Living above a kebab shop for the past nine months has meant that I’ve had a fair bit of exposure to the tyranny of vermin, so I’m grateful for the existence of Bruno Mattei’s crowning trash-terpiece, Rats – Night of Terror, a celluloid reminder that existence among rodents could be so much worse.
Rats is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, an Arthur Mullard-dumb post-apocalyptic romp boasting a tin ear for dialogue, costumes scavenged from the bottom of the dressing-up box and black-painted rodents by the bucketload.
It’s nominally a post-nuke movie, part of the wave of Italian-made Mad Max 2 rip-offs that rolled off the exploitation production line in the early 80s, but it actually plays like a really bad zombie film with rats taking the place of the living dead.
The story goes like this: it’s 100 years after the nuclear holocaust (isn’t it always in these films?) and humanity has been wiped out, save for a handful of bikers who roam the wastelands, and a mysterious breed of people who live underground.
Enter our “heroes”, a ragtag bunch of Road Warrior wannabes on Harleys led by B-movie veteran Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, hiding under the pseudonym Richard Raymond, who plays beardy tough guy Kurt.
They roll into a “town” (which consists of one street leading to three warehouses) and decide to go and loot a deserted bar, only to discover that the place is full of corpses. Oddly, though, there’s a water purification plant-cum-greenhouse in the basement, and lots of food lying around – so much so, in fact, that the bikers can afford to use it for some mildly racist horseplay (see below).
Despite one of their number being attacked by a rat (which leads to the ridiculous sight of a man unloading an enormous double-barrelled shotgun into a tiny stuffed toy), the gang decide to spend the night in their new-found oasis. But, this being a horror movie, two of the party are a pair of hormone-crazed lovebirds who just have to sneak off for a bit of how’s-your-father, only to be “attacked” and “eaten” by rats.
I deploy the inverted commas because these moments of supposedly terrifying rat attacks are beyond absurd. One imagines a crew member standing just out of shot with a washing basket full of rats to throw over the actors, who scream and flail, feigning pain as the rats do their damnedest to get out of shot. It’s truly silly and never gets old, no matter how many times you see the trick throughout the film.
Once the others discover what the rats are capable of, they decide to flee the now-infested bar. But, oh no, the rats have chewed through the tyres of their motorbikes! Despite having the option of leaving on foot, the bikers decide the best course of action is to stay put, where they’re picked off one by one by the rats.
Eventually the mysterious subterranean people mentioned in the film’s preamble emerge from the sewers, clad in regulation Mattei boiler suits and gas masks, spraying rat poison all over the place and apparently saving the couple of survivors who avoided becoming rat food. But don’t be fooled, as Signor Mattei has a twist in store for the audience – a twist so silly it just has to be seen:
Rats was apparently one of its director’s favourite films and it’s not hard to see why. It’s so preposterously daft watching a bunch of grizzled toughs screaming in terror at a bunch of pet shop-bought rats that are more interested in washing off the black gunk they’ve been painted with than attacking the actors, and some of the would-be profound dialogue (“I read that. In a book”) beggars belief. The characters behave as if they’ve been slipping horse tranquillisers into their tea, blundering from one nonsensical course of action to the next, and the actors overdo everything as if the right to perform in front of a camera is about to be taken away from them.
In short, it’s grade-A Z-grade entertainment, a truly first-rate second-rate film. Never mind Night of Terror; give Rats a go and you’re in for a Night of Beer-Induced Giggles. Just don’t tell the RSPCA!
(NB the trailer below uses the film’s ham-fisted US title, Blood Kill. Just so you know I haven’t embedded the wrong video…)