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The Other Side of the Monkey's Paw

Every now and again, the age old tale of The Monkey's Paw rears its archaic head back into the cultural mainstream. The short fable of human weakness by W W Jacobs was originally published in 1902 and has been adapted for television and film countless times since.

      The story tracks an old couple, Mr and Mrs White, who are given a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes. Their first wish is for the final payment on their house. The next day, the couple's son goes to work at the factory and is killed in an accident. The company sends the couple a goodwill payment which happens to be the amount that they wished for. Grief-stricken, Mrs White aks for her son to be returned to life. There comes a knock at the door, but Mr White realises that he cannot let their son in as he was severely mutilated in the accident, and this must be how he will appear on his return to this world. He makes the final wish just as Mrs White opens the door... to find nothing there.

      The story so struck a chord that it was adapted for film many times throughout the 20th century. In 1915, directed by Sidney Northcote; in 1923, directed by Manning Haynes; in 1933, by Wesley Ruggles; then again in 1948, by Norman Lee. Bob Clark's Deathdream followed a similar narrative line in 1972, along with the segment 'Wish You Were Here' from Amicus's Tales from the Crypt in the same year. The Monkey's Paw has been adapted as recently as 2013.

      There were also numerous television adaptations, including an episode in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour called 'The Monkey's Paw: A Retelling', even Buffy the Vampire Slayer used it as the basis of its episode 'The Body'. 'The Man in the Bottle', a 1960s Twilight Zone episode, features a similar tale of a genie who grants wishes, while an X-Files episode takes notes from the tale in 'Je Souhaite'.

     The second Simpsons Treehouse of Horror anthology spoofs the tale of the Monkey's Paw, but without the dead son element, and it was not the only children's television show to tackle the story. An Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, 'The Tale of the Twisted Claw', was based on it, as was a fourth season episode of the Cartoon Network show, I Am Weasel, entitled 'The Baboon's Paw', in which Weasel's sidekick, IR Baboon, has the power to make his wishes come true by means of his own paws! The cartoon series Adventure Time also referenced the concept directly in the second episode of the fifth season, 'Jake the Dog', when a wish-granting being warns that all his wishes have a catch, 'like a monkey's paw thing'. These never-ending adaptations for children continued in the cartoon series Rick and Morty, season 1 episode 9, 'Something Ricked This Way Comes', where the Monkey's Paw is used to save the life of a devil. Classic short stories are often employed in children's cartoons to introduce their juvenile audience to the wicked ways of the world, but usually with a comedic edge.

      The Other Side of the Door came to cinemas in the UK in March this year and follows a similar premise to The Monkey's Paw. Along with Hammer Film Productions' 2009 film Wake Wood, The Other Side of the Door, directed by Johannes Roberts (F, Storage 24), is a supernatural horror based on the premise of a woman's grief over the death of her young son. Set in India, the film sees the protagonist take the advice of a knowing housemaid about how to contact her recently-deceased son: she can talk with him from the other side of a mysterious temple door for a few minutes, but she cannot, under any circumstances, open said door. The film is a good, old-fashioned Gothic chiller, played commendably straight and relying on a sound storyline and solid shocks to maintain interest, rather than the easy option of CGI overkill. The 'door' in question is also left open for a sequel! 

      The similarity between The Other Side of the Door and The Monkey's Paw is that of characters who will do anything in their power, or a power temporarily bestowed upon them, to see a lost loved one again. The plot speaks to a universal desire, which is why the Jacobs original has resonated so profoundly down the years. But the spiritual aspect of the piece speaks to a time when such powers were more believable, and the Indian setting of the film helps to maintain plausibility for an audience increasingly detached from spiritual matters. Wake Wood, directed by David Keating, tackled the arcane nature of the Monkey's Paw plot by setting its action in an Irish village, the atmosphere of which was also redolant of supernatural intervention. It tells of a family who have lost their daughter to an accident and are shown a way to bring her back, but for three days only; they are warned about the horror that will occur if she is not returned on time, yet they keep her for longer anyway... And now a warning for you: SPOILER ahead!

     The Other Side of the Door is the latest attempt to update a timeless moral tale of greed and human weakness. As the mother's 'wish' to see her dead son again is enacted, nothing but evil ensues as she simultaneously releases a spirit from the underworld who will do anything to reclaim her son, including the taking of other lives within the family group.

     Roberts's film ends with a twist: the mother has to die herself in order to send the evil spirit back to the underworld. She, in turn, is then awoken by her husband calling out to her from the other side of the door. The film ends as he, too, opens the door... and releases the evil upon the world. As with The Monkey's Paw, when contemplating what you truly want, the very idea of something bad happening in the wake of it is dismissed from your mind as greed and impatience take over.

      The moral, as ever, is be careful what you wish for.