Welcome to Rats Night. Tonight, as you may have astutely worked out, we watched films about rats. Nasty rats. Nasty rats that like to bite you, mostly on your hand because according to Rawshark, “The hands are the tastiest bits.”
First off, we have a Golden Harvest Production called The Rats, directed by one Robert Clouse, the director behind the so-classic-it-can’t-be-more-classic 1973 Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon (and also Game of Death, which isn’t quite so classic). He also made Gymkata - chopsocky gymnastics gibberish of the highest order. The Rats was eagerly anticipated largely due to the fact that it features Scatman Crothers, most famous for playing Mr Halloran, the chef in The Shining. Isn't he the best?! Hail the Scatman.
Next up, a movie I couldn’t wait to watch, just so that I could remove it from my collection once and for all. This is cheapo mid-80’s Italian claptrap directed by the auteur of all things bad – Bruno Mattei. Yes, that’s Vincent Dawn, the man behind the truly diabolical Zombie Creeping Flesh and many other celluloid atrocities. You know it’s going to be bad. And it was. It's called Rats: Night of Terror
We thought it best to watch the Clouse’s 1981 picture first so that the alcohol might have taken effect to numb the pain of what was to follow. Ready? See you on the other side.
This evening's entertainment was chosen by Zomblee in association with The Bruno Mattei Society for Protection of Fake Rats.
The Rats (aka Deadly Eyes) (1981)
Plot A really nice guy called Paul and a Health Inspector called Kelly try to save the city from hoardes of angry, vicious rats which have eaten steriod feed, making them grow super-big. Scatman Crothers is in it.
Zomblee I don’t know about you but I’ve always been a big fan of American disaster movies – the classics, like most of the Airport series. The Rats, a 1981 adaptation of the James Herbert novel, feels a bit like a disaster movie but with rats. They are feeding on a public health risk - animal feed which has been pumped full of steroids. Have you guessed where this is going yet? Yes, this is a rats bodybuilder movie. They’re HUGE and ANGRY, and no longer scavenge, but hunt and attack. Characters say things like “Do you think it’s possible that the steroid feed would spawn a new strain of rat?” and I’m more than willing to go along for the ride to see what happens. It’s up to concerned health inspector Kelly Linnard and all-round nice guy college lecturer Paul Harris to link together rat attack incidents by location, find their ‘runway’, and destroy them.
In the end though they’re not destroyed and what happens really is a pretty cool disaster involving the opening of a new subway extension in which the mayor and all his hangers-on get butchered by the massive vermin in a subway carriage. However, a decent downbeat shocker of an ending can’t help pull this movie from the land of mediocrity and although Robert Clouse doesn’t come across as a particularly inept director, he is clearly nothing special. The only reason we know who he is because he was lucky enough to get the Bruce Lee gig. Clouse seems to be justifiably proud of his connection with the founder of Jeet Kun Do, as The Rats features a decent film-within-a-film joke when a cinema audience gets attacked by the huge beasts whilst watching Lee’s final flick, Game of Death (which Clouse also directed).
Overall direction is pretty flat and lifeless, peppered with some obvious touches like rat POV and although we watched this full-screen version on an old VHS tape, I’m not convinced that a widescreen DVD release would yield more enthusiasm here. Having said that though, the narrative formula works quite nicely and I’m probably nitpicking because there’s nothing particularly special about The Rats. Well, except for Scatman Crothers, who unfortunately gets, as Jim so delicately puts it, “mullered” in a pretty cool death scene. We’re all (as you should also be) big fans of Scatman Crothers fans here. So much so that Jim started demanding that myself and Rawshark join him in doing Scatman impressions. Rawshark gave it a go while I flatly refused, knowing it was just going to sound stupid. Then Jim called me a “pussy”.
I think it’s timely to quote Jim talking about one of the more senior cast members now: “She’s not bad for 75, you know.” Over to you Jim. And please get your hands of my Nan.
“I’ve got some shit in my truck, that’s gonna get rid of ALL your asses!”
Jim You pack that in Zomblee – enough slander from you. I said she was a very attractive older lady, not in an ooh-la-la right now way, but if I were in my 70s it might be a different story. Of course, Zomblee doesn’t believe me – he’s still troubled by my observation that the Tiffany doll in Seed of Chucky has nice tits (she does though!)
Anyway, The Rats is a great bit of eco-horror that, although made and released in the early 80s, really smells like the 70s all the way through. That was the decade when the eco-horror really kicked off, starting with Jaws and then going on to include a whole host of animals-go-bad movies, including Frogs, Bug, Grizzly, Piranha, Alligator and Squirm. The Rats came relatively late in the cycle, ushering in the 80s, but it still has all the classic eco-horror plot elements.
• A creature which, for what ever reason, embarks on a human killing spree. If the killing spree is caused by the creature mutating because of man-made pollutants, that’s even better.
• A couple of thinly characterised teenagers that get eaten early.
• A central character in a position of authority (sheriff, coast guard, professor), preferably with a small child who likes to get in peril. Obviously, this character works out the threat before anyone else does, but isn’t taken seriously for two-thirds of the flick.
• A local politician (preferably a mayor) who refuses to postpone the opening of the new subway extension / close the beach / call off the town fair, no matter what the hero says.
• An expert who gets bought in halfway through the film, to offer sage-like advice. The expert making it to the end in one piece is always optional.
And that’s all you need to know - The Rats ticks all the above boxes, no problem. The rats arrive (and they look surprisingly good – dogs in make-up apparently), kill a load of people and then Doctor Harris works out what’s going on. No one believes him, naturally, until the little critters attack the mayor’s inaugural subway train while his son is onboard. He wades in and saves his son (and love interest) but accidentally tells everyone else to go the other way down the curvy tunnel (“I love curvy tunnels in films.” – Rawshark) and they all get eaten, including the mayor (“The mayor gets it – Great!” – Zomblee).
Meanwhile, rescue workers drop torches left, right and centre (“He’s dropped his light sabre, Obi-Wan’s gonna kill him!” – Zomblee), while Harris, his kid and love interest find some handy blow torches and some handy barrels of oil with which to devise a cunning plan to finish the rats off once and for all. Although why she’s still around after catching him in bed with one of his students I’ll never know…
“After the ceremony the mayor wants to see you in his office, and I don’t think it’s for cocktails!”
Rawshark Amidst all the corn (and that includes the steroid-induced animal feed that causes these particular street-wise rats to go hyper-mental) and cheese of this early 80s entry into the ‘animals-go-bad’ genre, there also lots enjoy too, as long as you’re prepared to go with the flow. Aside from Scatman Crothers and our cheer upon his first screen appearance, we also cheered the cheeky rat POV shot as the rats attack a (bloody ugly) baby (!) and the first appearance of a whole pack of rats in all their ‘dogs-wearing-outfits’ glory. And all of this in the first 20 minutes.
As it’s based on the novel Rats by James Herbert, the film makes a fairly good stab at characterising the er.. characters, especially former teacher Mr Harris and his unwanted love triangle with health inspector Kelly and cheerleading student Trudy. He’s no Bruce Willis sure, but his all round niceness (“He’s a really nice guy!” – Jim) made us cheer again when he did finally get to nail Health Inspector Kelly, even if it is a very clichéd fire-lit nipple-sucking shot of a love scene. He’s also the only one at the end with the wherewithal to know what the hell is going on as he punches out a cop in an effort to save his son Timmy and Kelly from the attacking rodents in the subway, although why he sent all the other people on the train (Mayor included) the wrong way to their certain death in that curvy tunnel is a bit of a mystery. Oh well, nobody’s perfect I guess.
All in all, The Rats is a fairly enjoyable fun flick, especially if you’re willing to go along with the rules of this genre – thanks Jim for your helpful handy notes above. At it’s heart, as Zomblee has pointed out, is a fairly intelligent stab at a 70s disaster movie where the character’s individual journeys take precedence over the overall disaster scenario, and the film at least convinces you to care about a couple of them enough not to want them all to die by the end. Go along with the formulaic plot and you’ll be rewarded with some solid characters, a fair bit of gore and a decent enough early 80s horror TV-movie. Nice freeze-frame last shot too…
“You’ve got your own car, you’re a cheerleader, what more do you want?”
Director Robert Clouse
Cast Sam Groom
Runtime 87 mins
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Rats - Night of Terror (1984)
Plot Rats attack a bunch of complete dickheads in the year 225 A.B.
Rawshark One semi-intelligent rats movie was seemingly enough for us this evening though, as the legendary low-budget Bruno Mattei (aka Vincent Dawn) was next to step up to the plate with his 1984 post-apocalyptic Rats! – Night of Terror. And what a pile of old rat clap-trap it turned out to be too.
To be fair, it starts promisingly enough. A hastily narrated opener sets the scene – it is now 225 A.B. (After The Bomb of course!) and it is the period of the second human race. There are futuristic vehicles in a quarry and the obligatory blood red titles – RATS – NIGHT OF TERROR - are splashed across the screen in ten-foot tall letters. And then we get to meet the ‘characters’, Duke, Lucifer, Video and Chocolate (yes, that will be the black girl then) amongst others and it all goes downhill faster than those cheese-chasing chumps at Cooper Hill in Wales.
In terms of ripping the piss out of whilst watching though, the film is a hoot (I’ll pretend here I know what a hoot actually is). The basic story can be summed up in one line – group of weirdo humans get above ground to explore a deserted building and are then attacked by rats. The humans consist of Kurt, a “pussy leader” (that was Jim) who is “more Chuck Norris than Chuck Norris” (that was Zomblee), a video game-playing expert (what in 225AB?!) called Video, a Bananaman with a triangle on his head and power-hungry villain, Duke. One of the girls is dressed in Wonder Woman fetish gear (complete with cape) whilst another girl exists merely to scream a lot. And I mean a lot. Even at spiders.
There is no attempt here at logic or even decent filmmaking. At one point two characters get stuck in a sleeping bag whilst screwing (huh?) much to the hilarity of everyone else who is in the same room. The dialogue is hilariously atrocious (“calmness is the virtue of the strong!”) and at one point, when they decide to tiptoe through the assembled ranks of rodents, Jim actually sat up straight in protest at the preposterousness of the situation. And don’t even let me get started on the ‘special’ rat effects… Oh dear.
“Hey we’re stuck. The rats have chewed through the tyres on our bikes.”
Jim That's right I did, I actually lost my temper at how atrocious Rats was, and I directed my anger at Zomblee. He quickly shot me down though, pointing out it was me that gouded him into getting the movie in the first place, which is absolutely true. After seeing Hell of the Living Dead (or Zombie Creeping Flesh, as some people prefer to call it) I was gagging to see what else the guy could do. I mean, it couldn't possibly be worse, could it? Nah...
Oh but it is, and a real stinker it is too. It's like it's written by a kid - take some cool characters with cool names that describe their individual characteristics (see Rawshark's definitive list) and dump them in a bog standard post-apocalyptic house. Then have them killed off one-by-one by having live rats thrown at them by keen assistant directors just out of camera shot. Add a ridiculous twist at the end and Bob's your Uncle - job done.
Don't get me wrong, we love bad films as much as the next guy, but this movie just has nothing going for it. Usually bad films are hilarious because of the convoluted plot, or the ridiculousness of the scenarios the characters get themselves into, or the kung-fu is bad, or the zombies can't decide whether they shuffle or can run, or the gore effects are a bit silly, something like that. But that's not the case here - the characters are introduced (vaguely) and then they do absolutely nothing except walk around this house spouting bullshit lines like "The damned rats are just about everywhere!", "I want to die!", "The son of a bitch, we'll be eaten by rats!", and other such obvious rubbish. And then they die, usually under a pile of rats, and not before time too.
Sometimes it's mildly amusing ("The rats have started making synthesizer noises!" - Zomblee) and the characters give you hope in the first ten minutes ("She looks like she's from The Bangles!" - Rawshark) but it just doesn't pad out. In fact, I turned round to Zomblee at one point and told him he'll never sell this one on ebay, to which he replied, "No way man, someone out there will buy it. Just like I did..."
"If I asked a question by mistake, how the hell are we ever going to find out what the hell I asked it?"
Zomblee The problem with 'going downhill fast' is that it implies that Rats: Night of Terror was further up the hill at the beginning, and clearly this dog’s mess of a movie couldn’t find its way to a hill, never mind going down (or up) it. Bruno Mattei doesn’t even deserve to steal the 90-odd minutes this movie took out of our lives because it really doesn’t get much worse than this, folks.
Yet, strangely, we seem to make time for his celluloid atrocities none the less. You may be familiar (not too familiar, I hope) with the horror that is Zombie Creeping Flesh, in which there was talk of an 'Operation Sweet Death', which supposedly was an effort to end third-world suffering and famine. If you remember it like I did, you’ll recall that it goes belly-up and causes world-wide catastrophe. Well, in Rats: Night of Terror, it’s the failure of 'Operation Return to Light' that has spelled the end for humanity. What’s that you say? Is this an auteur director at work? The consistency of theme would certainly suggest so, while with regards to style, Mattei also retains a certain recurring approach, in that he’s clearly one of the worst filmmakers ever. I guess what I’m trying to say is that he is officially the world’s worst auteur director.
At the end of the movie we hear a tape recording from this doomed 'Operation Return to Light' which was supposedly recorded for the benefit of any survivors that may stumble across it. It explains how the rats took over, growing in numbers until they became the dominant species and how this spelt the end of human reign. It is without doubt, conventionally speaking, the best part of the movie and I feel it only fair to admit that was really feeling the whole ‘rat destiny’ thing for about 30 seconds, until anyone from the cast opened their mouth again. If you think for a second that this move has any credibility whatsoever, you’ll be instantly convinced otherwise as soon as any of these ridiculous characters (with their ridiculous clothes, ridiculous names, and ridiculous hair) say anything. To prove it, here is a small selection of quotes from them:
“Go get fucked. Fuckin’ rats”
“I’m your leader now whether you like it or not. Mmmmughhhahh!”
“I’m gonna warm their whiskers!”
“Look! There’s a big rat!”
“This is a message of death. Stop talking crap!”
You get the general idea. This is not Stanley Kubrick. And what’s more, the filmmakers really did hurt loads of scared looking rats during the making of this piece of crap. If they aren’t throwing rats into the shots, or pouring them on top of cast members by the bucketful, then the cast themselves are bashing them with sticks while thinking of the least meaningful thing they could possibly say next.
The movie ends with the people from 'Delta Two', dressed head-to-toe in yellow suits spraying smoke around for some reason, while our two survivors choke towards them, believing them to be their last chance of survival. The yellow suits don’t say anything and then, slowly, one of them removes his mask to reveal that he is in fact a very big rat. I remember feeling very happy at this point, but whether the ending itself had anything to do with it is anyone’s guess – the film was OVER, and that's all we needed to know.
Jim – you’re going to love this; I did put this DVD to sell on eBay for 99p, and no one bought it. I feel so silly. If anyone wants it for free just email me.
“Open the door you! Open! Open in the name of humanity!”
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There are so many Zombie Club line-ups that I wanted to pull out of the bag for tonight – Amityville Night, Italian Zombie Night, Giallo Night to name a few, but Jim knew I had these two rats movies, see. And when Jim wants a certain Zombie Club line-up, he certainly knows how to apply the pressure to get what he wants, even if the evening’s ‘choice’ isn’t his. Tonight, he wanted the rats movies (for days before I would get emails from Jim that simply said “RATS! RATS! RATS! RATS!”) and he even had the cheek to badmouth ‘my choice’ of movie about 20 minutes into Rats: Night of Terror! It was a no-win situation for me really. In fact, it was a no-win situation for any of us - Jim got his comeuppance by having to sit through a Bruno Mattei film. But so did we.
No rats were harmed during the writing of this feature.
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