Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Rat Man (1988)

I was not a huge fan of the show Friends, even when it was at its most popular.  Maybe it’s because I was severely inebriated much of the time it was first being shown.  Maybe it’s because these characters and their lifestyle were so alien to me.  Maybe it’s because the show isn’t very good.  Maybe it’s a combination of a multiplicity of factors.  Regardless, there was one bit they did on the show that has always stuck with me, and I still refer to it to this day.  Ditzy blonde Phoebe is talking with smarmy Chandler, and she inquires why Spider-Man isn’t pronounced like Goldman, Silverman, etcetera.  Chandler, astonished by this (more or less his permanent state of being throughout the series), explains that it’s “because it isn’t his last name, like Phil Spiderman.  He’s a Spider…Man.”  I catch myself far too often pronouncing the names of superheroes like Phoebe would, and, even though it’s not laugh out loud funny, I do find it endlessly amusing.  This is possibly the elitist comic book fan in me taking a poke at people who “aren’t in the know” or maybe just taking a poke at elitist comic book fans themselves.  That said, even though Peter Parker is not, in fact, part spider (I’m not as up on the character as I once was, so this may have changed), the little fella dubbed Mousey (Nelson de la Rosa, whom most people know, ironically enough, from the John Frankenheimer/Richard Stanley version of The Island of Dr. Moreau) in Giuliano Carnimeo’s (under the genius pseudonym Anthony Ascot) Rat Man (aka Quella Villa in fondo al Parco, which translates roughly to That Villa at the Bottom of the Park, which may very well be a better title or may simply be the film’s producers desperately trying to cash in on The Last House on the Left sixteen years later; leave it to the Italians to beat a dead horse into glue) most definitely is part rat.  The problem is, he’s also part monkey, so, if anything, the film should have been called Rat Monkey, but I guess that just sounded more like a nature documentary than a horror film.  I would rather watch that fictional documentary than either Friends or Rat Man ever again.

Crusty, sweaty Dr. Olman (Pepito Guerra) is set to unveil Mousey to the world at the next scientician conference when the little rascal makes good his escape.  Next thing you know, bikini models like Marilyn (Eva Grimaldi) are being spied on and chased around, and her sister Terry (the divine Janet Agren) has to team up with perpetually-open-shirted crime writer Fred (David Warbeck) to track her down and save her.  

Rat Man owes the entirety of its existence to two sources.  One is the Slasher film.  On top of Mousey’s natural predilection for murdering people thither and yon accompanied by copious amounts of blood, Carnimeo delights in two types of Slasher-esque shot whenever Mousey is around (which is constantly; this little fucker is more ubiquitous than air).  The first is the classic point of view shot, and, of course, it’s from Mousey’s perspective.  The thing of it is, these POV shots are overused, so they are not nearly as effective as they could be.  Every now and then, it might be nice to build a little tension by not signaling to the audience that the tiny terror is lurking just out of sight.  The second type of shot which is repeated early and often is the extreme closeup.  There are multiple cutaways to a detail of Mousey’s dark, little eyeball.  Later, there are closeups of his fangs and claws as he attacks.  These shots, in my opinion, work better than the flood of POV shots, but even these wear out their welcome and detract from what the audience wants to see, namely, the “critter from the shitter” (that’s part of one of the film’s taglines, and he does, indeed, crawl out of a toilet at one point in the movie) gnawing away at young, pink flesh and innards for minutes on end.

The other major influence on this movie, as you may have guessed, is H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.  To be more precise, Carnimeo and company ignored the anti-vivisection angle of the novel, focusing on the juicier aspects.  For example, Mousey is a combination of animals in humanoid form.  Dr. Olman walks around in a Panama suit, was shunned by the scientific community for his activities, and cares more about proving the value of his work (the purpose of his experiments is never explained to us) than he does for any living thing.  Olman has a loyal assistant, Tonio, who fills the Montgomery role, though far more incompetently.  Marilyn and skanky photographer Mark (Werner Pochath) come to be at Olman’s villa because of a car wreck instead of a shipwreck, but the effect is the same.  Mousey revolts against Olman and causes havoc on the villa and its occupants, and this is the heart of what the film is in its entirety.  It’s little more than a drawn out, constant stream of “animal” attacks, none of which are suspenseful, and none of which are all that satisfying in the gore department, either.  Why Fred and Terry are in the film at all is mindboggling, since all they do is tool around looking vaguely inquisitive, are flat as a pancake character-wise, and serve no narrative function whatsoever other than to facilitate the indifferently obvious “twist” ending (though, I’ll be honest, I could stare at Agren all day, every day).

I’ve read in several places how this film is supposed to be a sleazy piece of trash.  I can verify the latter half of that statement, but the sleazy part has me confused.  There’s some nudity from Grimaldi, there’s some shitty gore (including a skull sitting in a puddle of what looks like Ragu spaghetti sauce), and Mousey himself certainly appears greasy as all hell.  But outside of that, Rat Man is tame stuff.  Worse than that, it is hardly a movie, as it doesn’t attempt to develop a story in any way.  It’s a very simple idea that, instead of doing anything interesting with, the filmmakers simply padded out with somnolent sequences that don’t go anywhere.  Mousey may be a critter, but perhaps he and this film would have been better off left in the shitter.            

MVT:  I want to give it to Janet Agren, just for being Janet Agren, but I’m going to have to go full-pig and give it to Grimaldi for stripping down and showing off her appreciable assets.

Make or Break:  Probably around the third or fourth time Carnimeo cut back to Terry and Fred driving around in the dark, as if they’re going to find anything remotely interesting in what is the ultimate in cinematic blue balls.

Score:  4.5/10

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