Friday, April 28, 2017

Mad for Science - SPLICE

The recent Science March against Trump got me thinking about cinema’s tremulous relationship with the subject of science.  The classic Frankenstein story warning against the hubris of man reaching farther than he should has been retold in hundreds, if not thousands, of times in film.  In all the variations, the cautionary tale is the same, do not meddle in God’s domain.  The thing is, deep down, we all kind of want to meddle in God’s domain.  The mad scientist routine may come off a bit extreme in the movies, but the underlying curiosity and desire to improve our world is fundamental to humanity’s progress.  Or it may simply be the desire to make cool stuff.  

Take the JURASSIC PARK movies, for instance.  Yes, they always end in bloody rampages, but do you think for one second if scientists really could churn out dinosaurs we wouldn’t be demanding they do so?  Say what you want about the quality of JURASSIC WORLD, it is the only logical extension of where we would take this.  Rich pet owners would be clamoring for the dino equivalent of the labradoodle.

Even more pointedly, look at THE TERMINATOR.  All of us know the story of artificial intelligent robots rising up to destroy humanity, but that doesn’t keep us from barreling towards creating them.  Because we also saw STAR WARS, and who doesn’t want their own R2D2?  Except one that actually says words.  Nobody wants to learn beep language.

So every time we see one of these grave warnings of science run amok, we think, “Boy, it really turned out badly for those guys, they made such bad decisions…but if I was doing it, things would have been awesome!”  Which brings us to Vincenzo Natali’s 2009 super creepy sci-fi experiment, SPLICE, which shows the horrifying ethical and moral consequences of genetically manipulating human DNA on a whim, even though it is still a pretty cool idea.  

The Capsule: 

Clive (Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), a pair of adorable hipster scientists, have become famous for genetically engineering a less adorable pair of medicine producing love slugs for the giant pharmaceutical company they work for.  When the skittish, profit minded execs shoots down their idea of introducing human DNA into the mix, they go rogue and run their abomination of nature pet-project in secret.  What comes out of the mechanical womb is no simple love slug, but a freaky, kind of cute, peanut head monster with rat legs and a deadly stinger tail.  Clive wants to destroy it before they get caught, but since its rapid growth cycle means it will only live for a short time, Elsa convinces him to keep it around and study it.  Plus, Elsa has bonded with the little ragamuffin, despite it trying to kill her that one time (maybe two).  As the little horror grows, human characteristics and appearance become more dominate, turning the creation, now named Dren (Delphine ChanĂ©ac), into less of a pet as a daughter.  The pressure of maintaining this messed up family dynamic begins to weigh heavily on Clive and Elsa, especially as Dren’s behavior becomes  harder and harder to control.

SPLICE exists in a wonderful fantasy world where smart is sexy and scientists are rock stars (and Wired is the equivalent to Rolling Stone).  Clive and Elsa strut around the lab like they were the nerd versions of Prince and Madonna.  Their lab coats are covered in patches, badges, and pins.  They are the cool kids with the biggest brains and they know it.  Even Clive’s younger brother wannabe, Gavin (Brandon McGibbon) is trying to get in on it by sporting a serious Jack White look.  They should all have guitars slung over their shoulders, or at least keytars.  

They even have a square, killjoy supervisor, Barlow (David Hewlett), who is pretty much their manager.  He is always trying to make them to get serious and focus on the money making love slug classics, the arena rock of science, instead of running wild with their experimental new stuff that people don’t understand. 

Barlow is a drag, but he is not entirely wrong.  Their company, Newstead, holds a gala, Grammy-like presentation where Clive and Elsa (introduced as “The Splicemasters”) are supposed to impress all the investors and shareholders with their progress.  They have been so busy with their secret crime against nature, though, that they failed to notice the female love slug spontaneously changed to male.  When the slugs are put together in a big glass tank, they sprout giant hooks and start tearing each other apart.  As if that wasn’t disastrous enough, the tank tips over and sends gallons of blood straight into the fancy dressed crowd like they were in the splash zone at Sea World.
Afterwards, Barlow’s smugness is palpable when he takes over the lab and hands Clive a plain white unadorned lab coat to wear.  There is no room for fun in science, you two!

They still wind up shirking their day jobs, because Dren (nerd spelled backwards in case you didn’t get it, and you would, because they literally spell it out for you) is obviously much more interesting than the love slugs.  Her evolution is fascinating, if kinda absurd.  She begins life, traumatically birthed from the artificial womb in the lab, as a big, fleshy tadpole with a stinger that almost kills Elsa.  Later in the same scene she sheds her skin and becomes a hairless, armless kangaroo rat with a head like a peanut (or penis, depending on the angle).  After much tension, Elsa calms the creature down and bonds with it.  The sequence is great because it starts off as an homage to the med lab scene from ALIEN, and then seamlessly transitions into an homage to the med lab scene from ALIENS. It covers all the med lab bases.
Dren’s next stage is even weirder, because she transforms from a freaky pet into a super creepy little girl, but one with dog legs, three fingered hands, and eyes on the side her head, which also looks like an ass.  Elsa dresses her in a pretty blue dress, which just makes her that much more horrifying.  The fact that her intellectual development is accelerated to the same pace as her physical development, and that she still has that venomous stinger tail, should worry Elsa, but she still acts like she is working with a particularly clever chimpanzee.  Even when Dren attacks the eavesdropping Gavin, Elsa just scolds her like a toddler.  “Bad Dren, no trying to murder Daddy’s brother! Go sit in time out!”  I’m paraphrasing.

Dren has the most obvious and dramatic evolution, but Brody and Polley’s characters go through an extensive transformation of their own.  The story is as much an analogy of how becoming parents can change people and their relationship as it is about the dangers of hubris.  It becomes clear that Clive and Elsa really shouldn’t be parents, not to a normal kid, and especially not to deadly superhuman abomination of science.  

Elsa specifically did not want to have children because her mother was an abusive nutcase and she feared she might have inherited the bad mommy gene.  Her fears were justified.  When Dren is still a messed up mutant looking little girl, everything was fine.  Elsa was patient and encouraging.  But the more human-like Dren becomes, the colder and harsher Elsa treats her.  She doesn’t deal with Dren’s teenaged (counting in genetic freak years) rebellion very well.  At one point, after Dren has done something particularly nasty out of spite, Elsa loses it and goes totally mad scientist, tying Dren to a table and amputating her stinger.  She is not getting a “World’s Greatest Mom” mug for Christmas.

Clive is hardly any better.  When Dren is in peanut monster stage, he just wants to kill her.  When she changes into a creepy little girl, he… well, he still mostly wants to kill her.  Once she enters her third stage, things really get complicated.  See, she still has crazy backwards legs, three fingered hands, and unsettlingly wide set eyes, but she is now played by an adult actress and, as weird as she is, she’s also, um, kind of sexy.  Sci-fi sexy, like the hot alien at the space bar.  So, yeah, Clive no longer wants to kill her.  

He does seem to develop a genuine, non-creepy affection for her.  There is a touching scene at the secluded barn where they are keeping her when Clive stops her from flying away (oh yeah, she has wings now, too) by telling her that they love her.  It’s just the emotional connection she was looking for.  Dren is in a seriously uncomfortable daddy faze after that.

Things become even more awkward when Clive realizes Dren was created with Elsa’s own DNA.  So she’s kind of like Elsa’s daughter, or half-sister, or something.  I don’t know, the whole genetic splicing thing is a bit confusing.  I’m pretty sure that makes her biological father a love slug.  In any case, Clive is essentially her step dad, so it’s really messed up when she seduces him and he can’t make it thirty seconds before giving in and having sex with her on the barn floor.  Maybe it’s not quite Woody Allen level messed up, but it’s pretty damn bad.

Of course, none of this can compete with the enormously, astonishingly fucked up ending.  Um, [spoiler].  Clive and Elsa come to the decision that their dysfunctional family unit isn’t working and Dren cannot continue to exist.  They head to the barn, but she seems to have saved them the trouble of killing her by dying naturally.  Except she isn’t really dead.  Taking a cue from her love slug dad, Dren is really in stasis, metamorphosing from female to male (Dran?).  Now, a female aberration of nature is a handful, but a male one is real trouble.  He kills Barlow (no big loss), snatches Gavin, and flies off with him into the woods.  Clive and Elsa get separated, Dren finds Elsa, and suddenly it becomes THE LAST SPLICE ON THE LEFT.  Clive stops the assault by impaling rapist Dren with a stick, and Elsa puts him down with a rock, but she hesitates before delivering the final blow when Dren looks up at her with a “why, Mommy?” expression.   This gives Dren just enough time to sting Clive to death before getting his head caved in.  Yeah, that went dark really fast.  

But wait, it’s not over yet.  Flash forward to Elsa’s thousand yard stare as she’s getting a huge payout from the head of Newstead for providing them with a specimen of this new, very profitable lifeform.  Elsa stands up, revealing the specimen she is selling is her monster daughter/son’s child which she is now pregnant with.  Yay science!

Even though Natali shows that science can have terrifying and deadly consequences, much like he portrayed with technology in the brilliant debut, CUBE, I don’t think he is coming down against it.  After all, as the head of Newstead says, millions of people could benefit from the medical advancements gained from harvesting Elsa’s beastly offspring.  It just needs to be handled correctly.  I think the ultimate message of SPLICE, and of most Frankenstein variations, is that we don’t need to fear science, only respect it.  Consider the ramifications.  And for God’s sake, don’t fuck it on the barn floor. 

C Chaka

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Video Nasties, Part 3 – Cannibals!

Welcome back to my bite sized examination of the U.K.’s infamous Video Nasty list, the films that the Director of Public Prosecutions deemed too morally reprehensible to be viewed by any upstanding British citizen in the early ‘80s.  For the sake of time and sanity, I’m breaking the list into easily digestible chunks.  On this week’s menu is a lightly pan seared delicacy, the films of cannibalism.

The DPP really, really hated cannibal movies.  Out of the 72 movies prosecuted or considered for prosecution on grounds of obscenity, 10 were about cannibalism,  6 with the word "cannibal" in their title.  This might be due to the inherent gruesomeness of the subject, but I believe iftmostly stemmed from one movie, perhaps the most notorious off all the Video Nasties, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.  And while the film itself is well deserving of notoriety, it was probably this image that caused the most fuss.

This VHS cover was scientifically designed to horrify old white conservatives while intriguing everyone else (seriously, you want to turn your eyes away, but you can’t).  It was so blatant and in your face that it practically dared the establishment to ban it, which it did.  When the MPs went looking for titles to add to their list, anything using the word cannibal was guilty by association.  

To be fair, though, if you include “Cannibal” in your title, there’s a reasonable bet your movie is just a little bit nasty.  I’m sure there is some highbrow French film out there that uses the word as an analogy for the bourgeoisie, but it isn’t CANNIBAL TERROR.  

So I start this installment with the Mother of All Video Nasties, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.  I seriously debated putting this one in the Bummers category, as it is kind of a downer.  And by “kind of” I mean “soul crushingI have seen a lot of really rough movies, but nothing compares to this one.  The biggest reason being that the movie, which is about a professor traveling through the uncharted jungles of Amazon to find what happened to a missing film crew, is actually very well made.  Director Ruggero Deodato made some incredibly hokey (and entertaining) films in his career.  CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is not one of them.  It is beautifully shot, well scored, decently acted, and most of all, very authentic feeling.  This is especially true of the found footage portion (made before that was even a term).  The combination of real violence to animals (quick, but still nauseating) and very effectively staged violence toward the characters (shot from a distance) causes the lines between movie and reality to blur.  There is a reason Charlie Sheen reported this to the police as an actual snuff film when he saw it, and it wasn’t just because of the cocaine.  

Fun fact:  While being banned in over 50 countries (allegedly), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the second highest grossing film in Japan, behind E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERESTRIAL.  Coincidently, this also constitutes the world’s worst double feature ever.

The power and gravity of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is most apparent when shown against its similarly themed but immensely trashier counterpart, CANNIBAL FEROX (re-titled MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY in the U.S. because no one knew what the hell a ferox was).  Umberto Lenzi’s film has practically the same plot (minus the found footage) and arguably even more gore, but none of the stark, visceral impact of Deodato’s.  There is no mistaking FEROX for anything other than the sleaziest of exploitation, especially with the incomparable Giovanni Lombardo Radice chewing up the scenery.  Radice was a staple of Italian genre cinema of that era, and perhaps the subject of more gruesome deaths than any other actor in history.  FEROX is still a rough movie, but considerably more fun (except for the animal killings, boo!).

Umberto Lenzi actually started off the whole Italian cannibalspoitation genre with THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (aka SACRIFICE!, aka DEEP RIVER SAVAGES).  Basically a remake of the American Western A MAN CALLED HORSE, the movie is about a photographer who is captured by a primitive tribe in the Amazon and slowly adapts to their ways (after a period of distrust and torture).  DEEP RIVER is far tamer than the cannibal films that would follow.  The gut munching angle doesn’t even appear until near the end, when a hostile (and hungry) tribe attacks.  Less of a horror movie as it is an exploration of cultural understanding.  Except, you know, a little bit racist. Oooow, scary indigenous people want to eat you!  The whole cannibal genre  is uncomfortably literal exploitation cinema.

Switching from the Amazon to New Guinea but still very Italian, Sergio Martino’s MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD is another one caught in the DPP’s widely spread cannibal net.  This one, starring Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress, is more of a straight up adventure movie, with subplots about corporate greed and the exploitation of nature.  Andress hires Keach to guide her and her brother through a dangerous jungle in search of her missing husband.  The gore is fairly restrained (unless you are an animal), until they get to the titular mountain and everything goes absolutely apeshit.  Ursula Andress covered in honey, cannibal orgies, forced heart eating, and one very confused pig.  I re-watched that scene last night and it was even more insane and uncomfortable than I remembered.  It’s the cannibal equivalent to CALIGULA.  

While cannibal movies were mostly the domain of the Italians, other countries were eager to get in on the action.  From France came the sublimely schlocky CANNIBAL TERROR, which I have already gone on about in more detail than the movie has probably ever received.  

Spain’s exploitation maestro Jess Franco took a bit of the pie, as well.  His most obvious offender, CANNIBALS (aka WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN), somehow escaped the Video Nasties List, probably because everyone in the U.K. government thought it was CANNIBAL TERROR.  Or they thought it was already on the list because they mistook it for Franco’s other kind-of-supernatural-but-not-really gut-munching tale, DEVIL HUNTER.  It is primarily an action vehicle starring ZOMBIE vet Al Cliver as a tough guy hired to rescue a kidnapped actress from a mysterious jungle island that is coincidentally inhabited by cannibals.  The twist is that the tribe doesn’t do the cannibalizing (they mostly just dance a lot).  Instead, they offer up tasty people treats to their god, a man with the power of having weird bug eyes.   That’s it, really.  Not sure why they think so highly of him.   There are a few very unconvincing liver extracting scenes that were probably the reason the movie was labeled a Nasty, but the real high point is watching the uncoordinated Cliver have a fight with an almost completely blind actor on a real cliff top.  It could have so easily become an accidental snuff film.  I’m sure Franco would have released it anyway.

Not all cannibal films have to be in the jungle.  In Joe D’Amatto’s impressively named ANTHROPOPHAGUS, a group of rich tourists, including another ZOMBIE alum, Tisa Farrow, get stuck on an abandoned Greek island and discover that a horribly disfigured cannibal is stalking them.  The tourist chomper is played by legendary Italian exploitation villain George Eastman, but since his character has been driven mad to the point of catatonia, we are deprived of the standard Eastman overacting magic.  The movie has plenty of gore, including one super gruesome bit of depravity (more in concept than in execution), but honestly, it is kind of a slog to get through.  None of the characters are remotely interesting, and even the death scenes are slow moving and drawn out (not in the torture porn way, more in the “okay, we got it” kind of way).   It’s really only notable for being the movie that made Tisa Farrow conclude “You know, maybe the acting world only needs one Farrow.”

Eloy de la Iglesia’s THE CANNIBAL MAN is the real oddball in this line up because it is actually a fairly classy, introspective film about isolation, loneliness, and desperation.  It is certainly the least gory.  Clearly no one in the DPP office actually watched it, they just looked at the VHS cover and declared “Another one of those bloody cannibal movies!”  The irony is that the main character, played by Vicente Parra, isn’t even a cannibal.  He is just a guy who accidentally kills his girlfriend, and in trying to cover up the crime has to kill an ever increasing string of witnesses, snoops, and blackmailers.  He decides to dispose of the bodies at the sausage making factory where he works.  In that sense, he’s less of a Cannibal Man as he is a Cannibal Enabler.   It’s quite a good movie, really, as long as you aren’t expecting a lot of intestine yanking gore.

It is kind of a stretch, but I’ll include BLOOD FEAST, a movie which I have already described in great detail, in the cannibal section.  Faust Ramsey never consumed any of his delicious Egyptian feast made for—and from— lovely Floridians, but it was definitely his intent.  If he hadn’t been so enormously incompetent and the police very slightly more competent (and ridiculously lucky), an entire upscale neighborhood would have unknowingly been turned into flesh eaters.  

Lastly, and most enjoyable of all, Giovanni Lombardo Radice returns, along with John Saxon, in Antonio Margheriti’s CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE.   The title might be (intentionally) reminiscent of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but that is about as close as it gets.  Margheriti completely discards any sense of realism or atmosphere by setting the majority of the movie in Atlanta, GA.  It has the strangest, most confusing connection with cannibalism of all the movies on the list.  APOCALYPSE starts off as a Vietnam POW flick, transitions to a FIRST BLOOD style PTSD drama, then mutates into a zombie film.  In a new twist, anyone bitten by a cannibal becomes a cannibal themselves.  Because of a virus, maybe?  Logic is clearly secondary to Radice’s wonderfully unhinged performance as he takes on both a weekend biker club and the cops.  Saxon brings his trademark brooding intensity, compounded by the fact that he has absolutely no idea what is happening.  The gore is impressive without being too disturbing.  As to be expected Radice takes a lot of punishment (though not nearly as much as in CANNIBAL FEROX).  I might need to revisit this one as a full post one day.

Along with the four from Part 1 and three from Part 2, and the Nasties that warranted their own full length posts (INFERNO, CANNIBAL TERROR, DON'T GO IN THE WOODS, BLOOD FEAST, EVIL DEAD, ZOMBIE, THE BURNING), these ten bring the tally up to twenty-four.  Only a scant forty-eight left.

C Chaka

Friday, April 14, 2017

Intellectual Apocalypse - RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR

The Italian film industry is famous for its shameless knock-offs of successful genre movies, particularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  There were STAR WARS rip-offs (STARCRASH), ALIEN rip-offs (CONTAMINATION), DAWN OF THE DEAD rip-offs (a sub-genre all its own).  The best ones, or the most entertaining ones, I should say, followed the basic framework of the original film, but then veered off in unique or insane directions.  Italian directors were brazen with what they got away with, but only Bruno Mattei had the balls to simultaneously rip-off both THE ROAD WARRIOR and THE BIRDS in the same movie.  The result, 1984’s RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, is a mind boggling wonder to behold.

The Capsule:
In 225 A.B. (After the Bomb), a motley band of scavenging bike punks seem to have hit the jackpot when they find an abandoned building packed with food, purified water, and comfy beds.  The only drawback is the slight rat infestation.  This turns out to be a larger issue than the punks anticipated, because while the rats look like ordinary, easy to abuse vermin, they have mutated into clever, carnivorous little horrors.  One by one, the punks fall prey to the diminutive beasts.  By the time they realize what is happening, it is too late; the hungry hoards have them trapped.  It comes down to a battle of wits between human and rat, and these humans are sorely, embarrassingly outmatched.  

The movie begins with a very loaded text scroll (and a voiceover, in case you don’t want to read).  It explains that there was a nuclear war in 2015 that destroyed all five (!) of Earth’s continents.  The survivors, known as the New Humanity, found protection underground.  A century later, a bunch of teenagers get fed up with New Humanity’s bogus rules, dress codes, curfews, and what not.  I’m assuming they are teens, the text doesn’t specify.  Anyway, the young turks blow off the underground to party on the surface.  They are dubbed the New Primitives, and New Humanity really hates them because all they do is drive their motorbikes around all day and play their music too loudly.  

Alright, now that you have digested all that, just forget about it because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual movie.  I’m not even sure it was written for this film.  Maybe they just had a spare post-apocalyptic text scroll lying around and decided to throw it on the screen.  

Mattei made some dumb movies in his day (all of them, really).  With RATS, however, he declares an all-out War On Intelligence.  The bikers do not specifically refer to themselves as New Primitives, but the moniker is very appropriate (and not just because they all dress like they are in an Adam Ant video).  Everyone seems to have a six-year old's understanding of technology.  The most common response when something stops working is to shake it, whine, and throw it on the floor.  Early on, one of the characters finds a fancy sci-fi computer.  As he confidently starts flipping switches, I think, oh, this is the electronics expert in the group.  No, it turns out he thought it was some kind of video game and was just pushing buttons at random.  Even plastic bags seem to be too sophisticated for them, as seen when one guy just tucks into a bag of brown sugar without opening it first.  Even the rats know not to eat the plastic.  These people would get themselves killed on an escalator, I have no idea how they managed to survive this long in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.  

It should be noted that these rats are not monsters.  They don’t have mutated features, extra-long claws, or enormous bodies.  They are just a bunch of average white lab rats, painted grey to make them seem scarier and less adorable.  The humans treat them like an evolutionarily superior super-predator, though.   The hysteria prone Myrna (Ann-Gisel Glass) freaks out every time she sees one.  Or a spider.  Or a candy wrapper.  Deus (Fausto Lombardi, aka Tony Lombardo), the deep one dressed like a Hari Krishna, goes on about all the fatal diseases contractible from rat bites (while they are suspensefully creeping up a rat filled stairway.  Geez, pick your moment, Deus).  Kurt (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, aka Richard Raymond), the fearful leader, straight up admits “They’re stronger than us!” after most of his crew becomes rat food.  The rats themselves spend most of their time milling about, watching the action and trying to wipe off the grey from their fur.

The rats don't have to take much initiative, anyway.  The humans do a fantastic job of getting themselves killed all on their own.  One guy gets drunk and falls into the rat filled sewer.  Several people just stand there as a torrent of rats pour down on top of them.  A lady gets trapped in her sleeping bag because she can’t figure out how zippers work.  Another one literally gives up and kills herself due to the pressure of attempting to outsmart a rodent.  

In the few instances where the rats actually have to do things, they handle themselves well.  They are good jumpers, especially when aiming for the face or neck.  They can batter down a door somehow, which is impressive, though not scientifically sound.  Near the end, with their superiority so clearly established, they just start fucking with the humans for fun.  They move corpses around to freak them out, and even throw the sleeping bag girl’s body through a doorway.  Again, I’m not sure exactly how that works with their tiny little rat arms.  In a particularly non rat-like trick, they burrow into a corpse and control it like a puppet, before exploding out of its back.  At this point, they are just showing off.

It’s not just the rats that the humans have to worry about, either.  Duke (Henry Luciani) continuously plots to depose Kurt as the leader of the group.  He is hindered by the fact that he is such a cowardly little fuck that no one can stand him.  The only person he can get on his side when he stages his coup is Myrna, and honestly, she would follow anyone who wasn’t a rat.  He pulls the classic dick move of locking the others out of a safe room, he steals their only surviving vehicle (which everyone somehow forgot they had for a while), and tries to kill them with a machine gun.  Luckily, he doesn’t understand how to reload the machine gun, so he threatens to blow himself and Myrna up with a grenade unless everyone gives up.  He clearly doesn’t understand how threats work either.

The thing is, Duke has a point.  Kurt is possibly the worst leader ever.  When one of his team comes in covered in rats, Kurt attempts to get them off with a flamethrower.  He sends people on dangerous and ultimately worthless missions that just get them killed.  He insists on remaining in the rat filled building instead of, say, driving away in their fake tank (not that it worked out any better for Duke).  Here is an example of his reasoning:  “They can’t be smart enough to be luring us out into the open, so I’m going to call their bluff and go out there!”  It’s not just the dub, he sounds just as stupid in Italian.  

The single competent human in the movie is the black woman named (shudder) Chocolate.  She’s no Pam Grier, but Chocolate is tough, confident, and doesn’t take any shit.  Not only does she make it through the entire movie without doing anything particularly stupid (aside from hanging out with these losers), she has a few legitimately clever moments.  When Duke and Myrna have the jump on her, she makes Myrna freak out about a rat so the panicked woman will knock down Duke long enough for Chocolate to grab his weapon.  Well played, Chocolate.  Sorry about the name.

There are apparently a few intelligent folks left on Earth, because the bikers eventually find a recording from the scientists who were doing tests in the building before the rats came.  They were smart enough to build the water purifier and the hydroponic garden, but not smart enough to put their protective uniforms back on when the rats attacked.  The movie acts like this recording is a major reveal of information, but the scientist just recounts all the things that have already been shown.  It basically ends with “Oh, by the way, watch out for the rats.”  Book smart, rat stupid.

Normally I wouldn’t want to spoil an ending like this, but it is just too beautiful not to talk about.  Just as everything seems hopeless for the two remaining humans, Chocolate and Video (Gianni Franco, aka Richard Cross), a bunch of guys in yellow rain slickers and gas masks emerge from the sewer and start gassing the rats.  Chocolate and Video wake up surrounded by the rain slicker dudes and begin thanking them for coming to their rescue.  The dudes watch silently, until one pulls off his gas mask to reveal… a giant, furry rat face!  This is not an out-of-nowhere shock ending, like the one in PIECES.  They tease out the suspense.  You can practically hear the movie debating its next move.  Look, audience, I know you want there to be a giant rat face under there, but how can we possibly justify that?  It’s just so ludicrous.  It defies all laws of—naw, just fooling with you!  Here’s your giant fuzzy rat face!

 There is literally no better way for this movie to end.

I must warn you, the Humane Society was not monitoring this set.  As was common with Italian films of the era, no love was shown to the smallest of extras.  Rats are routinely knocked around, flung, kicked, and manhandled.  A few of the poor bastards get roasted in the fire stunts.  By the time Myrna inaccurately whines “we’ve done nothing to them,” we are squarely on the side of the rats.   I hope the official “rat chucker” behind the camera got a few bites on the fingers, at least.

Bruno Mattei (aka Vincent Dawn, aka about a million other pseudonyms) would go on to make dozens more wonderfully terrible movies, including STRIKE COMMANDO, CRUEL JAWS, and TERMINATOR 2 (but not that TERMINATOR 2).  He also took over for Lucio Fulci on ZOMBI 3, which is why the slow moving zombies suddenly turn into kickboxers halfway through.  He made movies right up to the day he died in 2007, at the age of 75.  It was a life well spent.  At the very least, the world should praise him for giving us RATS, and revealing what is truly the deadliest thing to worry about in the apocalypse, utter stupidity.

C Chaka