Rats - Notte di terrore (Blood Kill) (Rats: Night of Terror) Reviews
Except, possibly, the Italians.
Now Italy looks like a great country for film. How many Criterion DVDs are Italian? How many "Best Foreign Language Film" Oscars have Italians won? Even their genre films have a certain classiness to them, and folks like Mario Bava and Dario Argento are genuine master craftsmen of film, bringing respect to what would otherwise be considered quickie horror flicks.
Below the Argentos and the Bavas are the Fulcis, who have a good sense as to what makes an interesting genre film, even if they have no idea how the hell to put it together in any sort of coherent way. Slightly below the Fulcis are guys like Sergio Martino, workmanlike directors who know how to put together a decent piece of drive-in trash, but don't really do it with any degree of flair.
And then there's Bruno Mattei.
Now, I don't think Bruno Mattei is the worst horror film director ever, but when there's stiff competition like Buchanan and Andy Milligan around, this is about as faint as praise gets. He's certainly in the running for the worst Italian horror film director ever, and that certainly takes some doing.
Let's take [i]Hell of the Living Dead[/i], one of dozens of quickly-made Italian zombie flicks crapped out after the success of[i] Dawn of the Dead[/i]. How much of a [i]Dawn of the Dead[/i] rip-off is it? Well, let me put it this way: The best thing about [i]Hell of the Living Dead[/i] is the music, which, I realized about fifteen minutes into the film, is the same Goblin music used in [i]Dawn of the Dead[/i]. Even though it's a complete steal from another film, it's still the only redeeming thing about [i]Hell of the Living Dead[/i].
The film starts at a science compound of some sort researching a virus of some sort and suddently all hell breaks loose and the entire compound gets locked down as everyone starts turning into flesh-eating zombies. This is, by the way, the exact same set-up used in [i]Resident Evil[/i], which is a significantly better movie.
Anyway, we're introduced to a quartet of interchangable SWAT team members who busily take down a group of terrorists who've taken some people hostage. The SWAT team then drives off into the deep jungles of Africa where they're joined by a female reporter and her cameraman, who manage to escape from a horde of zombies that killed a family of three that was with them. (Why was a family travelling with them? Who the hell knows?)
The film follows our group through the jungles of Africa as they encounter, well, more zombies. Most of these zombies are the slow-moving, slow-witted kind, and it would rarely take more than, say, moving to the left a little to get away from them, but that's still way too much effort for most of our characters. Not to mention the fact that, despite them learning very early on that they can only be killed when shot through the head, our team is constantly shooting them in the chest. These are stupid, stupid people, and the fact that they survive as long as they do is clearly meant as a sign that evolution is a lie.
And they survive a looooong time before any of them start to get ripped apart. Meanwhile, they stop at an African village, allowing for the most gratuitous nudity I've ever seen as the reporter strips and paints herself so the natives will be friendly to her. She really needn't have bothered, especially since most of the activities within the village are represented by footage from Barbet Schroeder's [i]La Vallee,[/i] shot on different film stock and integrated into [i]Hell[/i] simply by cutting in shots of the reporter looking around. Not since [i]White Gorilla[/i] has there been something that pathetic.
When they finally do start getting offed, the deaths are lame and uninspired, mostly consisting of being bitten and having lots of blood everywhere with minimal shots of flesh being torn, the sole reason for watching a damn Italian zombie film in the first place. There's some political stuff towards the end, where we suddenly cut to the U.N. (!), but it just slows down the film even more.
[i]Hell of the Living Dead[/i] is a bloody awful film, and it's been disguised under various titles over the years. I first got conned into it as [i]Night of the Zombies [/i]back in the mid-'80s, and figured I'd give it another chance on DVD. Lesson learned.
At least Mattei's [i]Rats: Night of Terror[/i] is entertainingly stupid. It begins with a slow introductory crawl detailing the events of the apocalypse the film takes place hundreds of years after, carefully explaining that there are now two factions of people, one that lives above ground and behaves like scavengers, while the other lives below ground in a utopia of some sort and looks down on the above-grounders. It's a long explanation that sets up a potentially ambitious premise of cultural warfare in a post-apocalyptic world.
As good of a build-up as this is, it turns out to be completely irrelevant to the movie at hand. The movie, you see, involves a group of bikers fighting off hordes of killer rats, and the post-apoc qualities of it are so limited (with the exception of the ending) that you could just start the film proper, throw up a title that says "BIKERS VS RATS," and move on. Ah well.
This particular gang of bikers reaches a small abandoned town and takes refuge in a building where they discover plants, and then rats show up and apparently try to kill them. I say apparently because the rats, as far as I can see, don't really do much of anything, but there's lots of screaming from the female bikers and people start ending up dead. Mostly the bikers just have rats thrown at them by the bucket-load by someone just off-screen, and it all looks more silly than scary. In fact, this may be the first killer critter film where I came out of the movie feeling less afraid of the deadly vermin than more--most of the "rats" (actually guinea pigs painted black) just seem to be minding their own business most of the time, and having all these bikers yelling at them and throwing them around seems more mean than scary.
So the plot's crap, but entertaining, especially the effect that desperately tries to convince us that hordes of rats are approaching by having a bunch of obviously fake rats on a conveyor belt. What really takes Rats into high gear is the dialogue. Now, we learn right off the bat that the filmmakers have no need for subtlely (the black character's name? "Chocolate."), but add that to people threatening to "blow your guts out" while holding a club (!?) and you've got something almost special.
"But, Paul," you say, "Aren't Italian horror movies dubbed? Couldn't this be the work of bad dubbing?" Well, under normal circumstances, sure, but first off, this isn't dubbed like the Mexican horror films of the '60s where they tried to make the works match the mouth movements, leading to some fascinatingly strained sentence structures. Second, the film is written by Claudio Fragrassi, who wrote [i]Troll 2[/i], which has such legendarily bad dialogue and is in English that I can't help but think his vision is being preserved here.
His vision happens to include lines like "Stupid machine needs a kick in the balls!" God bless him.
(The film also includes a scene where the group finds a dead body lying in a bed. "He's been murdered!" one of them immediately explains. Exactly how he knows this I have no idea--after all, if I found a dead body in a hospital bed, "murdered" is probably the last thing I'd figure the cause of death to be, unless you extend "murdered" to include bad health care.)
[i]Rats[/i] may, in fact, be a worse film than [i]Hell of the Living Dead[/i], but it's a significantly more enjoyable one. Sure, it's idiotic, mindless and has nothing but tired characters, but at least you can tell them apart, and, sorry, the endless shots of actors being showered in rodents tossed at them from obviously a couple feet away never gets old. Plus it's got the most hilariously awful "twist" ending I've seen in a crap horror film in a good long time, which I'd spoil, but hey, you really have to see it for yourself.
Neither of these films make the case for Mattei being anything but an awful hack of a filmmaker, but being the cinematic masochist that I am, I demand to see more. Damn you, Bruno Mattei, you need a kick in the balls.