“We must explore this shitty place!”
- A character about to explore a shitty place
Yes you must, and you’ll take us with you, thanks. Rats: Night of Terror (1984) offers everything and more one could want in an indie release: sincerity, thievery, and sincere thievery. The Italian genre machine (here, specifically pastiche maestro Bruno Mattei) set its sights all post-apocalypto following the successes of Escape from New York and The Road Warrior (both ‘81), and wouldn’t you know, the films they made are by turns weird, grotesque, funny, thrilling, and titillating. Also wouldn’t you know, Rats is a whole lot of all of it.
Produced by Beatrice Film (fine purveyors of Mattei’s gut muncher Hell of the Living Dead), Rats didn’t show up in Italy until May of ‘85, after Germany premiered it in the fall of ‘84. Stateside? Not until ‘86. All of this is to say that the film’s history is checkered at best, and certainly not buoyed by any critical acclaim, at any juncture in its lifespan. But in the Age of Our Holy Boutiques (the only religion I can get behind), a spit and polish and critical eye cast towards the cult breathes new life into another yet another magnum opus, at least in horror fans' view. As usual, we’re right; Rats: Night of Terror is not only great Italiana, it’s also a film that inspires smiles from dusty beginning to rather inspired ending.
“Computers and corpses are a bad mixture.”
- A character with a strong sense of perception
We open with the requisite info crawl solemn voiceover included: it’s 225 A.B. (After the Bomb) and the only survivors left on a scorched Earth (ciao, Italy!) are scavengers above ground, while rumours of those still below swirl in the winds. We follow a group - a gang, if you will - of strong willed - okay, obnoxious - scavengers on motorbikes, scrounging for food. They come across a deserted town and discover an underground lab filled with hydroponic veggies and a water filtration centre. There aren’t however, any people around. In their stead are a growing legion of rats, the vermin long thought to be extinct, and they have only one item on their menu...people. A lot of enthusiastic Italian people.
“Don’t fall down, Taurus!”
- An observationist, to be sure
If a horror element is added to this type of film - the rats are the antagonists, and they don’t like sharing the spotlight - the template shifts from Snake to Alien: dark hallways, flamethrowers, unwelcome orifice intrusions, and a propensity towards descriptive names acting as traits. Video, Taurus, Lucifer, Duke, uh, Myrna - none will be spared and all will annoy at some point. But this is early in the film; once it becomes a full on rat attack, character beats take a backseat to flambes and rib buffets, and it reaches a comfortable - yet very familiar - plateau for the rest of the runtime.
Don’t call it a complaint; a film like Rats is special because it takes and interprets well worn material and then transports it to the screen, looking the same on the surface but tasting different as soon as you cut in. (This is a failed attempt to squeeze The Fly into my assessment. Apologies. #BrundleSteak) And Bruno Mattei may very well be the master of this art.
You want zoms? Hell of the Living Dead. Religious blasphemy? The Other Hell. Jaws? Cruel Jaws. And on and on; no one was a better borrower than Mattei, (or at least as honest - sometimes references blossomed into injunctions) nor released films with as cheery high energy. His films offer no deep social discourse, and why should they? That’s what the originals are for. I enjoy Rats for the same reason I do Jurassic Park III - it’s just 90 minutes of flailing and killing. Cliff Notes with the pages misarranged works for me.
“What kind of finish can we look forward to? More matte than glossy.”
- Cryptic warning, and/or post-apocalyptic dad joke
Mattei always embraced any theme with aplomb and vigor, even if the story or performances come across as cockeyed; it’s the overall vibe of a Mattei that counts, and more than anything else, amuses. You and I both have seen outlandish ideas turned dishwater dull, or the plainest made exciting and ornate; but Mattei seemed to be cut from a different cloth - he was either a talented ripoff, or a galaxy brain artist believing in the everflow of inspiration. I’m enough of a cinematic idealist to believe in the latter.
“We’re so glad to be found by friends!”
- A character with a clear grasp of irony
The film isn’t without surprises; I didn’t see the ending coming, or, thanks to a very late in the game exposition dump by the computer, I didn’t have time to rethink it. (I’m also slow on the uptake sometimes, often.) It’s details like this that make Mattei’s work so special; Rats: Night of Terror ends with a wink to a beloved sci-fi classic that made me laugh out loud - not because of how it’s done, but rather Mattei’s moxie for even thinking of it. Sincere thievery, meet your master.
Rats: Night of Terror is available as part of a Blue Underground Double Feature Blu-ray with Hell of the Living Dead.Next: Indie Horror Month 2021 Marketplace: Time to Shop for Killer Games, Puzzles, Collectibles & Other Cool Stuff