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Home | Film Review: In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro (1986)

Film Review: In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro (1986)


Slowly starving due to an ongoing drought an army of baboons goes nuts and starts attacking and eating anything that moves. Based on a true story that took place in Kenya in 1984.


I have always been utterly and completely terrified of monkeys and apes for some strange reason. When I was a kid my dad took the family to the zoo and I was scared to death before we got there I had an irrational fear that I was going to be brutally mauled by a gorilla that somehow escaped its habitat in the most painful and bloody way imaginable (thankfully that didn’t happen obviously). While chimps, gorillas, and orangutans have always freaked be out baboons are without a doubt the scariest in my mind and In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro proves this to be true. The ones that appear in this film are nasty and mean and just genuinely enjoy ripping people to shreds and then devouring them. I saw this movie on VHS back in the day and it scared the living piss out of me and after seeing it again recently it had pretty much the same effect. While it may not be the greatest killer animal movie ever made it is creepy and effective as hell and is quite scary if you are like me and have a phobia of monkeys and apes.

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I thought that the premise was pretty interesting. As I mentioned it is based on actual events that took place during the 80’s in Kenya. I’m not sure how accurate the movie is as I had a lot of trouble finding anything about the actual incident itself. While I am certain that many aspects of the movie were highly exaggerated I still don’t like the idea of baboons going ape shit in real life (Ha! See what I did there?) and attacking anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way.  To be honest the very idea of something like this actually happening really bothers me and is nothing short of pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel to me. What happens in the movie isn’t pleasant and it is one of those cases where the characters find themselves in a situation that you would never want to be in because you are basically helpless for the most part. If something like this were to happen to me I would like to think that I would fight hard to survive but in reality I know that I would probably be so terrified that I would just curl up in a ball and wait for the hungry baboons to tear my face off and then eat it because I would be too traumatized to do anything else.

The fact that the characters in the movie aren’t more freaked out than they actually are is a little surprising to me as most of them act like what is happening around them is no big deal which is one of the weak points of the film in general. I mean come on now, there are literally thousands of man-eating baboons running around just waiting for the opportunity to get inside to rip you limb from limb and you act more bored than anything else? Obviously-aside from a handful of characters-they didn’t understand the severity of the situation I guess.


Did I mention that these baboons didn’t mess around and were pretty damn hardcore? There are so many of them and they don’t have any sort of problem popping up and ripping into people like hairy, red-assed buzz saws. They like to bite and claw people to ribbons and are particularly fond of tearing off random limbs too when they are not focusing on completely destroying the faces of their victims. I was pleasantly surprised by how brutal this movie really was and several scenes really stood out as a result. Though the bit where a ton of them (and I do mean a ton of them) are chasing after a woman (that keeps falling down even though they are right behind her) in slow motion is quite impressive my favorite scene involves a guy stuck toward the top of a telephone pole while a horde of baboons attack him (ripping off his leg at one point). I really felt for the poor bastard as there was pretty much nothing he could do as the wave after wave of baboons continued to slowly slash him to pieces and even though I loved the scene I’ll admit it was a little disturbing and hard for me to watch as I knew that the poor guy was just basically screwed (it reminded me of a similar scene in the old cult classic The Killer Shrews that scared the living daylights out of me when I was a kid). While I wouldn’t want to be around any baboon to begin with on an ordinary basis I certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the ones that appear in this movie as they are just plain frightening.

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While there were some pretty decent characters in the movie and it had a great cast (which includes the always cool John Rhys-Davies) the real stars were the baboons themselves. I thought that it was cool (and a little scary) that the filmmakers used real baboons while making the movie. There isn’t any crappy CGI to be found anywhere here and all I can say is that they must have had one hell of an animal trainer on set. I actually have to applaud the actors that appeared in the movie because I don’t think that I would have been comfortable working that closely with them. If you are one of those people who prefer animatronics and CGI then I urge you to watch this movie so you can see how much better it looks to use the real thing. I have a feeling that somebody will someday remake this movie and instead of real baboons they will use horrible-looking CGI ones and it won’t come close to having the same impact. I know that they obviously used dudes in baboon suits in several scenes because they didn’t have any other choice but for the most part the baboons that you see are the real deal and I thought that this was a cool touch.

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On the flip side the movie did have its share of flaws. It takes a while for things to get going and the first half of the movie is a little boring if you ask me. We do get the occasional baboon attack scene from time-to-time toward the beginning but things don’t really pick up until a little later and the pacing seemed to be off to me.  I also didn’t care for the ending as it just seemed a little too cornball to me and everything was wrapped up in a nice little bow that was unrealistic and just unlikely in general (not to mention the sugary sweet thing that happens toward the end that makes it feel like we are watching a Disney movie instead of a horror film). I wasn’t really on board with the whole JAWS thing that involved John Rhys-Davies’ character trying his best to do the Mayor Vaughn bit as it seemed very tired and cliché but I’ll admit that if you are doing a movie about killer baboons there really isn’t a whole lot of potential for interesting subplots so the people responsible went with what worked so I guess I can’t really blame them.


In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro works on many levels and even though it isn’t perfect I enjoyed it. I thought that it was entertaining, legitimately scary at times (to me anyway), and just a fun movie in general (besides where else are you going to get to see a baboon crash a plane by attacking the pilot?). It isn’t for everyone and there will be a lot of viewers out there that won’t be into it but I for one didn’t think that it was that bad aside from a few problems that it had. Check it out when you get the chance and if you can team it up with Monkey Shines, Shakma, and Link one night for one hell of a movie marathon that will never have you look at any monkey or ape in the same way ever again.

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