Monkey Shines can't claim to be the best 80's movie about a quadriplegic, because that would have to be My Left Foot, which came out one year later. Daniel Day Lewis deserved the Oscar he won for playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot, because he managed to be incredibly expressive despite barely moving his body and slurring most of his words; you really understood the pain that his cerebral palsy had caused him. But even if Monkey Shines isn't the quintessential 80's movie about a paralyzed person, it's definitely one of them, and it probably has the most instances of a monkey threatening someone in a wheelchair with a straight razor.
The monkey in Monkey Shines doesn't start out as a murderous beast - she started out as a lab animal in a brain experiment. Specifically, Ella was being fed human brains to see if that would make her smarter. (I can only assume that down the hall a different group of monkeys was being fed hearts that had been plucked from soldier's chests to see if they could inherit their bravery.) After a law school student named Allan is hit by a truck and paralyzed from the neck down his friend Geoffrey arranges for Ella to move from the lab and into his house. Geoffrey sees it as a win-win: he can get a bunch of data on how well Ella performs human chores and his friend Allan gets a pair of hands to make up for the pair he can no longer use. Of course, he neglects to mention that Ella's diet is suspiciously full of human flesh, but I can see how little things like that could slip your mind.
Eventually, Ella and Allan start to merge their minds, and Allan watches through Ella's eyes as she breaks out of the house in the middle of the night and burns one of Allan's ex-girlfriends to death. The emphasis in that sentence should actually be on the word "eventually": Monkey Shines does eventually deliver on it's promise of demonic primates wreaking havoc, but the first hour of this movie has a serious dearth of monkeys shining on innocent victims. It's frustrating, because all of the dominoes are in place - we've got the mad scientist, we've got the angry Capuchin, we know there's a straight razor in the bathroom, etc. - but they stubbornly refuse to fall into place. Fortunately, once the monkey does turn evil the film has no shortage of bloody shenanigans, but it takes a long time for Ella to figure out how much fun matches can be.
Yes, Monkey Shines is a bit of an imperfect movie, with the first half being so much slower and more dramatic than the second stabbier half. But that second half does have everything you could ever want from a movie about an evil helper monkey. Hell, in one scene Ella pokes an unconscious person in the face with both a lit match and a syringe full of poison - how can you get more helpful than that? Sure, Monkey Shines doesn't have the heart and soul that My Left Foot has, and it's moral about how monkeys have murder in their hearts might not be as uplifting as My Left Foot's message about the healing power of art... but I'd like to see Christy Brown mind meld with a monkey just once.
No, seriously. I'd really like to see that. I'm a big fan of man-monkey mind melding.