By ALEX DELLER
Starring Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Geretta Geretta, Massimo Vanni, Gianni Franco, Cindy Leadbetter
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Written by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso
For many, Bruno Mattei will forever remain the unsung master of unofficial sequels and shamelessly low-budget, low-brow cash-ins. With RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, however, he created something kookily standalone by mixing an array of familiar elements: an early 80s taste for inelegant MAD MAX knock-offs; nature-run-amok pieces like SQUIRM or PIRANHA and a liberal dose of close-quarters, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-style paranoia.
Planet Earth is a blistered, post-apocalyptic hellscape where humanity finds itself either dwelling underground or roaming the land like packs of wild dogs. Kurt (Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, sporting both a handsome red neckerchief and a temperamental flamethrower) and his troupe of motorbike-straddling goons are among those trying to scratch out a living on the planet’s parched surface, and while they have a ready supply of bullets, gasoline and urban camouflage streetwear (seriously, it’s like chucking-out o’ clock at a 90s goth club…) they’re in need of a safe haven, and think they’ve come up trumps when they chance upon an abandoned – and lavishly-stocked – research facility.
Times being what they are, the cast don’t let either an obvious rat infestation of a handful of mutilated corpses get in the way of what post-apocalyptic motorcycle gangs do best: boozing, rutting, arguing and, in one case, pottering absent-mindedly about the mysterious underground garden. Needless to say, it’s not long before things start going very wrong indeed, as one by one the bikers are gnawed, ravaged and buried ‘neath teeming, murophobe-baiting ratslides.
The film occupies a curious place, sidestepping many of Mattei’s usual excesses (the gore tends to trickle rather than spray in glorious arterial arcs) while others – risible dialogue (“computers and corpses don’t mix!”), unlikely plot developments and stilted tension – are at least wound down to the point where they don’t get in the way of what’s ultimately a fun little creature feature. The film also benefits from leftover sets from Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and while the cast’s talents are definitely variable they have a clear standout in Geretta Gerreta (DEMONS; MURDER ROCK) – a strong, no-nonsense badass who overcomes both a crass moniker and an early scene that smacks of casual racism.
While the film delivers in terms of schlock, gunfire and OTT oafishness, the main disappointment comes in the form of the bloodthirsty rodents themselves. Admittedly, employing actual ravening sewer rats might’ve been a tall order, but the modest plague Mattei conjures largely comprises pink-eyed mice painted a greasy grey-black, along with a supporting cast of guinea pigs (better actors, apparently). This scrabbling rabble spends most of its time milling quietly about and preening its whiskers, which is enough to make you yearn for the dachshunds-in-rats’-clothing of DEADLY EYES – especially when Mattei’s recalcitrant rodents end up being flung carelessly by unkind stage hands or prodded with burning torches.
The of-their-time moments mean RATS is not necessarily a guilt-free watch despite its lightweight tone, but if you can overcome its technical and sociological flaws it boils down to an enjoyably grimy, rodent-strewn trashpile that offers cheese aplenty and the promise that, ultimately, the squeak will inherit the Earth.
By way of extras this new 88 Films edition includes a chat with stars/stuntmen Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua that begins ramblingly at but becomes more cogent; an interview with composer Luigi Ceccarelli and the film’s trailer. Earlybird purchasers get the added benefit of a handsome, limited-edition slipcase, a poster and a Q&A with Geretta Geretta courtesy of academic and schlock connoisseur Calum Waddell.