MARCH 17, 2013
It's truly a shame that horror film productions in Italy are all but dead, because there truly is nothing like them and I doubt there ever will be again. I don't know if it was something in the drinking water or what, but the 80s produced so many Italian horror films that are so charmingly incoherent and shoddy, but innocently so - they're bad, but not ironic Asylum-level bad. Dan Harmon said it best on his podcast last week, when discussing the difference between a bad movie from the 80s and an intentionally bad movie like Sharkotopus or whatever: "Fuck you - try hard, so I can laugh at you." So I can only imagine he'd have fun with Rat Man (Italian: Quella villa in fondo al parco), a movie where I doubt anyone was actually TRYING to be so batshit and nonsensical.
If I'm understanding the hasty backstory correctly, the murderous title character was a scientific experiment gone awry who has gotten loose and wants revenge on his captors and, seemingly, every blond woman in the vicinity. Our heroes are a pair of Fulci vets: The Beyond's David Warbeck and Gates of Hell's Janet Agren, the latter of whom is summoned to the country to identify her sister, who is believed to be the Rat Man's first victim (as for what Warbeck was supposed to be doing there, your guess is as good as mine - he meets Agren when hitting on her outside the airport and never leaves her side for the rest of the film). Turns out the girl is NOT her sister, because the cops didn't bother to check her fingerprints, so the two of them spend the movie driving around looking for her.
The other half involves said sister, a model who keeps stumbling upon Rat Man's victims during photo shoots. I kept waiting for the two plots to connect, but they never really do - just when I started wondering if the Warbeck/Argen characters were added later, they FINALLY arrive at the house where the sister is, but she's already dead. And then they never really encounter the damned Rat Man! He hovers above Agren for a shot or two, then hides - Warbeck doesn't even get to share a shot with him. So you can pretty much remove the guy from the movie and it wouldn't matter in the slightest, except it would be far less hilarious - I never stopped being amused by the fact that he seemingly dropped his entire life to drive this girl around (and they never even really HINT at a romantic relationship after their "meet cute"). He also gets the brunt of the script supervisor's inverted approach to his job - his shirts and eyewear change from shot to shot during some sequences, and none of his clothing changes have any sort of explanation since his character is constantly on the go (I don't even think he has a hotel, though they do relax by a pool at one point). The photo shoot scenes are also holocausts of continuity; I honestly have no idea what is going on during the first big one where she finds a (very old looking) skull inside a rock formation.
It's a shame that the movie doesn't maintain this level of charming ineptness throughout, because it can be kind of boring otherwise. Bizarrely, the director (Giuliano Carnimeo, who gave us the misogynist giallo masterpiece Case of the Bloody Iris) keeps Rat Man in shadows (or inside a travel bag!) for most of the runtime, which is what you do when you have a crummy puppet or animatronic monster. But Rat Man is played by Nelson de la Rosa, the late actor who is best known for playing Brando's... friend? in Island Of Dr. Moreau (he was also Pedro Martinez' good luck charm during the 2004 Red Sox season). If you're unfamiliar with either of those, de la Rosa was only 2 feet 4 inches tall, and he was also a hell of a dancer (i.e. he could move), so I'm not sure why they didn't have him front and center more often. It's not a particularly violent film; the body count is in the single digits and all of the death scenes involve Rat Man quickly emerging from a shadow and lunging at a character, followed by murky, over-edited shots of claws slashing and skin being torn up. One character doesn't even die from her injuries - she has a heart attack from being scared! It's odd that they had a perfect solution to the issues facing any pint-sized terror movie (i.e. on Child's Play, they had to build scaled up sets so that a dwarf actor could play Chucky in more complicated scenes), but didn't take advantage. The actor seems game in the few scenes where he gets to really cut loose, so it baffles me that they took the "less is more" approach. Way to try subtlety for the first time, 80s Italians.
But even if the stalk/kill scenes were better, there would still be a LOT of padding and "shoe leather" in the movie. Cars parking, planes landing... all of these things are shown in their endless entirety, helping get the movie to a mere 82 minute runtime. There's also a lengthy shower scene that makes the intentionally gratuitous one in Slumber Party Massacre look tasteful, two photo shoots, ANOTHER scene where the cops have Argen come to see a body that turns out to not be her sister, Warbeck buying a book which he then throws away 90 seconds later... I'd say only about 7-8 minutes of the movie are actually terror-based, unless you include the endless "chase" at the end where the sister wanders around the house for a while, getting scared (and drinking an uncapped soda from the fridge). It makes the chase in Friday the 13th Part 3 look choppy and rushed.
Still, it made for some terrific crowd viewing, with folks cheering at the nonsense and bellowing WHAT? when appropriate (the eruption for the end freeze-frame was probably the most glorious of its type since the first time I saw Raw Force's conclusion). And thankfully, the asshole sitting two seats away from me who had his phone out most of the time had left, leaving just the folks who want to be there to enjoy it. Seriously, at one point he was just scrolling through his Instagram feed. I despise it, but I can at least understand checking a text or email during a movie if you feel your phone buzz, but if you're just looking at photos of people's food, just fucking leave! You don't want to be there, and no one wants you there. I mean, he DID, but he should have done that long before he opted to distract everyone by scrolling through his timelines. Dingus.
The DVD is available in the US via Apprehensive Films, and the print was shockingly good (and uncut, as far as I know); I was a bit surprised as I never heard of the movie before and I've since learned that it doesn't have the best reputation, so it was endearing to know that even junk gets properly presented. Gives me hope for Cathy's Curse.
What say you?