Archive for the Rats Category

Me and Lil’ Stevie work the GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Rats, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Sweat It Out On The

GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Graveyard Shift

(Interior/Night)  Establishing shot of the basement of a textile mill, where a hundred years of old furniture, debris, and other miscellany have been carelessly scattered about, forsaken and forgotten.  In the dank dinginess of the basement, we can hear the drip, drip, drip of water, and the hair-raising squealing of rats as they scamper about in the dark.  Somewhere in the distance, in the blackened heart of the basement, we begin to hear the snarl of something monstrous and menacing, and the camera begins to zoom in, trying to find the source of the sound.  There’s a light up ahead, and in the light we see the silhouette of a figure hunting our unseen monster.  The figure turns toward the camera, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  Rats!

Peter:  Yeah, they’re everywhere.  Pretty creepy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  No, I meant “Rats, I just broke a fingernail!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Good evening, Constant Viewer.  Me and Lil’ Pansy, here, are going to be discussing Ralph S. Singleton’s 1990 adaptation of King’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT.  Now, this was Singleton’s film directorial debut, but he HAS worked extensively in the motion picture industry as a unit production manager and assistant director, so he does have some knowledge and credibility in the field.  Choosing to adapt a King story for filming seems like a logical choice in terms of career building and turning a quick buck.

Lil’ Stevie:  Nothing packs ‘em in like a good monster movie!

Peter:  Well, that remains to be seen.  The story itself was originally published in Cavalier magazine, and then republished in…you know, it seems like you published a lot of stories in spank magazines.  What’s up with that?

Lil’ Stevie:  You do what you have to do to keep food on the table, ya know?  Besides, GRAVEYARD SHIFT isn’t the most literary work I ever put out.  It’s pretty elementary.  It’s the classic “submarine story,” where the protagonist and antagonist are compressed into an escapeless microcosm together.  It’s also a nifty little campfire tale, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s THE RATS IN THE WALLS (1923).

Peter:  Maybe, but screenwriter John Esposito (THE WALKING DEAD) deftly follows the trend of previous screenwriters by taking your elementary little story and expanding on it to fill 90 minutes of celluloid.  And based on previous films we’ve reviewed, that isn’t always a winning formula.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Rolling his eyes comically) Alas.  I hate it when they do that.  They always have to add a love story or a coming-of-age angle that muddies and detracts from the story’s original impact.  My original story was strictly protagonist, antagonist, and monster rats and bats.  There weren’t any female characters in it whatsoever!

Peter:  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?  The story begins inside this very building we’re standing in, just a few floors above us, where a hapless worker falls into a giant metal-toothed cotton separating machine after being bullied by a horde of rats.

Lil’ Stevie:  Didja notice the name of the mill?  It’s the Bachman Mill, named after my alter-ego.

Peter:  Quit interrupting!  Naturally, after the fiasco, there is a job vacancy to be filled.  Enter our protagonist, John Hall (David Andrews, HANNIBAL, 2001), a drifter who somehow has made his way up to Gates Falls, Maine after bumming around the country for a while.  Of course, the townies don’t really care too much for the new guy in town, and they don’t mind showing it as he shows up at the local café (just when their graveyard shift is ending) for a bite to eat.

Lil’ Stevie:  I really wanted to point something out here.  The town of Gates Falls, Maine is fictional, but it IS based on Lisbon Falls, Maine…the very town where WE live!  And right down the street from us is the Worumbo Mill, where I used to work when I was younger.  It’s where I got the idea for the story!

Peter:  You mean, where the REAL Stephen King used to work.  And that’s a huge bit of information to throw out there.  Got any proof?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a matter of fact, I do!  On page 23 of George Beahm’s biography, STEPHEN KING: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman, it tells all about his experiences there during his high school years, and how he used to spend his downtime throwing cans at the rats that would watch him working.

Peter:  (Picking up the book and leafing through it) I’ll be darned.  It DOES say that.

Lil’ Stevie:  Why would I lie about ME?

Peter:  You’re NOT you.  Er…You know what I mean.  You’re just a puppet.  Anyway, Hall goes and talks to the foreman, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht, THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987) about a job.  Warwick is obviously a sleazebag, with his anti-union bullying of the employees and “fishing off the company pier” with his secretary (Ilona Margolis, FLATLINERS, 1990).  Warwick has his hands full with the Bachman Mill, with goals and demands to meet from the mill owners, the misbehavior of the surly employees, and the growing rat problem.  Warwick has already employed an exterminator (Brad Dourif, CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) to flush out the varmints, a job that he seems to love and obsess over, but there’s just way too many for one man to deal with.

Lil’ Stevie:  Of course, there was no exterminator in my original story.

Peter:  Granted.  And Dourif’s character does seem a bit over-the-top.  He appears in several scenes where he goes off on his little soliloquies, but they seem contrived and unnecessary and do nothing to make his character remotely likeable.  As the story unfolds, and the Workplace Safety Inspector arrives at the mill threatening to close it down, Warwick HAS to do something to keep the mill operational.  So he pays off the inspector to come back in a few weeks, promising he’ll get the mill up to code and the basement cleaned out over the Fourth of July holiday.  More mysterious deaths ensue (led by the monstrous thing lurking in the basement), and when Warwick puts his cleanup team together, Hall and company have no idea what they’re in for.

Lil’ Stevie:  In the meantime, Hall starts getting a bit comfy with coworker Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf, LESS THAN ZERO, 1987).  Jane regales him with her woe-is-me story about being a hometown girl stuck in her going-nowhere job after her divorce, and blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda.  In my story, Wisconsky was a dude who whined a lot.  Why they turned her into a hot chick for the movie, I have no idea.

Peter:  Story building.  Plus, it adds the whole “date movie” element.

Lil’ Stevie:  Well, I don’t like it!  Nosiree Bob, this is supposed to be a horror story, not a cuddle-fest!

Peter:  Look at the size of that rat over there…

Lil’ Stevie:  (Gasping) Hold me close.  I’m scared!

Peter:  (Chuckling) You big sissy.  Well, Warwick manages to bribe some of the non-union workers into the cleanup detail with double pay.  Other workers get bullied into it.  And come evening of the Fourth of July, the crew meets at the mill and proceeds down into the basement to begin cleanup detail.  It goes smoothly at first, with most of the conflict shifting between pain-in-the-ass coworkers who get into a scuffle as debris is removed and the intruding horde of rats get blown away by a high-pressure fire hose.

Lil’ Stevie:  Again, most of these shenanigans never even happen in the story.  No love interests, no employee brawls, just workers who go down into the basement to clean it out.  But there IS one conflict that transitions from my story to the movie, and that’s the conflict that occurs between Hall and Warwick.  There is enormous mistrust between these two characters, stemming from a notion of right and just authority.  Warwick is clearly a villainous tool.  Hall counters this with a kind of stand-off of wills and wits, pushing his antagonist deeper down into the basement to find the source of the rats’ nest.

Peter:  That’s good stuff.  Back to our movie…The cleanup crew does proceed deeper into the basement, and when the nimrod with the fire hose accidentally blasts debris off a trap door, they discover a sub-basement that leads them down deeper into the darkness, into a world that seems almost ancient and long abandoned.  And here we feel that sense of Lovecraft’s ghost playing in.  By this point of the film, we’ve already been introduced to the weird giant bat that has been roosting in the bowels of the mill (and feasting on hapless victims), and here is its domain.

Lil’ Stevie:  In my story, we don’t meet the monster until we get to its lair.  What I DO treat the Constant Reader to is rats the size of puppies and mutant bats, which are plenty disturbing if you ask my opinion.

Peter:  The conflict between Hall and Warwick escalates the further they go into this sub-basement.  One of the hired hands will fall through the floor into ANOTHER sub-basement where the river flows.  Other workers are attacked and killed by the monster bat.  And ultimately, Warwick will turn on Hall and Wisconsky in order to try and save himself.  I don’t want to give too much more of what happens away, in case you were planning on seeing the movie, but I can tell you this much, the monster bat is cool as hell to look at.  He’s a show-stealer!

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a scene stealer.

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a show stealer.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Sighing) And, of course, the ending is NOTHING like the ending of my story.  My tale is a dread-inducing denouement that puts this ending to shame.

Peter:  I think that’s a matter of opinion.  This ending works for the treatment they rewrote in the screenplay.  Overall, though, this movie is a bit of a throwaway.  In more capable hands, this could have been infinitely more unsettling than just a “date-movie” horror flick.  From the starting gate, I disliked Dourif’s exterminator character immensely, I found Macht’s Mainer accent to be absolutely ridiculous (for a much better Maine accent, see Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall in PET SEMETERY, 1989), and most of the other characters involved seemed cartoonish and stereotypical.  But giving Singleton his due, the scenery is authentic (it was filmed in Harmony, Maine), and the mill with its labyrinth of tunnels and caverns is brilliantly designed and filmed.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rats are always creepy.  Especially in big hordes like in this film.

Peter:  Agreed.  The monster-bat is just gorgeous.  As a fan of horror, I would die to have this thing perched outside my house on Halloween night.  It reminded me of the monster from ALIEN (1979), and had that “submarine-movie” concept you brought up earlier.  The horror of this tale doesn’t happen in OUR world as much as it does in the world of the Monster-Bat, in the labyrinth under the mill.  And sadly, that horror is muddied by supplying the film with characters we care very little about.  Aboard the Nostromo, we see a crew that is fairly unified and happen to need and rely upon each other.  In the Bachman Mill, we see a group of macho idiots who  hardly get along, and almost deserve it whenever one of them bites the dust.  Which group would YOU be rooting for?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d be rooting for the RATS!

Peter:  This story would have been much better suited for adaptation as a segment for CREEPSHOW.   The King short story has the same ambiance as the old E.C. Comics stories.  That would have been a much better vehicle to capture the same dread and creepiness.  I’d have loved to see how Romero would have treated this one.

Lil’ Stevie:  He’d have turned the victims into zombies.  You’d have hated it.

Peter:  RATFOODSAYSWHAT!

Lil’ Stevie:  What?

(Peter tosses Lil’ Stevie onto the ground and a horde of rats race over to begin feasting on him.)

Lil’ Stevie:  Arrrgghhh!  I’ll get you for this!

Peter:  (Laughing) Be sure and let me know when you get passed!  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

graveyard_shift_ver3

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For Rats’ Eyes Only: THE RATS (2002)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Disease!, For Rats' Eyes Only, LL Soares Reviews, Rats, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 24, 2013 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats


Presents:

THE RATS (2002)

Review by L.L. Soares

TheRats_2002_PosterJust when you thought it was safe to sit on the toilet! Up come the rats from the sewer!

That’s the thing about these pesky rodents. Once they start popping up, they seem to be everywhere, as Madchen Amick finds out in THE RATS (2002), which plays on the fears people who live in big cities have about rat infestations. It all begins simply enough in a Manhattan department store called Garsons, where a customer in a dressing room is bitten by something under a pile of clothes. The store manager, Susan Costello (Madchen Amick, probably best known as Shelly Johnson on TWIN PEAKS from 1990 -1991, although she’s been in a ton of television shows and movies since), tells the girl that she must have cut her finger on a floor tack, but she should have it checked out. Not long afterwards, Susan gets a call from the hospital, and when she goes to visit the woman, she finds out that it’s clear that it’s a bite and the woman is dying from a disease that is spread by rats.

Susan’s boss, Ms. Page (Sheila Mccarthy), is in a panic when she thinks about how such publicity could affect their department store. She tells Susan to fire the store’s exterminators and hire the best in the city, and in comes Jack Carver (Vincent Spano), a handsome rat specialist who knows how to play the game with the Health Department (he’s friends with the guy in charge) and is well-versed in keeping things discreet. Except, the rat problem turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase) see a rat outside their apartment window, and soon afterwards, the local swimming pool where Amy goes to swim has a rat attack (they come out of the air vents), revealing that the problem extends to several city blocks.

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

As Susan and Jack find themselves getting increasingly attracted to each other, they also team up to investigate how bad the infestation is. This involves such interesting scenes as Jack and his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard) using ultra-violet light to uncover where rat droppings are throughout the store after hours, when the lights are out. As they discover false walls and secret passageways that were long covered up, the three of them eventually end up in the basement, which is a breeding ground for the vicious vermin, who have started attacking people (just ask the superintendent of Susan’s apartment building, who gets gobbled up by the rats). And there’s also the use of a cool bomb-defusing robot that is used to explore the subterranean lair of the rats, and uses it camera eyes to send back visuals to the people above.

We learn lots of interesting things, like rats are constantly chewing hard things to keep their teeth from growing too big for their mouths (their “chew toys” include metal and concrete) and that they’re constantly incontinent (thus the droppings everywhere). By the time Jack, Ty and Susan have tracked the rats’ origins down to a deserted lab that was doing medical experiments on them (that made them stronger and more aggressive), it looks like the entire city might be in danger.

If rats make you squeamish, you might not like the scene where a rat tries to push its way up out of a toilet while Amy gets ready for her bath. Or thousands of rats plummeting onto a subway train, bringing it to a stop and pouring inside the open windows. Or the big finale that involves a huge, drained swimming pool full of what looks like millions of rodents.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

THE RATS was originally a TV-movie, but there’s some nudity early on that was obviously added for the European market, which isn’t as uptight as America is. The acting is decent for this kind of throwaway movie, and the rats look scary enough (it’s a mix of real rats and CGI effects, with enough real ones to make it convincing). The script is simple enough— rats are discovered and exterminator tracks them down, with a love story added— but it works. Director John Lafia keeps things suspenseful, and there are some good moments toward the end when you might feel a shiver or two as the rats pile up.

Not a great rat movie, or a great movie in general, but above-average for what started as a TV-movie. I liked it for what it was, and I’ve always liked Madchen Amick, so it was good to see her in a lead role here.

I give it two and a half out of five rats.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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


Presents:

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983)

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