I have to assume that the people who made “Blue Monkey” intended it to be a withering screed against the Canadian healthcare system. Yes, the movie points out that the hospital it takes place in was built around the time of the Civil War and they reference Washington D.C., but this movie is very obviously Canadian well before the credits thank the good people of Ontario. The presence of Joe Flaherty is enough on its own, but there’s also the way all the characters say “oat” when they mean “out.” So, when a string of administrative blunders in this hospital leads to a giant grasshopper ripping people’s heads off, it’s hard not to think there might be some veiled commentary about the socialized medicine of our northern neighbors.
The first victim of the monster is an elderly handyman who pricks his finger on a rare plant from a volcanic island while fixing a neighbor’s greenhouse. This causes him to suffer anaphylactic shock with the unfortunate side effect of a giant maggot crawling out of his mouth. The larva is caught and studied by the resident doctors, but the hospital administrator (played by the crusty old dean of “Animal House,” John Vernon) refuses to call in the CDC because he doesn’t want word to get out. I guess the press would have a field day if it ever got out that this hospital was full of sick people. Meanwhile, police detective Jim Bishop (Steve Railsback of “Lifeforce”) brings his partner into the emergency ward with a gunshot wound and starts barking at the physician attending to him, Dr. Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson, in real life, is the author of “Silent Spring,” the book credited with starting the environmental movement in the United States. This appears to be just a coincidence.
Not only is this hospital dingy and filled with dark, damp corridors that date back to its days as a 19th century insane asylum, but it is staffed by negligent, unprofessional dolts. See the four sick children – one of whom has leukemia – who roam the halls unsupervised. “His parents dumped him here, so we’re the only family he really has,” Dr. Carson says of the tyke with leukemia, perhaps throwing all Canadian social services under the bus, as well. Dr. Carson shows Bishop the hospital’s laser lab, which is supposed to help it study “DNA and RAN,” according to her. I think she meant to say “DNA and RNA,” but I’m not a doctor.
After the maggot hatches into an unusually large insect, these kids find their way into the room and decide to feed it with a big bottle of something they just find near it on a shelf. The insect is under glass but not being watched because the only doctor watching keeping an eye on this deadly, unidentified species has snuck off for a quickie with her boyfriend. This hospital’s staff carries itself with as much professionalism as the average Camp Crystal Lake counselor.
Dr. Carson brings in an insect specialist in the form of Christopher Guest repertory player Don Lake. The kids ended up feeding the insect a compound used to stimulate genetic growth, so now we have our giant bug and we’re off to the races. Or at least, we would be, except the first half of the movie is the heroes chasing the bug through the halls of the hospital, catching up to it, and deciding not to do anything about it before the bug skitters away and we do it all over again. Don Lake is to blame for a lot of this, as he keeps interrupting any effort to kill the bug and prevent it from breeding to take pictures of it. Given how many people the bug has killed up to that point, this seems negligent at best.
The biggest problem “Blue Monkey” has is that there is way too much comic relief that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Flaherty and fellow “SCTV” alum Robin Duke play a couple having their first baby, and Flaherty has the entire pregnancy scheduled down to the minute on a spreadsheet. A funny idea, but it’s a funny idea for a different movie. There’s also the old lady and her blind, drunk friend who are holed up in the hospital during the monster’s rampage. They get a lot of screen time because the sight of a blind old woman pounding whiskey is supposed to be funny, I guess, and it turns out her drunkenness inoculates her against the monster’s cooties. But that plot point is resolved off-screen, and capped off with a throwaway line after the monster is killed.
All of this supposed comedy pulls precious screen time away from the monster, which is played by a man in a big rubber bug costume. When it’s on screen, it’s impressive enough for the budget they probably had to work with. Except for a quick decapitation, however, the bug doesn’t get to do much but lumber around and get zapped by laser beams during the climax. There are lots of movies that look cheap but don’t feel cheap, but “Blue Monkey” does little to make you forget it’s anything other than a Canadian tax shelter production.
And to address the elephant in the room, no, the title has nothing to do with anything that happens in the movie. Without a throw-away line from one of the nomadic hospital tykes, the words “blue monkey” would have absolutely no connection to the film. It works as an attention-grabber, for sure, but certainly “Conquest of the Carnivorous Katydids” or something similar would have accomplished a similar effect, wouldn’t it?