VHS MOVIE REVIEW : RATS : NIGHT OF TERROR
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.
VHS MOVIE REVIEW : TEST TUBE TEENS FROM THE YEAR 2000
To reiterate: I appreciate the fact that Band’s Torchlight Entertainment label concentrated on genre-specific erotic comedy rather than making erotic horror, erotic thrillers, etc., all of which were the rage through the mid-’90s. Not only do I have a problem with equating sex with violence, paranoia, etc., but I really look askance at the filmmaking abilities of anyone who has to “spice up” something supposedly erotic with another whole flavor of exploitation. I mean, jeez, if you need to add violence to make sex exciting…
However, I just have to end my praises of Torchlight from this far out on the periphery of commentary, because once I get closer to the subject at hand and start discussing the movie itself, I find that the movie, though a cheap sex-comedy, fails on two of those three descriptors: Not too sexy, not too funny. (But still cheap, though — one out of three?)
I say “not too sexy,” despite the fact that the version I saw contained copious amounts of nudity — or at least, more nudity than you’d see if you picked it up at one of the rare rental shops that still has a copy of the VHS release. As I mentioned in my review of Beach Babes From Beyond, these erotic flicks still had to deliver an R-rating according to the terms of their distribution deal with Paramount, so despite a rough cut practically overflowing with skin (boy, that’s not a nice image), the distributed version had all of the raciest bits chopped out. I, however, managed to get my hands on a copy of the pre-distribution screener version (thanks, Torsten!), with all of the naughty bits intact (ew, two not-nice images in as many sentences). And you know what? Still not sexy. Maybe I’m just a tough audience. Or maybe it’s the fact that director Dave de Coteau (here masquerading as “Ellen Cabot”), though a consummate professional in cranking out low-budget exploitation fare, is very decidedly gay, and thus is as guilty of merely “going through the motions” as any member of the cast.
Okay, several hundred words of waffling later, on with the movie:
Despite the title, the future setting is not the year 2000; rather, it’s 2017, a world of cold glass and steel. The titular teenagers (stop giggling, it doesn’t mean what you think it means), all the products of test-tube reproduction (it’s titular, again!), are taking the least productive history class imaginable, as Professor Dorn (Ian Abercrombie) is prohibited from talking about the bad ol’ days, before the Great Corporation of America took over and made everything efficient and hygienic and absolutely asexual.
Well, as asexual as possible, which, because we’re dealing with teenagers, isn’t much. Or three main teens are: Reena (Sara Suzanne Brown), who’s very blonde and, um, titular (what, like I’m not allowed to make cheap jokes?); Naldo (Brian Bremer), the brain who keeps asking the probing questions about why they’re not aloud to learn about history in history class; and Vin (Christopher Wolf), the square-jawed lunk, who spends the entire lecture daydreaming about Reena… Reena ripping off her high-collared uniform… Reena proffering her bosom to him… Reena writhing in ecstasy…
Professor Dorn can tell what impulses have caused Vin’s eyes to glaze over, so he keeps those three after class. But after destroying the security camera, he reveals to them (and us) a huge chunk of exposition: He’s part of the underground rebellion, dedicated to undermining this sexless existence, which was brought about largely by the efforts of one Carmilla Swale, a “frigid bitch” who used her position in the corporation to eradicate all sex in the world. (Okay, my suspension of disbelief can put up with a lot, but how did any for-profit corporation ascend to dominance without appealing to the lowest common denominator? I mean, even “family-friendly” Wal-Mart sells lingerie. Excuse me, “intimates.”)
Before the police come and drag him away, Dorn gives the kids a cardkey and tells them of a vault in the basement of the building that has everything they need to set the world right. Reena has no intention of gettng herself arrested, so that night the boys head down to the murky vault/storeroom and find…
…a girlie magazine! Well, that’s not the only thing lying around on the shelves, but it certainly catches Vin’s eye, and after he memorizes the vital statistics, turn-ons, and turns offs of the Playpen centerfold Samantha Cummings (Tamara Tohill), he launches into another daydream in which he rescues her from the staple in her abdomen, and then they have steamy sex against the steamy photoshoot backdrop. (Sensing a trend here? If your sex comedy has to keep resorting to daydreams to add the requisite sex, then you’ve got some serious story problems.)
Naldo, who is emphatically not mooning over the centerfold, also finds a 1997 newspaper which talks about Carmilla Swale’s rise to Grand Poo-bah of the corporation from humbler beginnings as the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in the early 1990s. Gee, if only they could go back and change the course of history before Swale ever got into a position of corporate power… If only…
Oh, yeah. There’s also a time machine in the vault. Let’s tinker with causality!
They enlist Reena the next night to stay behind and work the controls while they zap back to 1994. Nobody bothers to think that, if they succeed in changing the past, they will have consigned Reena to nonexistence — and she certainly won’t be “around” to work the controls to bring them back. But that’s okay, once the boys have dived through, Reena’s found by the police and forced to follow through the time machine.
The boys end up in the past a full week earlier than Reena does, though, so Vin and Naldo have to fend for themselves when they end up in the all-girls school in the middle of the night. (Watch for Conrad Brooks’ cameo as a janitor. Or don’t.) They manage to convince student Maggie (Michele Matheson) that they’re not crazy, and she agrees to help them with some of her improbable resources — things like an oddly large private dorm room. Or porno movies playing on her dorm room TV. Or access to wigs, so that the boys can disguise themselves as Swedish exchange students while they try to figure out what to about man-hating Ms. Swale (Morgan Fairchild). And elude the Terminator-like cyborg “truant officer” (Don Dowe) sent back to kill them — and when I say “Terminator-like,” I mean slavishly and intentionally so: black leather and sunglasses, fake Austrian accent… Shucks, he even says, “I’ll be back” just to make sure we get it. (Good heavens, they even stole Brad Fiedel’s musical cues.)
Hijinx, as you might guess, abound. Naldo finds out that Ms. Swale’s attitude stems from having been dumped by a married man, and they enlist the younger version of Professor Dorn, teaching at the school, to help either romance or kill Swale. Along the way, Vin discovers that future centerfold Samantha Cummings is a student at the same school, and uses his uncanny knowledge of her likes and dislikes to get into her bed. (The scene in which it happens is kind of bizarre, Vin being disguised as a girl for most of their friendly conversation — but when he pulls off his wig, she adjusts to the gender switch in about half a second; cue the saxophone music and the soft dissolves.)
There are amusing bits here and there, but at best most of the movie is simply “lighthearted” than actually “funny.” And no one seems to have realized before shooting that all of the sex in what was supposed to be an erotic comedy was completely peripheral to the story. In fact, it looks like de Coteau and crew got so used to that setup, they began to operate that way by default. When Vin and Naldo, in Swedish drag, wander into the girls’ showers, they stare in fascination at the naked bathers, and then immediately, yes, begin daydreaming — about two completely different girls sudsing and rinsing each other under more sensuous lighting. Maybe the intent was to make the sex easy to excise in its entirety so as to sell the movie for broadcast TV distribution. I’m not sure. I do know, though, that if you look at naked teens in the shower and immediately begin thinking about other naked teens in a different shower, you seriously need a reality check.
If you’re looking for a positive, though, at least the humor is better than in Beach Babes From Beyond. And they do manage to keep the world free for venereal disease. That’s gotta be worth something, right?