Friday, October 28, 2016

Rat Man



Rat Man (1988) aka Quella villa in fondo al parco
Dir. Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by Dardano Sacchetti
Starring Nelson de la Rosa, Eva Grimaldi, David Warbeck, Janet Ågren

I think France was the only country with the balls to put this one on DVD.

What to say about RAT MAN?

I mean, in some ways RAT MAN just says it all by itself. It’s an Italian-produced Dominican-Republic-shot slasher except instead of a slasher, there is a Rat Man. He is the problem here, and his bag is that he likes to hide out and kill glamorous fashion models. If you would like a movie like that, RAT MAN is the movie you’ve been waiting for all your life. If not, well, best of luck watching Duck Dynasty or whatever it is that people who wouldn’t like a movie like that do, I don’t really know. Frankly I don’t think I would want to know.

I don’t really need to say anything else about this, but I enjoy talking about RAT MAN so much that, what the hell, let’s delve a little. RAT MAN is the story of a Ratman. It was made in 1988, so already much, much too late to hold out any hope that an Italian-produced exploitation/horror movie will be legitimately good in any way. It appears to be the result of several low-rent exploitation actors vacationing in the Dominican Republic, who took an afternoon to shoot a random assortment of anti-narrative scenes in hotel lobbies. Much of the remaining runtime is filled with long sequences of women posing in skimpy outfits while a guy takes photos. It’s visually unappealing and narratively nonexistent, barely even going through the motions of setting up characters to be killed off, let alone establishing an actual story.



But then Ratman appears, and all is forgiven. Though inexplicably described by a chatty mad scientist in the opening narration* as “a new hybrid I’d developed by introducing the sperm of a rat into the ovum of a monkey,” --and therefore not technically a “Rat Man” so much as a “hybrid rat-monkey”-- he’s got a lot of personality, wears clothes, and is clearly a small man (Nelson de la Rosa, a Dominican actor and one of the world’s smallest humans at about two feet four inches) in only the most minimal makeup and rat dentures. In fact, he’s the same small man already beloved to you as the mini-Marlon-Brando in 1996’s THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, who will remain eternally culturally relevant as the inspiration behind AUSTIN POWERS’ Mini-Me. Yes, you could argue this role is degrading and exploitative, but the guy throws himself into it, climbing around, leaping off things, and at least to all appearances having a fun time. And if he’s happy and his participation here gave the world the gift of RAT MAN, who are we to complain? Because our titular Ratman is actually a tiny person, he can do all kinds of things you’d never be able to pull off with a puppet or something (scampering around in the background, leaping out of things, climbing curtains), even in a movie which had a budget of any sort, which a movie called RAT MAN would never have. And come on, look at this little bastard!



Have you ever seen anything so perfect?

Yes, the movie gets pretty dire whenever Ratman is not on-screen (particularly during the sequences with purported “stars” David Warbeck [THE BEYOND] and Janet Ågren [CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, RED SONJA], who, no joke, never actually encounter or even learn about Ratman’s existence during the entire film), but fortunately the film seems to understand this, introducing the man of the hour very early and making sure he’s on-screen regularly enough to keep you delighted (particularly in the second half). You get all the rat gimmicks you could want (tunneling, scratching, climbing, gnawing through things) and no shortage of different places for the little guy to unexpectedly pop out (toilet, refrigerator, wardrobe, beach). And while the movie is exactly as incompetently edited and ugly as you’d expect from a 1988 Italian production too cheap to even shoot in Italy, there are a few scattered hints that director Giuliano Carnimeo (HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND… SARTANA WILL PAY, THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS aka WHY ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD ON THE BODY OF JENNIFER) was, at least at one time, a real director (this seems to have been his last movie; IMBD lists one later film called COMPUTREON 22, but I see very little evidence that such a film existed, or at least was ever viewed by any human). There’s one reasonably respectable stalking scene early on, and a handful of effective reveals for Ratman (particularly his bravura final kill) which suggest at least a minimum of competence which is emphatically not evident in most of the rest of the film. Fortunately, the movie tends to be at its best when it really counts. In every other way it’s completely terrible, but it turns out that only one way actually matters, and that’s the one part they get right. And yes, that way is having a boss fucking Ratman and figuring out good ways for him to menace people.**



Ratman, of course, is the result of Mad Science in the form of Dr. Olman (Domincan actor Pepito Guerra, HAVANA) who advertises his intent to meddle in the realm of God by stealing Charles Laughton’s fly duds from THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. Olman seems like a pretty nice guy despite his creation and inadequate caging of a murderous Ratman, and I was breifly reminded that in these cases I usually tend to side with the Mad Scientist (we had this little problem in the FRANKENSTEINs, THE DEVIL COMMANDS, etc). But while I happily support and, indeed, condone creating crazy SyFy-channel-style animal mixups to menace young fashion models, for fuck’s sake, why give this thing poison claws? That’s just irresponsible, and given that neither rats, nor monkeys, nor men have such things I don’t see that you can just brush it off as an unfortunate side effect. He says he wants to win the Nobel Prize, so maybe he just added the claws as a little wow factor for the judges. Understandable, but I think this is one of those times I have to actually agree with the movie that, yes, science probably went a little too far here, when they added poison claws to the rat-ape-man and then failed to cage him properly. Then again, Olman also says it took him 20 years to come up with this hybrid, which can only mean it took him 20 years to think of adding rat sperm to monkey ovum, so maybe he ain’t that bright after all. Or maybe it just took the rat and monkey that long to finally hit it off and start getting freaky? Anyway, he returns to a Ratman-infested house and his obvious death to recover “his papers,” even after it’s repeatedly pointed out he could just return some other time, for example any time there was not a killer Ratman known or suspected to be on the premise. That proves to be a bad idea, but at least it also proves that he’s just as reckless about his own life as he is about throwing together murderous animal combos. So maybe these things just work themselves out and we needn’t judge.  

Anyway, make no mistake, this is a terrible, shitty, incompetent movie, but I cannot deny that I am completely powerless to resist the allure of a Ratman. Every time he’s on screen I am happy, and I’m too old to pretend otherwise. This may not be the transcendent work of art a movie called RAT MAN deserves to be***, but as far as despicable, incompetent, exploitative 1988 Italian horror movies go, RAT MAN offers way more entertainment than you’d have any right to expect. I cannot in good conscience recommend RAT MAN the movie to another human being, but Ratman the… Ratman? Fucking choice.

*Narration which jarringly begins less than a second into the movie, over an awkward long shot of a gray, mostly empty room which we will eventually see is one of those mad science rooms.

**One reason for that might be that it was written by Dardano Sacchetti --as “David Parker Jr,” which raises the question, why include the “Jr” in your fake name?--  who you know from his tons of classic co-writing credits, especially for Argento and Fulci on DEMONS, THE BEYOND, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, A BLADE IN THE DARK, UNTIL DEATH, and so on. His dialogue and story here are deplorable, but then again you can’t argue with that kind of track record, and hey, Ratman never says anything. 

***Weird side note? Noted Clint Eastwood wife Sondra Locke had actually directed RATBOY, some kind of weird art movie about presumably the same subject, only two years earlier. Guess I gotta check that out.


CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting

ALIAS
Quella villa in fondo al parco in its original Italian title, which disappointingly translates to “that villa in the bottom of the park.” Must have been really running out of new directions to name LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ripoffs after by 1988.
TAGLINE
Brace yourselves for the single best tagline mankind has yet devised. But first, take a look at this screenshot:

So at one point, he comes up out of the toilet at this lady, which makes no sense because what was he doing in there, he definitely can’t fit through the pipes or anything. But whatever, it was all in service of this tagline I’ve been teasing. Now you have the appropriate context. Are you ready for this? Here goes:

He’s The Critter From The Shitter!

Unfortunately I can find no evidence that this supposed tagline (found on IMBD) was ever actually used in any promotional capacity (the only English video box I can find has the much lamer He’s Coming To Get You tagline), but come on, I refuse to believe we live in a world so horrible that the greatest tagline ever devised by man was never used. So let’s assume it was.

The French poster also teases, “...la cruaute du rat, l'intelligence de l'homme…” which roughly translates to the cruelty of a rat, the intelligence of a man, which I guess is also sort of true, although I’m not clear on exactly how intelligent he is given that there’s supposedly no human whatsoever in the mix.
TITLE ACCURACY
There’s totally a Rat Man! And what a Rat Man!
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
Absolutely fucking not.
SEQUEL?
None, sadly
REMAKE?
Nope, but you better believe I’d watch the shit out of one.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Italy /  Dominican Republic
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Giallo / Monster Movie / Slasher
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
Not even close
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
David Warbeck might count, having been in THE BEYOND, THE BLACK CAT, TWINS OF EVIL, CRAZE, etc.
NUDITY?
Long, gratuitous shower scene
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
No
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
A little hard to pin down, since Ratman is played by a human and wears clothes but is described as being pure animal, “a new hybrid I’d developed by introducing the sperm of a rat into the ovum of a monkey.” So I think in-universe he’s supposed to just be a rat-monkey, not a rat-man.
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
No
POSSESSION?
None
CREEPY DOLLS?
Yes, they find a creepy doll which appears to have been used by Ratman god knows hows. Not that it’s a big deal or anything, but I noticed it and we haven’t had enough creepy dolls this year.
EVIL CULT?
No
MADNESS?
Some definite Mad Science
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
I wish I could tell you that if Rat Man bites you, you become a Rat Man. I wish I could tell you that. I would be a better world.
VOYEURISM?
Yes, Ratman pervs out along with the camera during the shower scene, and actually earlier on a beach where the models are being photographed, and he also has a penchant for crouching on top of things and spying on women.
MORAL OF THE STORY
If you absolutely must meddle in the realm of God, for fucks sake don’t add poison claws if you can possibly avoid it!


A hard one to rate, since it's objectively terrible and unconscionable, but I also found it to be a hoot. Half D+, half B+

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mirror Mirror III: The Voyeur


Mirror, Mirror 3: The Voyeur (1995)
Dir. Rachel Gordon, Virginia Perfili
Written by Steve Tymon
Starring Billy Drago, Mark Ruffalo, David Naughton, Monique Parent



As you have perhaps gathered by this point, I have something of a weakness for franchises, and for grinding them out to the bitter end. Early on I reviewed the entire PUMPKINHEAD and HELLRAISER sagas, then Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN sequence, and more recently, I watched every single fucking RINGU and JU-ON sequel, a fate which I mercificully spared you from having to suffer through with me. I also spared you from reviews of MIRROR MIRROR 1 and 2, 90’s direct-to-video filler about a haunted mirror so bereft of worth that it didn’t seem worth bringing up. But then MIRROR MIRROR 3 showed up during October, and you know I’m honor-bound to review every movie I see in October, no matter how obscure or worthless, even if it takes me a whole year like it did last year because of laziness, physical infirmary, pontification, etc.

So, lucky you! You get to hear about MIRROR MIRROR 1-3 all in one breathless, ecstatic binge, to bring you up to speed! What’s that, you say, you don’t care at all? What if I sweetened the deal a little by mentioning that beloved Hollywood superstar Mark Ruffalo (MIRROR MIRROR 2: RAVEN’S DANCE, MIRROR MIRROR 3: THE VOYEUR) is in parts 2 and 3? That do anything for ya? Probably didn’t do much for his career, but if it was reason enough for me to watch ‘em, surely it’s reason enough for you to read about ‘em?

MIRROR MIRROR 1 is mostly pretty boring, it’s just the story of a angsty high school girl (Rainbow Harvest, a couple TV movies in the 90’s*) and her dysfunctional mom (Karen Black, Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE) who move into a new house and discover an obviously evil mirror which gives the daughter mild Carrie-like powers to punish her enemies (including GROUNDHOG DAY alum and one-time Seagal adversary Stephen Tobolowsky) in fairly dull psychic ways. BLADE RUNNER’s William Sanderson and CELLAR DWELLER/THE TEN COMMANDMENTS Yvonne De Carlo are in there too, but there’s pretty much nothing interesting or fun there, just a low-budget no-imagination 1990’s Carrie ripoff with ugly overlit lighting like they did in the 90’s. (Alternate opinion: “I loved this movie!!! 'smiles'... Rainbow Harvest was erotic and powerful in this one. I'd have to say this movie is her best. She's all goth/punk if you will, she's hot. I like the plot, its kind of '80's but its a cool flick... I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys Gothic erotica or just plain fun…” -- IMDB commentator Jade-30 from Florida, 18 January 2003.)



But MIRROR MIRROR 2: RAVEN’S DANCE gets interesting. It’s still ugly and cheap and garish and 90’s, but rather than just follow its predecessor’s CARRIE ripoff structure, MIRROR MIRROR 2 strikes out on its own and creates a… plot, I guess, (?) which I would argue is pretty unique. Or at least, I would argue that, were it decipherable enough to tell what it’s actually about to begin with. You know it's a pretty good movie when 50 minutes in, I was still grappling with basic questions like "wait, where is this set, exactly? Is this, like, a nunnery / mansion / dance studio / punk band practice space?" Let’s take a look at the conversation me and my stalwart franchise buddy Dan P had afterwards, trying to interpret what we had just seen:

And all that is before I even mention that Mark Ruffalo (Brian Yuzna’s THE DENTIST, in only his second film appearance) shows up as a mysterious teenager who is always sneaking into the protagonist’s (Tracy Wells, the beloved role of “Schoolchild” in GREMLINS) room at night to say ambiguous and vaguely insinuating things to her. Well, you’ve seen a movie before, so you know he’s obviously the physical personification of the evil mirror which is trying to seduce her to evil. And she knows it too, so eventually she up and stabs him. But then it turns out he’s not related to the mirror, he’s just some local weirdo who spends his time sneaking into church orphanages (?) at night and chatting up whoever he finds in an elliptical but subtly menacing way. Huh. Also Roddy McDowell is in there. And Veronica Cartwright. And William Sanderson is back as a different character, a mentally ill custodian/groundskeeper who is enlisted to gaslight our heroine and is filled with remorse and rips the heads off his extensive doll collection but then feels bad and tapes them back on. It’s a weird movie, but the more I think about it the more I’ve convinced that it may actually be some kind of dada masterpiece. Well worth your time. Thumbs up.

MIRROR MIRROR 3, our main dish this evening, continues the tradition of radically changing up the formula, in this case going even more starkly minimalist in the plot department. How do you top a movie where it’s not even clear what the basic setting is, let alone why or how any Ravens are dancing? Well, by substituting any remaining remnants of ostensible horror movie for a long string of softcore sex scenes with various nude women riding a mostly-out-frame Billy Drago (INVASION USA, THE UNTOUCHABLES), who’s a producer on the film for whatever reason. Considering how little he actually figures into these scenes (he’s barely visible laying on the floor or bed while the camera pervs out on the boobs halfheartedly swaying above him), you could probably have shot all his sex scenes (and hence, 50% of the movie or more) with a double and saved a little cash on your big star, which you would think he would be in favor of, as a producer. But fortunately Billy Drago is a real pro and knew that the actresses’ sense of the scene would be seriously undermined if he did some diva shit like that, so for the good of his craft it looks like he stayed for every one of these scenes. Probably even multiple takes, that’s what kind of artistically generous big famous movie star Billy Drago is. Good to see some professionalism in this industry from time to time.



Unfortunately --or maybe fortunately?-- it’s the only professionalism anywhere in the movie, which is a hilariously uneventful dreamy 90’s mess of empty, overlit rooms --some of them with an evil mirror in there which sits around looking evil but doesn’t actually do anything-- and a inexplicably convoluted series of flashbacks to what I can only meaningfully call the real plot, since nothing actually happens during the ostensible A-story. The nothing that happens is: Billy Drago moves into a mansion which used to be owned by his former lover, who was murdered by her drug-dealer boyfriend two months earlier. He then spends his time having sex with his new girl, but also sometimes the ghost of his old girlfriend comes along to judgmentally also have sex with him, and sometimes we see flashbacks of them having sex in the past. Mark Ruffalo (A FISH IN THE BATHTUB) returns to the series in a hilariously pointless role as his shifty younger brother who also has sex with one or both of the women, so yay for you, you get to see that if you can make it to the climax of the movie. Also David Naughton (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE SLEEPING CAR) is on hand, continuing his Shogun-like quest to wander the Earth proving that even when he’s only got a worthless supporting role in absolute unmitigated shit DTV 90’s softcore movies, he’s still irresistibly charming for some reason. At least he gets to walk with a cane here, that’s new for him.

Anyway, that’s it, that’s the whole movie. There’s an ongoing series of flashbacks which gradually explain the non-mystery about what happened with the drug dealer girlfriend and serve to fill the movie out to feature length, so I guess it’s valuable in that regard. But I am not exaggerating when I say the movie is mainly softcore Billy Drago sex scenes where nude women straddle him in a room with that mirror from MIRROR MIRROR 1 and 2. I guess the mirror is probably the titular “Voyeur” here, because it spends a lot of time watching people have sex but doesn’t really do anything except sit there and provide a different motivated Point-of-view angle and occasionally leak some blood that no one notices. At the end I think it eats somebody like in PRINCE OF DARKNESS, but I can’t help but notice that to the extent there is any conflict at all here, it comes from the ghost girlfriend and her annoyance that Billy Drago is banging some blonde in her house two freakin’ weeks after she died. If the mirror is secretly the criminal mastermind behind the drug deal gone wrong or whatever I sure didn’t pick up on it, and the only official plot description I could find for the movie is only 6 lines long, so maybe they didn’t know either.

Our beloved evil mirror, sort of the Freddy or Chucky of this series, ostensibly the villain but so universally beloved we can't help returning to it again and again. Remember those innocent years in the 90's when this mirror turned up everywhere and all the kids had toys of it and dressed as the mirror for Halloween and all that? Man, the 90's were great.

To compensate for not having a story of any kind, co-directors Virginia Perfili (Special effects on MIRROR MIRROR, graduating to co-writer on MM2, and now co-director here, and also I think it worth noting that her one other directorial effort is a movie called “BIKINI WITNESS”) and Rachel Gordon (director of films with titles such as DUNGEONS OF DESIRE and ANIMALS ATTRACTION III, but obviously most beloved for her one acting role as “severed head” in 1991’s NUDIST COLONY OF THE DEAD) appear to have decided to make the film as visually scattershot as it is narratively sparse. Much of the film (and particularly all the flashbacks) is composed of every type of video effect 1995 was capable of producing, from stretched images to color-corrected nonsense to endless inversed footage of an unidentified car driving through LA. Fuckers think they’re Oliver Stone here. I would like to assure them definitively that they are not. It's pretty brazen stylistically though; the title doesn't even appear until a solid 18 minutes in. Power moves.

Anyway, you don’t care about that, you want to know about the Ruff. I get that. The good news is that Ruffalo’s ineffable Ruffaloisms are already in full effect by this time, and he gets all the twitchy, eccentric babbling you could want. The bad news is that Hollywood had not yet figured out how to film them so he doesn’t look like a total goofball. Probably doesn’t help that he has nothing whatsoever to do in this movie except be a small part of one sex scene. Not that anyone else is much better served. Frankly, although there is a ghost, this is barely a horror movie, and in fact barely a movie at all, let alone a MIRROR MIRROR movie, not that it would be any great shakes if it was. It’s terrible and baffling, but not in a stunning way like part 2, more in a 90’s softcore cinemax kinda way. A lot more like that, actually. You’ll be sorry to know that we have been so far unable to locate any copy of the fabled MIRROR MIRROR 4: REFLECTION (yes, that’s the real subtitle) so I cannot tell you if the series gets any better.** But I can tell you that Billy Drago returns in a new role! I’m sure that he found his experience on MIRROR MIRROR 3 so ...artistically satisfying that he couldn’t resist returning one more time. This may be a really shitty franchise, but at least it’s inspiring to know that you got folks like Billy Drago out there who care enough about their craft to put in the legwork.



APPENDIX A: Alternate opinions:

UGh [sic] all it is is these 2 people having sex for an hour and a half then some people die. The mirror does look the same as in the other films but that does not matter.” -- IMDB commentator whammy666 from United States, 13 February 2005

“Mark Ruffalo's half-naked body is the only reason I stuck with this… Literally one of the most dumbfounding experiences I've had watching a movie. Monique Parent spends virtually the entire film naked, so there's that, and Ruffalo also shows his body off at the end, serving as proof that he's always looked great.” --- IMDB commentator Robert_Lovelace from New York, NY, United States, 7 July 2016

One point worth mentioning: Billy Drago is in it. He was absolutely great as the vicious bad guy Ramon Cota in "Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection". But let's face it: besides that, his career is not great.” --- Anonymous IMDB commentator from Belgium, 23 February 2010

*IMDB Trivia: Many are surprised to know that her real name is indeed "Rainbow Harvest".

**It doesn’t have enough ratings to even list an IMDB star ranking, so I don’t think I’m the only one who can’t seem to find it. I think it may well have played only a time or two on cable and never become available for home viewing.



CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting

TAGLINE
Forbidden desires are unleashed ...and unspeakable evil is watching.

Well, I don’t know how “forbidden” normal vanilla cis sex with a steady partner is, but I guess an unspeakable evil IS watching. It just doesn’t really do anything, because it’s an evil mirror and can’t even touch itself.
TITLE ACCURACY
There are a few shots of a mirror, but calling this MIRROR, MIRROR is laughable. We do get a few shots of the mirror’s perspective while people bone, so I guess that’s the Voyeur part? Sure as hell don’t know what else it would be.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
Ha.
SEQUEL?
Yup, and followed (supposedly) by MIRROR MIRROR 4: REFLECTION
REMAKE?
No
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Haunted/ Cursed Item, I guess. Realistically, “erotic thriller”
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None, because Mark Ruffalo wasn’t famous yet. But now, Mark Ruffalo.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
David Naughton!
NUDITY?
Constant
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
No
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Ruffalo finds a stuffed Raven in a cupboard while he spends a whole scene dancing and making a peanut butter jelly sandwich. He seems happy to see it, perhaps remembering the raven imagery in part 2. But while it does provide a lame jump scare, it does not attack or come to life or anything.
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Definitely a ghost, possibly a haunted mirror which never does anything
POSSESSION?
Surprisingly no, just regular haunting.
CREEPY DOLLS?
No dolls, or even furniture of any kind except beds for fucking and that stupid mirror.
EVIL CULT?
None
MADNESS?
No
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
None
VOYEURISM?
The movie is called “The Voyeur,” which I guess translates to the mirror sitting in the bedroom watching people fuck, but never doing anything.
MORAL OF THE STORY
Not all franchises are created equal, but if they go on long enough eventually one of the later sequels will have an embarrassing early performance from an actor who will go on to be beloved and famous and that will keep them from ever entirely slipping into obscurity.