Monday, 25 February 2008

Rats: Night of Terror (1983)

Rats! AAAAHH!!

For me, watching Bruno Mattei films is like getting really, really drunk. Sure, it's fun for while, but eventually you're curled over the porcelain throne at 3am, praying for death as you heave up stomach lining and bile for the fifth time. The next day you swear you'll never touch another Mattei film for the rest of your life. A week or so later, however, you're eyeing that copy of Rats: Night of Terror and thinking "Hey, why not? What's the worst that could happen?"

Rats: Night of Terror is a hybrid of two genres (post-apocalypse and killer animals) that were already well-worn by 1983 (mainly by the Italians), and further proof that there is not a bandwagon out there that Mattei will not jump onto. In this case he straddles two bandwagons simultaneously!

Since it's a post-apocalyptic film, the film starts with a smudgy opening crawl. It explains that the year is 225 A.B. (After the Bomb), and a bunch of survivors, sick of living underground, have taken to the surface to lead a nomadic, leather-clad existence. The leader of the pack is Kurt (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, from Zombi 3, Zombi 4 and a slew of other Italian genre films), and with his tight leather pants, sunglasses, and natty red scarf, he looks like he'd be more at home in a Gay Pride parade than a procession of bad-ass bikers. Despite his fancy-boy appearance, he commands respect from his motley crew, and when they arrive in an abandoned city he gives them the all-clear to stop for a while.

Inside an abandoned building they discover a room stacked high with crates of food. In celebration they dump some flour on Chocolate (the token black character) and she dances around singing "I'm white!" to the delight of all present. Chocolate's comedy stylings are interrupted by Myrna's discovery of a mutilated body covered in rats. They also find a greenhouse filled with plantlife, a water purifier, and a control room containing an enormous early 80s computer with an interface that looks suspiciously like a Commodore 64. Video, so named for his video game prowess, gives the computer a "kick in the balls" and the computer spits out a bunch of random code and the phrase "Total Eliminate Group". As Kurt states "Computers and corpses are a bad mix." Damn straight!

Later Lucifer and Lilith (both wearing copious amounts of 80s eyeshadow) are banging away in a sleeping bag while everyone is trying to sleep (in the same room!) They understandably tell the couple to leave, and there is a brief moment of levity as the zipper becomes stuck (ooh, foreshadowing). They adjourn their lovemaking to a filthy alleyway, and after Lucifer goes to find a post-coital drink, a single rat chews it's way into the sleeping bag. It kills Lilith somehow, thanks to the broken zipper. Lucifer meanwhile, drunkenly drops his bottle into an open sewer, and is killed by kamikaze rats during his attempt at retrieval.

Upon discovering Lilith's body, they open the sleeping bag down to her navel, giving us another gratitious breast shot. Due to the lack of visible injury they conclude that Lucifer strangled her to death. That is, until a rat crawls out of her mouth!

Noah, meanwhile, is hanging out in the greenhouse. When rats start dropping into the water purifier, swimming around and pooping, he has a mental breakdown that must be seen to be believed. He shows up later, covered in gnawing rats, so they turn their flame thrower on him. He stumbles about in flames (with rats perched on his head) before leaping out of a window and into the street, briefly doing the worm, and then expiring. Then they blast him with a shotgun for good measure. With friends like that, who needs the rats?

Soon even escape isn't an option, the rats having chewed up their bike tires, so they set about barricading themselves in and boarding up the windows and doors. This wouldn't be a very effective measure against rats at the best of times, made worse by the fact they forget to board up a large and prominently featured window. I probably don't need to tell you what happens when Diana backs right up against the window. The weather forecast is cloudy with 100% chance of rats!

Deus, Video, Kurt and Taurus head down to the greenhouse to find some fresh water, but find it overcome with rats. Unfortunately, Taurus falls down the stairs and is showered with rodents. When they return, Duke, who has been challenging Kurt's authority at every opportunity, gets Myrna on his side and locks them out. In one of the most laughable effects in the film, an army of approaching rats is represented by a bunch of fake rats on a conveyor belt. When Chocolate finally overpowers Duke and lets them in, Kurt gives him a righteous kick in the balls.

A supremely ineffective suspense sequence follows, where they have to cross a room full of indifferent rats a-la The Birds. Afterwards they discover Taurus, standing with his back to them. As he turns around, it becomes apparent that his face has been gnawed off by rats, and he collapses, dead. Was he standing there that whole time? His torso subsequently explodes wide open, showering the survivors in rodents. I can honestly say I did not expect that to happen.

Duke, meanwhile, has taken Myrna hostage and attempts to escape in their APC, but is surprised to find it filled with rats. Ever the strategist, he tosses a grenade at his own feet in an attempt to take out the rats, blowing himself, Myrna and the APC to pieces.

Diana goes nuts from her earlier rat attack and slashes her wrists, and the four remaining survivors find a magic exposition device in the control room. A recording states that the laboratory used to be run by some group called Delta-2 and they were supposed to meet up with a bunch of underground scientists called Omega-1. Mutant rats have taken over the surface and want to kill all humans etc. The monologue itself isn't particularly interesting, but the voice gradually gets more strained and ridiculous as the recording continues.

Their only means of escape destroyed, the survivors barricade themselves in a room. Eventually the rats manage to batter down the door, killing Kurt and Deus while Chocolate and Video cower in fear. Things are looking grim, but our two remaining heroes are saved when a bunch of guys in hazmat suits arrive, spraying the rats with poison gas. The film ends with one of the silliest twist endings in cinema history.

There have been a lot of killer-rat films, and I've probably seen more than I'd care to admit, but rats have never looked less threatening than in this film. When the rats attack, some poor Italian production assistant pours a bucket of rats over the head of the victim, who screams and flails instead of taking a step to the left. In many shots the "rats" are actually spray-painted guinea pigs. Don't bother looking for the "No Animals Were Harmed" disclaimer; rats are liberally kicked, thrown and set on fire, but at least they died for a good cause.

This is probably the most entertaining Mattei film I've seen, next to Hell of the Living Dead. It's got a cheesy synthesiser score, a grimy post-apocalyptic setting, and bikers with names like "Lucifer". If that weren't enough, there's a bit where a guy turns a flamethrower onto a bunch of rats and shouts "I'm gonna warm their whiskers!" Now that's entertainment!

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