‘Chimera’ is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by the prolific English writer Stephen Gallagher who adapted his own book into a screenplay, made by Anglia Films and originally broadcast as a four part miniseries on terrestrial television back in 1991. The four hour runtime was subsequently edited down to 104 minutes and given a U.S video release under the dubious title, ‘Monkey Boy’ in which most of the characterisation and dramatic tension that made the original so memorable, was lost.
The opening story centres around a young nurse, Tracey Pickford (Emer Gillespie) who, tired of city life, breaks up with her aloof film critic boyfriend, Peter Carson (John Lynch) for a fresh start as a nurse at a remote fertility clinic in the Yorkshire countryside, run by the enigmatic physiologist Dr Jenner (David Calder) and his team of enthusiastic and loyal staff. Initially frustrated by the more mundane pace of the clinic, Tracey soon discovers that all is not what it seems with mysterious comings and goings occurring around a secure unit within the clinic referred to by the staff only as the ‘animal house’ with the secrecy surrounding the unit explained away as being necessary to avoid attention from animal rights extremists.
Then one night Tracey ventures into the animal house herself to find the place in disarray and one of the doctors dead, splayed out on an operating table with his throat cut in an almost ritualistic fashion and it becomes apparent that a brutal killer is on the loose, stalking the grounds of the remote clinic determined to hunt down everyone within; doctors, nurses and patients alike. What then follows is a chilling slaughter which leaves corpses littered about the grounds of the clinic and the buildings in flames. This was unique viewing at the time and still resonates today due to the fact that all but two of the main characters in the story are dead by the end of the first hour. Nine slain in total.
Perturbed by an answer phone message left by his ex-girlfriend prior to her death, and riddled with guilt that he was not there for her, Peter Carson ventures out to the Yorkshire countryside to find out for himself what happened. Once there he is confronted by a substantial Police presence in the form of cynical detective Schaffer (George Costigan) and the stock line that there was an accident at the clinic and Tracey died in a fire. However upon identifying her body it is clear to Carson that there was more to her death then meets the eye. Then, without warning, a sinister government minister arrives in the form of Hennessey (Kenneth Cranham) the deputy commissioner for genetic control, who orders the Police to cede responsibility for the investigation over to him, and the methodical investigative expertise of the seasoned detectives on scene is replaced by a shadowy team of elite British Army soldiers equipped with powerful weaponry and hi-tech reconnaissance kit, led by Captain Windeler (Pip Torrens), all of which increases the suspicions of Peter Carson and makes him all the more determined to find the truth behind the cover-up. To do so, he enlists the help of a sleazy researcher named Reynolds (David O’Hara) with a knack for digging up dirt which leads him to Dr Jenner’s former partner Dr Liawski (Sebastian Shaw), now languishing a broken man in a seaside retirement home. Here the true horror of Jenner’s evil vision begins to reveal itself with clever use of flashbacks filling in the gaps of previous scenes before the massacre at the clinic, whereby the value of Jenner’s character grows in importance to the plot after his death in the story itself; the fertility work at the clinic was merely a sideline for a secret government backed project aimed at creating a race of human-primate hybrids or ‘chimeras’ for future use as slave labour, military fodder, medical experimentation and organ harvesting; effectively a cheap and expendable new species without any civil rights, all of which would create a hefty windfall for the patent holder. However the process was far from perfected, with the first ‘prototype’ being a malformed, emotionally unstable creature that, if still alive, would be fast approaching adulthood.
Armed with the truth Carson finds an unlikely ally in the form of Alison Wells, the only surviving member of Jenner’s team who was not present at the clinic on the night of the murders. She reveals that beneath Jenner’s charming and seductive persona lay a cruel, ‘Mengele’ style doctor who was using unsuspecting female patients at the clinic as surrogates for the hybrid scheme and that the first prototype creature was a hybrid she named ‘Chad’ who is still very much alive. Jenner refused to believe Chad was anything more than an animal, a product that he could exploit, and greatly underestimated the creature’s intelligence. Chad was in fact self aware and realised that Jenner, his ‘father’, planned to have him vivisected, so with Wells assistance he broke free from his cage but rather than escape as she expected, the heartbroken creature, angry at his betrayal and filled with a human cunning mixed with animal rage and strength, instead went on the rampage, destroying the clinic, his home for nearly 12 years, and everything in it, retreating into the wilderness where he now roams, lashing out at anything he perceives as a threat. Whilst lurking in a hayloft on a remote farm, Chad is befriended by two children who, unaware of the great danger they are in, innocently name him ‘Mr Scarecrow’ and allow him to play with them, all the while Captain Windeler’s men are attempting to track and intercept any suspicious movements out on the dales. The plot comes to a head when Carson and Wells realise where Chad has been hiding and in the most suspenseful scene in the film Carson, Wells and Schaffer enter the farm to confront Chad, all the while Captain Windeler’s men are hot on their trail and the husband of one of Chad’s victims is out for revenge.....
Well before its time in both plot and characterisation, the scope of Chimera is impressive, covering not only multiple locations and believable characters but also a multi-layered narrative with numerous sub-plots and themes ranging from government conspiracies, genetic engineering, scientific ethics and the nature of humanity, all underpinned by a haunting score and suitably bleak denouement that will remain with you long after the credits roll. Gallagher has created a multi-dimensional ‘villain’ in Chad, admirably played by Douglas Mann who balances the grotesque with the pitiable, evoking both feelings of revulsion and sympathy so that by the end of the story Chad is viewed less as a maniacal killer and more of a desperate victim of the true ‘human’ villains of the tale. Keeping Chad’s identity concealed until the latter stages of the film and presenting him only as the bogeyman, ‘Mr Scarecrow’ is a master class in suspenseful storytelling and makes the truth behind how Chad came to be all the more shocking. Other genuinely chilling moments include Tracey looking in horror at Chad’s open cage and Chad snarling at the viewer from the pages of a ‘Rupert the Bear’ book.
I would class Chimera as the crowning glory of a short spate of late eighties/early nineties television films which were provocative and exceptionally well-written, including the Charles Dance drama ‘First Born’ which also explores the theme of a human-ape hybrid but from a different angle, 'The One Game' also starring Pippa Haywood and the late Bob Peck thrillers ‘Edge of Darkness’ and ‘Natural Lies’. Interestingly ‘Edge of Darkness’ was given the Hollywood treatment in 2010 and I think in the right hands ‘Chimera’ could be re-made into something quite exceptional, unfortunately most of today’s remakes are largely decided on guaranteed bankability with disappointing results. For those who would like to catch the original in all its glory, the full unedited version of ‘Chimera’ has been uploaded onto You Tube or alternatively I found a limited DVD release here at http://www.find-dvd.co.uk/dvd/Chimera/1099672.htm