Some viewing experiences are made quite better by the inclusion of other people sharing in the insanity or intensity of the cinematic moment. Other moviegoing is made better by an alteration of perception induced by a few drinks, or for the particularly dangerous mind altering drugs. Then there are some experiences that are made better by both of these elements inclusion, but still manage to exist in a world entirely detached from all logical reason. Rats, subtitled Night of Terror, is one such bit of madness that was viewed for this marathon at a retro screening taking place at my local indie theater. Part of the glorious, and seemingly never ending sequence of Italian knock off films from the eighties, Rats is less clear than say, Starcrash, in what it is ripping off, in that it is one part zombie film, one part Mad Max parody and an even more wicked dose of nonsensical exploitation flick that seems almost inconceivable when layered with the classic Italian method of dubbing films, wherein synchronicity is deemed useless. Even going into this film quite aware of how terrible the product would be, in wildly endearing ways, I was taken aback by how much I found myself consuming its implausibility, both in terms of how indifferent the filmmaker, the infamous Bruno Mattei, seemed in concerns of creating a remotely feasible plot, in so much as it begins with a narration about nuclear fallout that factors so very minimally into most of the film that it almost seems like the intro was an afterthought. Yet, underneath all the insanity that is Rats lies a film with some moments of genuine excitement, surprisingly not all of which are undercut by some sweet Italian synth music, making for a movie with an incredible amount of laughs, but also a noted last sequence that I cannot shake out of my brain, one that is haunting and absurd simultaneously, as well yet another inspiration for a possible future costume. Also, a lot of people scream for lengthy amounts of time in this film.
Rats, as noted, exists in a post-apocalyptic landscape, that is allegedly supposed to be Manhattan, where only two things still roam the earth, rats and biker gangs. One such biker gang, consisting of absurdly named individuals such as Video (Gianno Franco) and black woman Chocolate (Geretta Geretta) find themselves stopping off in the ruins of Manhattan, in an apparent search for food. Their decision to stop proves quite fruitful when a bar they enter is stockpiled with food, including the highly nutritious items of sugar and flour. Realizing that there was a previous group of people inhabiting the space, the biker gang thinks little of occupying the space for their own, enjoying the provisions made freely theirs, both in terms of sleeping quarters and a botanical garden full of fascinating, but assumedly useless plants. Indeed, two members of the biker gang feel so very much at home that they begin having sex in a sleeping bag, in the line of sight of the entirety of the rest of their gang. Yet, despite all their decadent delight, it becomes clear that they are not at all alone, but indeed sharing this space with an inordinate amount of rats, ones that happen to have a penchant for consuming human flesh, or, at the very least, flinging themselves in large droves at human bodies, until the individuals they attack become so scratched and disgusted as to be driven to madness. Needless to say, the group takes it upon themselves to exact revenge upon the rodents, using everything from antiquated maces to malfunctioning flamethrowers to lay waste to both the rats and all the members of their group suffering from the scratches of the vile creatures. Yet the rats in their incessant attacks and quickly mounting numbers, begin knocking off members of the biker gang, until only a few of the members remain. In a narrative jump, a group of hazmat suit wearing humans begin spraying gas into the town, assumedly trying to kill the rats, but when the remaining members of the gang emerge from buildings to confront these exterminators, it becomes clear in a rather intense reveal that perhaps they were also on the docket to be suffocated like rodents.
There are a lot of simplistic film titles in the world, ones that only speak to a layer of the film and in other times there are film titles like Sharknado that give viewers everything they could possibly need to know about the film. Somehow, completely unbeknownst to me, the title of Rats seems to masterfully cover the film I viewed last night, while also being a terribly misguided suggestion about what the film manages to undertake. I do not mean to suggest that Rats is a good movie, for it is not, nothing about the film works from a structuralist standpoint, whether it be a complete lack of regard for continuity or a concern for explaining how and where the rats, of their multiple varieties, emerge. Instead it is simply a post-apocalyptic tale concerning a group of travelers who are quite terrible at understanding, or perhaps accepting, that certain spaces are inhospitable. Not to lean to heavily on the classic horror film critique of "they should have just left" as it defeats the nature of horror films and their fantastical elements, however, I feel it quite worth noting in the context of this film, because honestly there is no real context as to why the bikers stop, or as to why there was a bunker filled with weird video games, as one member suggests. Rats almost manages to be a set of film ideas cut together, never really managing to be a single solid work, but again, not to detract from my earnest joy while watching this film, because damn if it was not enjoyable in its lack of continuity. Even as I sit here and critique these elements of the film, I am also aware of some of its truly captivating moments, whether it is those which occur when a mise-en-scene is formed that manages to incorporate rats into the windows of the background, or the synth actually hits its cue in a great way. Rats, I guess, is an enigma more than anything else, which has helped it to gain its notoriety, particularly since its begin is in such stark contrast to its captivating ending. Of course, there is also a real possibility that it is just a bad movie that should only be loved as such, Rats is yet another work from the golden age of Italian blockbuster knock-offs that proves to be a bit more than its intention and for that it should continually be sought out and viewed.
Key Scene: Rat humans.
There are murmurings of a Bluray release emerging soon. I cannot suggest this release enough, in which case waiting to view it is permissible.