Archive for the Horror Movies Category

For Rats’ Eyes Only: OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, For Rats' Eyes Only, Horror Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Rats with tags , , , , on October 4, 2012 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats



By L.L. Soares

Welcome to the new column “For Rats’ Eyes Only.” One subgenre of the horror film I’ve always enjoyed is the one that involves rats, strangely enough, and there are enough of these movies so that I can review one every once in awhile.

We begin with 1983’s OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN starring Peter Weller, before he starred in the cult classic THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) and his most famous role, as the titular ROBOCOP (1987).

Here, Weller plays Bart Hughes, a high-powered businessman on the verge of a promotion and a possible partnership in his Manhattan firm. He is given a job restructuring their Los Angeles office, an assignment that will decide whether he gets that promotion or not. Meanwhile, his wife Meg (Shannon Tweed in her first feature film role, after some work on television) is going on vacation with their young son Peter (Leif Anderson) to visit Bart’s in-laws for awhile. The understanding is that he’ll join them at some point, when he’s done with his assignment. However, things don’t go as planned.

It begins when Bart’s kitchen gets flooded after something damages the water hose in the dishwasher. At first it seems to be a freak accident, until the local handyman, Clete (Louis Del Grande) takes a look and tells Bart that it looks like something chewed through the hose, and he might have a vermin problem. “Have you seen any mice?” Clete asks. How about rats!

Sure, Bart’s house is beautiful. But this is the big city, and rats are everywhere, Clete explains, whether or not we can see them.

Bart finds it almost impossible to believe he has a rat problem. His house is pristine, and he did all of the renovations himself, but he takes Clete’s advice and gets some mouse traps, just to be safe. He even cuts big pieces of cheddar cheese to put in the traps. When he starts finding the traps untouched, but the cheese missing, he starts to realize he might just have a rodent problem after all.

So he gets bigger, more vicious looking traps. When those don’t work he gets two kinds of poison. And the situation escalates more and more, and Bart finds that he is not dealing with a simple, everyday rat. He’s dealing with some kind of super rat that is always one step ahead of him, anticipating his every move, and avoiding all of his attempts to kill it. So two things happen. The rat gets smarter and more aggressive as Bart tries to kill it. And Bart begins to get obsessed with getting rid of the rat, so much so that he stops paying attention to his work or his family. He’s up all night, so he gets hardly any sleep. And when he is awake, he’s looking online for ways to get rid of rats, or calling exterminators who never pick up their phones (“They’re probably overworked,” Clete suggests).

The title refers to a photo of a species of rat that’s “of unknown origin,” that we see briefly while Bart is doing research and collecting all kinds of books and magazines on the subject.

Eventually, it becomes all out war between Bart and the rat. His entire life seems focused on eliminating the creature. He won’t evacuate the house he spent so much time renovating – it’s a matter of principle—and the rat isn’t going anywhere either. It has chewed an intricate maze of tunnels throughout the house, in the walls and the ventilation system. When Bart chases the creature and tries to kill it, it even attacks him, digging its teeth into him, slashing him with its claws, and it’s pretty big—about the size of a large cat. In fact, there’s a scene where Bart adopts a cat, attempting to use the animal to get rid of his nemesis. Let’s say it doesn’t work out very well.

The rat is watching you, in OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN.

There are some scenes that play out almost like comedy. Bart’s single-mindedness in hunting the vermin down, and the way it constantly eludes him, takes on the feel of an old Warner Brothers cartoon at times. But every time it seems funny, the movie shows us a close up of the rat’s drooling fangs, and we realize this thing means business.

In a pivotal scene, Bart ends up in some home-made armor of sorts, with a miner’s light duct-taped to his head, protective equipment on his body, and a baseball bat with protruding nails as a weapon. By this point, he has almost lost his mind in his striving to rid his environment of this intruder.

Peter Weller prepares for war, in OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN.

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN isn’t the best rat-related movie I’ve seen, but it is a good one. And you get caught up in the story, just like Bart gets caught up in his mission.

I give it three cat-sized rodents!

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares



Posted in 2012, Documentary, George Romero, Horror Movies, John Carpenter Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Movie History, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda

Let’s shake things up a bit and look at a documentary for a change.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009) is a documentary directed by Andrew Monument and written by Joseph Maddrey, that examines American horror movies from the silent era up to the 2000s. It’s now available on Streaming Video.

The film definitely takes a psychological and sociological approach to looking at American horror movies. It attempts to explain why Americans love horror movies so much, what the filmmakers were trying to say with their movies, and how horror movies are tied into the times in which they were made.

NIGHTMARES begins with the silent horror movies of the 1920s, and it makes the argument that horror movies of the 1920s, especially the films of Lon Chaney Sr.,  were interested in deformities because after World War I soldiers were returning home maimed and injured, often without limbs, and these injuries were a large part of the American consciousness.

Horror in the 1930s picked up steam and most of the horror movies made during this decade, specifically the Universal monster movies, were true classics of the genre. These movies struck a chord with audiences and heavily influenced future filmmakers. I loved the comment made in one of the interviews about why boys loved the Wolf Man, because he was the perfect adolescent and they related to his problems:  he got hairy and lost control of his emotions. Yep, the Wolf Man does remind me of some teenagers I know.

The movie argues that horror was toned down in the 1940s because of the real-life horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Budgets were reduced as well, and people like Val Lewton had to do more with less, and as a result he made his movies much more artistic.

Into the 1950s the movies reflected Americans’ fears of the Cold War and atomic bombs, and thus we had giant atomic monsters like TARANTULA (1955) and the giant ants in THEM!  (1954). Americans also feared UFOs, which gave us movies about alien invasions like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) , and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

Alfred Hitchcock changed things with PSYCHO (1960), and suddenly audiences had to expect the unexpected, such as lead characters getting killed early in the movie, and the most sympathetic character in the whole movie turning out to be the villain. As the 1960s went on and the United States became bogged down in the Vietnam War and race riots at home, films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) emerged, mirroring the horror and disillusionment Americans were feeling at home.

In the 1970s, horror went through a movie boom again, with films like THE EXORCIST (1973) and JAWS (1975). As a big budget movie, JAWS  made horror mainstream, and had it been made in the 1950s it would have simply been a B movie.

In the 1980s, NIGHTMARES covers George Romero’s zombies and some of John Carpenter’s movies. It was interesting to listen to Carpenter as he explained that he made THEY LIVE (1988) out of anger and frustration with the Reagan administration.

NIGHTMARES definitely runs out of steam as it moves into the 1990s and 2000s, and only briefly  covers the movies from this period, with  fleeting mentions of THE SIXTH SENSE (1999, )and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the SAW movies and HOSTEL (2005).

The film was narrated by Lance Henriksen, and he does a good job, as his voice is a natural fit for the subject matter. Some of the people interviewed in the movie include Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, George Romero, and Roger Corman, among others.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is an enjoyable way to spend an evening, but it does have a couple of drawbacks. Since it covers so many years in just 90 minutes of running time, it moves quickly and never really provides an in-depth look at the movies it covers. As a result, while entertaining, NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE is rather superficial. It might have worked better as a TV series, where the filmmakers could have given the films and the people they interviewed more screen time. Personally, I would have loved to have listened to John Carpenter or George Romero go on for thirty minutes or so.

NIGHTMARES is definitely interested in how American horror movies are connected to American audiences, and how American filmmakers were influenced by their times. Now, this is an interesting angle, but I have to admit, I prefer stories about how the movies were made. I find the historical backgrounds of the people and events behind the movies much more interesting, but that’s not what this documentary is about. You won’t be learning how Willis O’Brien created King Kong, or about the thought processes of James Whale when he made FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). You won’t hear John Carpenter talk about how he filmed certain scenes in HALLOWEEN (1978).

There really isn’t a whole lot of new information in NIGHTMARES. It’s not an eye opener filled with fascinating facts and tidbits about horror movies. But it does do a good job selling its angle, that American filmmakers and their movies are tied into the American experience. Based on the material presented in the film, I bought this argument.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is a mildly entertaining documentary on American horror movies, mostly because it contains interviews with some of the greatest horror filmmakers who are still with us today. Hearing what they have to say is always a rewarding experience. But in terms of new or insightful information, especially regarding the older movies, NIGHTMARES is lacking. Sure, you’ll get to see lots of neat film clips and see snippets of neat interviews, but it’s definitely a movie in need of more meat on its bones.

It’s a tasty appetizer rather than a satisfying meal.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda