of all, the film is almost entirely lacking in scares or suspense. What begins as an ominous curse being handed down from old Louisiana voodoo turns into a tale of violence as a man, wished back to life by the monkey’s paw, returns not as himself but as a deranged killer.
Instead of 90 minutes of mounting dread, the film becomes a derivative slaughterfest that seeks to clone every Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th cliché that was ever done in the 1980s. It copies every slasher movie cliché, but does it badly. The violence is nonsensical and gratuitous, not over-the-top enough to be entertaining and not suspenseful enough to be scary.
In the end, there is nothing to recommend about this movie. It has a promising setup that it quickly discards in favor of warmed-over tropes that have already been done to death. The story and characters are undeveloped, the plot lacks cohesion, the performances are unconvincing, and there is a notable absence of good scares or suspense. It truly is a terrible movie and a disappointing release from Chiller TV.
The Monkey’s Paw premieres Friday, January 24, 2014, 9PM ET/PT on Chiller