The Rats

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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The Rats  (2002, dir: John Lafia; cast: Mädchen Amick, Vincent Spano)




Lab experiments have created mutant rats. Actually, they look just like regular rats, except they're a little stronger and more aggressive. These rats start attacking people, then a department store executive (Mädchen Amick) and a rat exterminator (Vincent Spano) unite to defeat the rats -- and fall in love along the way!

Even as a made-for-TV movie, The Rats's horror content is disappointingly tame. One man gets killed early in the film, then another man gets it 75 minutes into the film, and that's it. That's a pretty low body count.

It's hard to count all the mistakes and clichés in this film. Here are some:

* Vincent Spano sees rats leaving through a hole into the subway tunnels. He immediately rushes into the subway to try and see which way the train went, because he knows Mädchen Amick is on the train. HUH? How did he know that she was on that particular train? Or even that the rats would attack it?

* When the subway stops, a motorman tells the passengers that they should wait in the train while he inspects the tracks. So an Obnoxious Yuppie complains, "What, you're not gonna leave us in here alone, are you? I don't believe this!" HUH? Who wrote this dialogue? A train stops, you expect the motorman to inspect the problem. Does this Obnoxious Yuppie want the motorman to hold his hand?

* When the rats enter the train, the Obnoxious Yuppie starts shooting a gun at the rats. So another man grabs him from behind to stop him. HUH? The yuppie was obnoxious, but he wasn't endangering anyone but the rats, from which everyone was trying to escape. Why would anyone stop him? My guess is that the screenwriter just wrote cliches -- the Obnoxious Yuppie/Gun Nut must be stopped! -- without thinking about the context of his own script, or how his characters would behave in that situation.

* The subway seems to have only one car, the front car. We never see what happens in the previous cars, and the firemen seem not to rescue anyone from any other car. That's weird.

* Lots of opportunities for gore are wasted. A swarm of rats invade a swimming pool full of kids, causing a panicky escape. Good computer effects, but sadly, all the kids escape. C'mon, this is supposed to be a horror film! Let's see some of those brats go under in a pool of blood (as in The Great Alligator).

* And NO ONE on the train is killed. Not even the Obnoxious Yuppie, who has Classic Horror Victim written all over him. Yeah, that was a surprise, but not a good surprise.

* Mädchen Amick mentions that the department store has an area (with many rooms and floors) that was sealed off, because the store stopped using that area as a post for store detectives. HUH? Floor space is very expensive in New York City. If a store changes its use for an area, it doesn't seal off the area, it finds a new use for it.

* Amick is a single career mom raising a smart and cute little girl. Been there, done that. Again and again.



* Naturally, Amick and Spano initially get on each other's nerves, but then fall in love. It seems the movies are full of smart, professional, career women who fall for gruff, blue-collar macho guys. It happened in Species and The Relic, to name two such horror films. I guess the conceit works because it plays into both male and female fantasies. Men fantasize about having macho, non-office jobs, and women fantasize about being successful career women who are swept off their feet by burly brutes.

* Two men are covered by rats and quickly chewed to death. But then Amick falls into a pool full of THOUSANDS of rats, and sinks beneath them until she is completely immersed (much like Sigourney Weaver is immersed into the alien in Alien Resurrection). But when Spano eventually pulls out Amick -- she is practically unscathed! No bite marks! Just a few reddish smears which barely look like blood. HUH? How come a few DOZEN rats almost instantly chew two men to death, but THOUSANDS of rats barely graze Amick?

I'm guessing the filmmaker didn't want to kill off Amick, but he still wanted that "cool scene" of seeing her immersed under THOUSANDS of rats, so he did both, and simply ignored that Amick should be dead -- or at least severely disfigured. This is another old horror cliché -- horror heroines are immune to monsters. Consider The Dark, in which an alien instantly kills everyone he meets, until he meets star Cathy Lee Crosby. Then he merely carries her off, giving the hero time to save Crosby.

Still, I like The Rats.

* Although The Rats is shot in Canada, its "New York" settings are not as obviously Canadian as some other shot-in-Canada "New York" films. Island of the Dead did a worse job of recreating Wall Street in Toronto, and Wes Craven Presents They was much worse than The Rats in recreating New York's subways. The Rats had a 39th Street Station, which does not exist in New York, but at least New York streets ARE numbered. But Wes Craven Presents They actually had "Victoria Station" on a "New York" subway stop, a dead giveaway that the film was shot in some British influenced country (i.e., Canada).




* As a Twin Peaks fan, I enjoyed seeing Mädchen Amick in The Rats.

* And the computer effects were cool, albeit highly unrealistic. They actually had rats spouting volcano-like out of the sewers, flying into the air.

A stupid film, and disappointingly tame, but hard core horror fans (especially if they like Amick) should be satisfied if they get a used copy at a good price.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos


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