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Rats: Night Of Terror
(1984)

Director: "Vincent Dawn" (Bruno Mattei)          
Cast:
Richard Raymond, Janna Ryan, Alex McBride


Back when I reviewed A Rat's Tale, I noted that rats - at least the kinds not found in pet stores or in laboratories - are filthy and disgusting creatures that give me the creeps. I am sure that many of you would agree with Horror can run both hot and cold in an Italian moviethat opinion, as well as a great deal of the general population. From that fact alone, it would be reasonable to think that by now that there would be a number of horror movies concerning rats. After all, people go to horror movies to be scared, and rats creep out a number of people, right? But when you look at the horror genre, there haven't been that many movies concerning rats. Offhand I can only think of a few: Willard (the original and remake) and its sequel Ben, the Canadian-lensed Of Unknown Origin and Deadly Eyes, and the recent made-for-TV movie The Rats. I'm sure there are more that would come up with a little more thought, but I don't think it would expand that list much more. So why haven't there been that many rat-themed horror movies, especially when you consider rats are in plentiful supply and can easily be trained to do a number of things that would be harder to impossible to do with other animals? The most plausible explanation I can think of is that killer rats are more "real" than threats like flesh-eating zombies or slashers who hate teenagers. People like to be scared, but they also like to have a healthy distance between something that scares them, so they won't feel that back in the real world there is a potential threat. They don't expect to ever find a zombie in their basement, but rats...

So leave it to the Italians to tread where few men dare, to shove in our face the kind of things most filmmakers won't touch. One can only admire the courage of these Italian directors to show close-up and in great detail things like full-frontal nudity and gore. As well as animal life - mostly maggots, but in the case of Rats: Night Of Terror, they brought in truckloads of our furry friends. Reports claim that these rats were actually guinea pigs, though they were dyed in black, so that's good enough for me. The movie also shows another aspect of Italian filmmaking - treading where men had been before. Years earlier, Dirty Harry inspired a number of Italian tough-cop films like The Violent Professionals, and Star Wars had inspired rip-offs like Starcrash and The Humanoid. In the case of Rats: Night Of Terror, the movie that had inspired it was... The Road Warrior. No kidding. That's evident from the fact the rat-filled movie takes place after a nuclear holocaust. An opening crawl that rolls over a desert landscape fills us in on the situation. It states that the "insensitivity of man" resulted in a nuclear war in 2015, with the few survivors seeking refuge under the ground. A hundred years later, several descendents of the survivors grow dissatisfied with the system of life underground and return to the surface. More than a hundred years has past since the departure, and both groups have not been in contact for ages.

There's something else that you learn from this opening crawl. That being the fact that the movie was apparently so low budget, that they couldn't afford to buy Windex; Aw, rats!smears and various smudges are clearly visible all over the transparent surface the words are written on. At least the display of the opening credits are shown in a much neater fashion, which unroll right after the camera pans over the shadows of two crew members who are assisting with the shot that first introduces the movie's protagonists. The protagonists are the usual Italian Road Warrior-types, riding the typical jazzed-up motorcycles and vans, and unsurprisingly are decked out in duds that don't make a lot of sense when you think about it (such as what appears to be a Civil War uniform on one fellow.) As they ride out, the credits begin. All the actors have had their Italian or French names changed to names of a more Anglicized nature, no doubt in an attempt to disguise the movie as an American one. (Not like they were known for anything notable earlier, unless you count movies like Hearts And Armour or After The Fall Of New York.) The credits also list the names of the characters each actor is playing. And what a collection of names, including "Lucifer", "Video", "Chocolate", "Deus", even "Kurt" and "Diana".

The most interesting names in the credits, however, are those for the director and writer. One of the two credited screenwriters is Claudio Fragasso, a.k.a. "Drago Floyd", the demented mind behind the legendary Troll 2. And the director, who also wrote the story, is the legendary Bruno Mattei (using the nom de plume "Vincent Dawn"), the director behind mind-numbing efforts like Night Of The Zombies and Shocking Dark, the latter of which actually reunited many of the actors in this particular movie. (Apparently, battling with rats is good way to prepare for battling with mutants in a blatant rip-off of Aliens.) In this movie, as I earlier suggested, the actors play the descendents of those survivors who chose to return to the surface, leading a nomadic life in their constant effort to stay alive. Not long after their introduction, they drive into the ruined remains of a city in an attempt to replenish their supplies. They first enter a long-abandoned bar equipped with beds. Though it at first seems some kind of strong brew must have been served there, they quickly discover the whole building was a makeshift shelter of some kind. The boxes of food are a lucky find, but they are more fortunate the shelter has water filters and indoor farms that were working even before the ruffians figured out how to turn on the electricity. Who cares about how that was possible... or about all those rats hanging around the area... or those two fresh corpses they find that have been half-eaten by rats... right?...

Naturally, it doesn't take long for this Eden to suddenly turn into a hellhole, with the protagonists finding themselves experiencing the night of terror advertised in the title. Even while the movie can no longer rip off The Road Warrior Look on the bright side: People will likely stop laughing at your goofy-looking nosewith just about all the remaining time taking place indoors, don't doubt those Italians will pass up the opportunity to rip off other movies. Take the scene where the rats have temporarily calmed down, and the remaining members of the gang have to slowly cross a room packed with the furry critters - clearly inspired by a similar scene in Hitchcock's The Birds. The most obvious source of inspiration for the movie comes from Night Of The Living Dead, with the characters relentlessly pursued by a flesh-eating enemy, and having to barricade themselves from the threat. Funny thing about the scenes where they grab boards and nails to seal entrances up; when they barricade a door, they go to the trouble to board the entire door, not just the bottom half. On the other hand, these rats are not your ordinary kind, given that in one scene they seem to have the collective strength to slowly knock down a steel door. Though when the door breaks down, a fresh corpse comes down with it; apparently the rats picked up the nearby corpse and leaned it against the steel door so there would be some extra weight pressing down.

You're probably getting the idea now. Rats: Night Of Terror is an unintentionally hilarious delight. While it may not be packed wall-to-wall with laughs - for one thing, the movie in some aspects does flirt with competence -  it still has an amount of ludicrous moments that can't be easily dismissed. The way the movie was prepared for foreign release just makes it harder to take seriously. While the fact the movie was dubbed into English itself doesn't indicate much promise, since we're used to typically feeble dubbing, the fact that there's a lot of yelling by the characters possibly should. If not, let's just say that the English dialogue not only fails to come close to the lip movements in these instances, but also sounds somewhat subdued, considering these lip movements are often on a big scale. While Mattei and Fragasso obviously had nothing to do with that, they at least can take comfort that they can take credit for all the entertainment remaining, like writing that badly-dubbed dialogue. "Stupid machine needs a kick in the balls," a frustrated Video spits out at a computer that's giving him problems. Or when one rat-hating character brandishes a flamethrower and exclaims, "I'm gonna warm their whiskers!" Or when the gang's token black ("Chocolate", if you didn't know) gets covered with flour as a joke: "Look at me! I'm white!" she exclaims at this, subsequently prancing around and tra-la-laing, as her friends suddenly remember their childhood years and join her.

I also liked it when one character says upon looking in a room, "It's full of rats!" The reason why I thought that was funny because while the character gets to see what's "Gee, all that radiation and desert living did wonders to your skin!"inside the room, we don't. At first it seems the movie didn't have the budget to show us rats when it wasn't absolutely necessary. This lack of money may also explain one particular scene involving a swarm of rats approaching the protagonists. Instead of using real rats (okay, okay... guinea pigs. You know what I mean), the effect is accomplished by placing models of rats on a conveyer belt, and turning the conveyer belt on. Though they try to pass this shot off by turning the lights down very low, it doesn't work. Anyway, as the movie went on, it occurred to me that maybe they would have the budget to use real rats for those sequences if they weren't in a hurry to destroy the ones that we do see in other parts of the movie. During the movie, we see real rats get kicked, thrown into camera range by offscreen rat wranglers, and even set on fire a few times. I understand filmmakers wanting to make things as realistic as possible, but even this seems to be going a bit too far. If it makes those particular rats now in the Great Beyond feel better, at least their performances ablaze are more convincing that the stunt guy filling in for one human character when he's set ablaze. Though I've never seen someone on fire in real life, I'm pretty sure someone in that situation wouldn't be shuffling around slowly, with his unbending arms completely straight out from his sides like a scarecrow.

Believe me, I have only started to scratch the surface with listing the various ways the movie manages to show an almost complete lack of competence. One of my favorite moments is when rats start leaking through holes of a boarded-up window, provoking a gang member to race up to the window with his shotgun and go ballistic on it. (Think about it.) There's another scene later in the movie involving a big explosion, and the remaining protagonists that are nearby duck and cover - several seconds after the explosion. Even funnier than that is that they have found their way out at that point, but they reenter the building almost immediately, instead of making their way out of the city. This is a very silly movie, but I do have to give credit to the movie where it deserves it. The Luigi Ceccarelli synthesizer score, while cheesy, actually seems appropriate for this goofiness and provides a pleasing backdrop. And despite the odds, Mattei manages to overcome a few obstacles despite the low budget. Some of the sets (a ruined street, large-sized rooms) really do look like places abandoned and crumbling for years. He also has them lit and darkened in ways that add to their foreboding atmosphere. And there is at least one moment of the movie that, while maybe it can't be considered really horrific, does manage to be at least a little unsettling. I felt I should point out these moments because, let's face it, you'll probably be too busy laughing throughout the movie to notice them.

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See also: Night Of The Zombies, A Rat's Tale, Survivor

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