When W.W. Jacobs wrote “The Monkey’s Paw,” he cre­at­ed what might be the hor­ror genre’s ulti­mate expres­sion of the say­ing ‘Be care­ful what you wish for.’  This clas­sic tale of wish ful­fill­ment gone hor­ri­bly wrong has inspired sev­er­al hor­ror films and t.v. show episodes over years, includ­ing a clas­sic seg­ment in the 1972 Tales From The Crypt anthol­o­gy and the Vietnam War alle­go­ry Deathdream.  The story’s pow­er endures because it gets at truths about human nature and its some­times self-defeat­ing ele­ments that will always remain hon­est and com­pelling.

MonkPaw-posThe most recent take on this tale is sim­ply enti­tled The Monkey’s Paw, a t.v. movie made for Chiller T.V. that offers a few new wrin­kles alongside attempts to make the sto­ry con­form to cur­rent hor­ror trends.  Jake (C.J. Thomason) is unhap­py with his lot in life: he works for a dead-end fac­to­ry job his ex-girlfriend’s jerky hus­band, his mother’s slow­ly dying of can­cer and he’s too cash-strapped to even afford a car.

Things change when his new­ly-fired super­vi­sor Gillespie (Daniel Hugh Kelly) pass­es him a trin­ket his dad­dy gave him as a lit­tle boy: a monkey’s paw that can sup­pos­ed­ly grant wish­es. As a joke, Jake wish­es for a car — only to dis­cov­er one wait­ing with the keys in the local bar’s park­ing lot.  He takes a ride a dri­ve with griz­zled co-work­er Cobb (Stephen Lang), only for things to end in a crash.  He uses anoth­er wish to bring Cobb back to life — and that’s where things real­ly take a turn for the dark and trag­ic.

The MonMonkPaw-01key’s Paw is inter­est­ing as an attempt to wed the old with the new in the hor­ror gen­re.  It’s at its best when it sticks to the themes of the Jacobs sto­ry: for exam­ple, a scene where Gillespie reveals the rela­tion­ship of the cursed paw to his fam­i­ly his­to­ry is chill­ing in a sub­tle way.  There’s also a cer­tain effec­tive­ness to the way that the curse uses things that Jake enjoyed but nev­er appre­ci­at­ed again­st him — and the film cer­tain­ly nev­er shies away from the trag­ic aspects of the curse.

However, The Monkey’s Paw is on weak­er ground when it tries to update the hor­rors of the sto­ry.  As is often the case with adapt­ing a short sto­ry into a full fea­ture, the film­mak­ers are in the posi­tion of hav­ing to add new ele­ments to flesh out the nar­ra­tive.  UnfortuMonkPaw-02nate­ly, they lean too hard on zom­bie and slash­er movie ele­ments in the new mate­ri­al to make the movie palat­able to younger audi­ences.  These ele­ments deliv­er plen­ti­ful cheap thrills but also detract from the source story’s themes, reduc­ing the sto­ry to anoth­er “killer on the loose” tale with a super­nat­u­ral hook.  The script also suf­fers from thin char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and a sto­ry­line that makes its pro­tag­o­nist slow to pick on up things, forc­ing him to be self-defeat­ing­ly pas­sive until the third act.

That said, The Monkey’s Paw remains watch­able despite the wrong-foot­ed choic­es of its sto­ry­line.  Brett Simmons’ direc­tion is slick and aggres­sive­ly paced, mak­ing effec­tive use of excel­lent, moody cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Scott Winig and some impres­sive, crum­bling New Orleans loca­tions to build an atmos­phere.  He’s a lit­tle too fond of cheap scares for his own good but his work gets the job done.  It also boasts a good sup­port­ing cast for a t.v. movie: Kelly does nice work with some expo­si­tion heavy sce­nes and Charles S. Dutton brings some wel­come grav­i­tas to a sketchi­ly-drawn cop char­ac­ter.

That saidMonkPaw-03, the main rea­son to see The Monkey’s Paw is the per­for­mance by Stephen Lang as Cobb.  This under­rat­ed char­ac­ter actor, whose cred­its include every­thing from Last Exit To Brooklyn to Avatar, can always be count­ed on for a solid, com­mit­ted per­for­mance and he doesn’t dis­ap­point here.  Lang does an effec­tive job of trans­form­ing from a charm­ing layabout into a super­nat­u­ral killer and brings a sur­pris­ing depth to his work, even when the script has him spout­ing quips dur­ing stalk­ing sce­nes.  The vig­or he puts into his role gives the film a charge it might not have oth­er­wise had.

In short, The Monkey’s Paw is a mixed bag because it doesn’t ful­ly grasp the time­less nature of its source mate­ri­al — but it is slick, com­mit­ted to its grim­ness and boasts a fan­tas­tic per­for­mance from Lang.