Killer Rats (2003)

SEPTEMBER 19, 2011


I recently learned that I will most likely never get to show Of Unknown Origin at the New Bev, as Warner doesn’t have any prints but also won’t allow privately owned prints to show (as they are technically “stolen”, but fuck them! If they cared they would have kept a couple!). And that’s a shame, because it’s a legitimately good killer rat movie, whereas most of the others are like the imaginatively titled Killer Rats (an upgrade from Rats, its title per IMDb), which are fine/fun time-killers but aren’t the type of movies I’d go out of my way to recommend to friends.

However, it’s certainly got the most unique setting for this sort of movie that I can recall – a mental institute. As with the recent Asylum, our hero (well, heroine in this case) gets herself purposely put in the institute to investigate something, but here she’s a reporter. Also, her story doesn’t have anything to do with killer rats, the presence of which distracts her away from doing much investigating. However, unlike Asylum, she doesn’t get involved much with the fellow patients; she doesn’t along at all with her roommate and the others she barely interacts with at all. Instead, we get a lot of killer rat scenes, which is all we’re here for anyway so that’s not a bad thing.

But I swear, I’d take 5-10 less minutes of rat footage if it meant that the remaining shots looked good. This movie was made at a time when bad CGI was at its worst in Hollywood (2001 – same year as The Mummy Returns and Jurassic Park III, which remain low points), so it’s “nice” to see that it affected low budget Bulgarian productions as well. Some of the shots of them just sort of scurrying around and nibbling on non-people are real rats, but pretty much everything of note – even shots of one running through a doorway or whatever – are either bad CGI or bad composites of real ones. They look equally terrible though, so it doesn’t really matter which non-practical method they choose. I mean, fine, if they need to bite a person or do something really “intelligent”, fine, but come on! You can’t get a real rat to run through a doorway? Put some fucking cheese down!

Some of the bad effects actually enhance the B-movie fun of it all, however, particularly when a couple of exterminators attempt to wipe out the rats with some sort of Ghostbusters-esque raygun – the cheap lightning arcs coming out of the guns are wonderfully 50s esque creation, and the scene as a whole is one of the highlights (spoiler: they don’t succeed at exterminating anyone but themselves). And of course there’s one giant rat, but they save him for near the end, giving the otherwise lame climax a bit of novelty (they just blow up the basement where most of them are in – no real fight or interaction).

Speaking of the giant rat, I was baffled by the sound design for the thing. It just growls everywhere it goes, but there are two things that are wrong about this: 1. The growling sound they use sounds more like my stomach on a Saturday morning when I sleep past my usual cereal eating time, and 2. A rat’s squeak is way more unnerving/scary than a damn growl anyway! What I would have done is given it a squeak that actually hurt the humans’ ears, turning it into a weapon of sorts while also retaining the idea that it IS in fact just a giant rat, not some sort of tiger or whatever the hell they used to get the vocal.

The cast is pretty good; lead Sara Downing is very easy on the eyes and has a bit of spunk to her, reminding me a bit of Amber Heard in The Ward. Ron Perlman pops up as the head doctor, though his character disappears for too big of a chunk of the runtime. However, I liked that he wasn’t an antagonist for the human characters; he wasn’t exactly a saint, but I was expecting some ridiculous nonsense where we find out the rats are doing his bidding or something. Instead (spoiler?) he finds himself a victim of the actual human villain, an orderly who takes a Willard-esque liking to the damn things.

Fans of The Gate should know that this is from the same director, Tibor Tak√°cs, who also helmed the “better than it should be” Mansquito. I don’t know why he never had a bigger career in Hollywood; The Gate made some dough (and it’s actually good!), but he never really capitalized on it, following it with the barely released I, Madman and woeful Gate II before going into television and DTV movies for the remainder of his (still going) career. Perhaps The Gate was a fluke? I mean, movies like this and Mansquito are fun, but I attribute that to a few good performers and above average scripts more than any sort of directing prowess; seems anyone could have done his job here and come out with similar results (if not better). His next one is Spiders 3D, which stars Patrick Muldoon from the pair’s previous effort (the terrible Ice Spiders) but he’s playing a different character, so I guess it’s not a sequel. Let’s see how he does with 3D on a budget.

What say you?


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