Rats: Night of Terror

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What a revolting development this is. Here I am, I just got done watching the excellent documentary, AN AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, for the millionth time. For those who never got a chance, it covers the greatest American horror films of the seventies and shows how they were a mirror for the current events of the time. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD reflects Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, SHIVERS reflects the sexual revolution, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reflects unemployment and the OPEC crisis and so on. Really, a fascinating work.

And then I start plonking down on my keyboard, looking through my notebook at the next review on my agenda (I adhere to this strictly, otherwise I'd never get to half these things). And what do I have to review? RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, a film that is appropriately half B-movie cheese-fest and half SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS FOR DUMMIES.

RATS attempts to place good old fashioned horror in the post-apocalyptic universe from MAD MAX that the Italians were capitalizing on during the early eighties. I actually loved a bunch of these knockoffs from WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND (a.k.a. THE NEW BARBARIANS) to EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000.

It opens 225 years after a nuclear war, so you can be sure there's a subtext of "no nukes" going on. All the civilized people have gone underground and spent the last couple centuries rebuilding the world in subterranean kingdoms. Yeah, yeah, don't get excited. If you want a New World Order near the center of the earth, buy a ticket to THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. You don't get to see anything that interesting here.

Instead, we are treated to a group of the "savages" that inhabit the world above. Now, to be honest I don't know how savage these people are, but they sure are stupid. It's the post-nuke version of a street gang, and if the Bloods and the Crips could see what they are to become, they would call it a day right here and now. A bunch of multi-ethnic young turks ready to take over the world? Sorry. Actually, it's a bunch of middle-aged white guys and gals dressed in a wide array of fashion don'ts. They can barely form a cohesive thought between the lot of them and it's a wonder they've survived as long as they have.

Whoops, I said they were all white guys but that is inaccurate. There are women, but they are all slutty or weak in one way or another. There is also one black member of the cast. She's one of the women and in the true fashion of only the most forward-thinking filmmakers, they've named her Chocolate. You read that right, as late as the last two decades of the twentieth century, we have a black woman named Chocolate without a trace of shame, satire or irony. In one scene, when the group discovers some provisions, she is doused with flour. She dances around, rubbing the white flour over her face, proudly exclaiming, "Look, I'm whiter than all of you!" My God, BILLY JACK knew this was wrong, and that film was made almost twenty years earlier. It's the kind of move that makes you just stare at the screen dumbfounded that anyone had the audacity to do this without any reasoning or explanation.

Anyway, the group stumbles upon an abandoned scientific complex. There, they find the provisions they need. Not just flour but food and a decent irrigation system as well. That's right, fresh food and a working irrigation system. As the group looks through the place, tinkering with everything in sight, the whole scenario is a dead ringer for the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers video, "You Got Lucky." In fact, much of the costumes, art direction and overall presentation are identical. I'm surprised more haven't noted the resemblance.

Unfortunately, the place is not quite abandoned, the place is littered with a few mutilated corpses, usually around the scientific equipment. This causes one of the group to note, "Computers and corpses are a bad combination." If you ask me, anything and corpses is a bad combination but what do I know?

The place is also occupied by a growing number of rats. Big suckers too. It isn't long before the rats start attacking the group en mass and dwindling their numbers. The rats take the form of everything from non-animatronic stuffed furballs to painted guinea pigs to the real thing. These things are just poured on people and every little nip, scratch and bite makes the people scream in agony and collapse to the ground, flailing and crying. I doubt there's anything that makes the rats that dangerous aside from their numbers and organization. Still, they collapse in a frenzy when even a couple of them start nipping. So these tough gang members have to look like they are being beaten down by a bunch of rodents. THE WARRIORS they 'aint. When one of the group says all hope is lost, Chocolate tells him, "You mustn't talk that way. Those are such negative thoughts."

RATS is quite simply one of the dumbest films to be released by the Italian horror market. It's a film that takes its cues from the schlock classic THE KILLER SHREWS and then eliminates all trace of menace. The film is written by hack Bruno Mattei, who made his living pretty much saying, "Yes, sir" and doing whatever the producers told him to. I would say he's the Roger Corman of Italian cinema, except he never had nearly as much vision or independence.

So why do I watch his movies? I don't know, masochism maybe. And he's done some films that are fun. Mattei films are always bad and they are rarely fun enough to warrant repeat viewings. RATS is an exception, though not so much as his hilarious classic HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD. Mattei himself is a house painter who was elevated to director status and as recently as a couple years ago, ridiculed people who said they enjoyed his movies. In short, some of his movies are fun in an incompetent way, but he is a man unworthy of anyone's respect � another reason I choose to respect the work and rarely dwell on the people who make them.

The film is ridiculous from beginning to end. Occasionally, a well-shot scene will come through and I would be stunned by the level of� well, basic motor skills actually. One thing about films like this, your standards go right in the shitter.

There are a couple juicy bits too. One scene involves rats eating one of the dead from the inside out. Yikes! It reminded me of an opening bit in Lloyd Kauffman's book, MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE. Kauffman was cleaning out the Troma cellar when he saw a dead rat, very fat. "Lucky fucker," he said, and kicked it aside. The thing shook and hundreds of spiders burst out of it. Kauffman screamed, "like a prison bitch." Hey, I would have screamed and it's scarier than anything in RATS.

But nothing will prepare you for the ending. I will not spoil it except to say, I wondered to myself, "What is the stupidest, most ridiculous and far-fetched ending they could conceive?" It formed in my brain and I quickly dismissed it. I shook my head, assuring myself that nobody would be that shameless. And there, it actually happens! Amazingly, they really are that shameless. I forget these are the people who have a character named Chocolate.

RATS is good if you've had a few drinks, if you want to chuckle for a half hour and you have absolutely no standards. There really isn't anything else to recommend it. It's a piece of trash, and not always in a good way. They have taken the horror of films like DEADLY EYES and WILLARD (both of which never achieved the scares of James Herbert's novel, THE RATS), they combined the atmosphere of MAD MAX and assembled some extras from THE WARRIORS. And yet, with all of this, the film is barely amusing enough, even unintentionally, to be entertaining. Rats, indeed.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis