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.

Good Kill Hunting

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.
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, “ 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.
There’s totally a Rat Man! And what a Rat Man!
Absolutely fucking not.
None, sadly
Nope, but you better believe I’d watch the shit out of one.
Italy /  Dominican Republic
Giallo / Monster Movie / Slasher
Not even close
David Warbeck might count, having been in THE BEYOND, THE BLACK CAT, TWINS OF EVIL, CRAZE, etc.
Long, gratuitous shower scene
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.
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.
Some definite Mad Science
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.
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.
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+

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