The last horror film for two decades from Ozploitation heavyweight Richard Franklin, 1986’s Link neatly sums up the creator’s qualities – and weaknesses – in one simian package.
Though Ozploitation implies a certain degree of trashiness – and we are about to start talking about a film with a homicidal chimp – Franklin’s legacy of Quentin Tarantino-approved thrillers like the Jamie Lee Curtis’ starred Roadgames and the cult Patrick (both, as with Link, written by Everett De Roche, who’s other Ozploitation credits include Razorback and Long Weekend) marked him out as a devoted student of Alfred Hitchcock.
Indeed, Franklin struck up a friendship with the legendary master of suspense when he invited him to give a lecture at the University of Southern California, and in time this enthusiasm for Hitchcock would lead Franklin to direct the warmly received Psycho II in 1983.
Jane (Back To The Future Part II and Hollow Man‘s Elisabeth Shue), an American student in London, finds her seconded to the isolated Scottish home of her prickly zoology professor Phillips (Superman‘s Terence Stamp) who is exploring the link between man and ape with the aid of three chimps, the devoted butler Link, the friendly Imp and the vicious Voodoo.
While Jane mollycoddles the youngest, Phillips delivers foreshadowing lectures on the viciousness of chimps lurking beneath the service and the need to be firm with them, as the suited Link serves him cigars and brandy in his distant mansion one cannot help but wonder, coming as it does from an Australian director, if there’s some sort of critique of British imperialism buried not so subtly in the narrative.
Franklin was keen to set the film Britain to draw the contrasts between ‘civilisation’ and the wild, but it’s not difficult to project imperialism’s own crude symbolism onto a story about an Englishman who makes himself master of those he believes to be beneath him.
Phillips talks up a ‘civilising’ mission, but enforces it with cages and corporal punishment, and then eventually, inevitably the tormented becoming the tormentor and the vicious Link increasingly lashes out, murdering Phillips and hiding the body from Jane, violently resisting strangers and staring at her as she bathes.
It could be comic – and it sounds ridiculous – but it’s anything but, and that’s a tribute to Franklin’s studious deconstruction of Hitchcock. The way the house is shot – all fish-eye lens and wide shots – and the way Link is framed as he appears in doorways echoes Psycho in what once was benign suddenly appearing malevolent.
The first half may be a masterclass in suspense, but the second half beings to falter as Jane’s university chums show up to find out what’s happened to her, picked up one-by-one as this Straw Dogs-like rural thriller becomes a mere slasher movie, only with pummelling chimp fists instead of carving knives.
Like Michael Myers with a coconut mask, Link bashes through doors, appears at windows and has to be dumbly tricked into blowing up the house, while Jane and her boyfriend hobble to safety through a cave.