Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

I've been trying to figure out something intelligent and erudite to say about Ugetsu or Sansho the Bailiff, which I saw lately, but I honestly don't know what I could add beyond "they're very good", and I need to get to Wall-E, Hancock, and The Dark Knight at some point, but for right now I'll just deal with something easier and more fun, the latest piece of Eurotrash that I watched over the weekend.

My biggest guilty pleasures are bad horror movies, as long as they're not boring, and in the '70s and '80s the Italians were foremost in schlock cinema that managed to be at least halfway entertaining even while remaining total crap - my favorites include Demons, Nightmare City, Cannibal Holocaust, and just about anything by Argento or Lucio Fulci.

On the DVD for this movie there's an interview with director Bruno Mattei where he agrees that yes, most of his movies are pretty bad and if he could he'd like to reshoot them. (He's since passed away, so those remakes will have to wait for Paul W.S. Anderson's schedule to clear up). That said, even though it's a bad movie, Rats: Night of Terror kept me engaged enough through a single viewing. It starts with your standard post-apocalyptic bikers (obviously fuel economy is important to the motorists of the future) who wander into a town that's clearly some kind of Cinecitta backlot. Where this gang came from and what they do most of the time isn't clear, because there aren't enough of them to harass even a small colony of oil-drillers, like in The Road Warrior.

As it happens the town houses an abandoned science lab with a greenhouse, some corpses, and a lot of rats. Rats themselves aren't a very cinematic monster, like sharks or giant spiders, and the only way they really 'attack' the bikers is by scooping themselves into a box and convincing an off-camera PA to throw them at the actors, which happens over and over again as the movie continues. It's like that scene from Star Trek where piles of Tribbles landed on Kirk, and basically just as funny. The rats aren't even particularly scary - it's pretty easy at any given moment for the characters to run past them, or brush them away, but in the universe of this movie, it's par for the course to have eight or ten rats jump on you and then for the leader of your clan to decide the best way to help is to give you a blast from his flame-thrower. I mean, these people are so uncivilized, they have sex in front of each other, revealed after a curious, unexplained sound cue.The movie rubs its cast out one-by-one (deaths by flame-thrower, grenade, suicide, falling drunk down an open manhole, and being eaten by rats) until the only ones left are the ones with the futuristic names 'Video' and 'Chocolate' (yes, the movie's lone black character). They seem to be rescued by mysterious strangers in hazmat suits, and Video and Chocolate effusively thank them for being their new best friends, just in time for the lead hazmat guy to remove his mask to uncover a human-sized rat face underneath. Now this isn't a surprise in any way - in fact, the big surprise would have been if it was something else - but damn if there still isn't something creepy and uncanny about the intelligent eyes of a human staring out with malice from underneath a furry, pointed face. It's because of sporadic moments like this that the full 96 minutes of Rats: Night of Terror was worthwhile to me.

Let me reiterate, this is not 'good' cinema but it did entertain me,and I'll take a piece of engaging schlock like this over a piece of safe, studio-released horror product like this year's Prom Night or last year's The Hitcher - movies made to appeal to the PG-13 set with high production values and no ideas - any day of the week.



Anonymous said...

While I admit I would love to discuss SANSHO and UGETSU, I admit I share your love for the horror genre. Especially, Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY are minor classics) the Val Lwton films from the 40's (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, THE BODY SNATCHER and THE SEVENTH VICTIM are top-rank)and stuff like CARNIVAL OF SOULS, the Hammer classics and a personalfavorite of mine called CITY OF THE DEAD....a.k.a. HORROR HOTEL. But I have a taste for stuff like RATS, and I applaud your interesting treatment here. Did you have an regard at all for the re-make of WILLARD?

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, my memory of the movie is foggier and a little more negative, since I saw it about six months ago, but you make a lot of very valuable points about the film.

You're right, the Italians cornered the market in cheap-o horror flicks in the '70s and '80s. I recently just saw Cannibal Holocaust and that's definitely a fun kicker despite being "crap," as you also note.

City of the Dead, a.k.a. Horror Hotel is a great choice, Sam.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask Jeff what he thinks of one of my favorite Euro horror films, Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA. I like other Argento's like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, but SUSPIRIA for me is his masterwork.

Anonymous said...

uh do you think the 'pg- 13 set'(uh whatever that encompasses)

really wanted prom night or the hitcher ????

i just think they thought 'it's there and i want to see a film..'

slight difference ???

ha ha... ;)

Jeff McMahon said...

I enjoyed the Willard remake, although it seemed a little truncated, like an idea that was all dressed-up with no place to go.

Sam, I love Suspiria, I definitely think it's Argento's best work and one of the most interesting weldings of classic horror imagery (witches, gore) with ultra-stylization that I've seen. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage I like, but I feel like it's just a warm-up for Argento's later films.

Glimmer, what I meant is that the studios increasinly seem to want to release PG-13 horror movies in order to appeal to teens who can't get into R-rated movies (lame) and that annoys me. Especially when cruddy ones make lots of money.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I am thrilled at what you say here about SUSPIRIA!!! And I am on the same page with you on WILLARD too; I really can't add to that assessment--you said it all there.

Ashton Lamont said...

lovely review! you should try this one here too!