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By Brad Slager | October 23, 2003

It iz not alwayz eazy, thiz life of a film reviewer. There are challengez and perilz that most readerz do not appreciate. There are numerouz timez where we have to slog through the opaque vision of a rizing auteur who lazt month waz shooting a laundry detergent commercial. Too often we have to stock up on emergency suppliez and wear protective gear with the threat of an oncoming Madonna movie. We also have to endure countlezz filmz with monsterz and killer animalz. Thiz is not a job for the faint of heart but with you, the viewerz, in mind it becomes a vocation with rewardz.
(The biting and trenchant satire of the title will gratefully end at this time.)
The dizzy horde of do-gooders at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals must be on some kind of subversive public relations campaign against laboratory testing on mice because there has been a glut of vermin-themed quasi-horror titles in the direct to video market this year. For proof we only have to look at the repeated depiction of humans on screen as being sub-literate and barely sentient when compared to angelic quadrupeds, a theme echoed in most PETA literature. Recently I had to grapple with a rather thorny decision, choosing which of the following films I would review:
“The Rats”—A film about, curiously enough, rats that mutate into killers and descend upon a department store.
“Killer Rats”—A more elaborately titled film about rats that are genetically altered and descend on a secluded manor to kill people.
“Rodentz”—With the novel story line of lab rats contaminated by chemical runoff who then go on to kill.
Further clouding the distinction, “The Rats” features live rats being guided by a 6-foot tall CGI uber-rat, while “Rodentz” focuses on a CGI swarm with the role of a giant being played by an extra in a rat suit. That was enough to tip the scales for me.
We open in a laboratory populated with cages and plenty of impressive glassware filled with brightly colored scientific type fluids. This is not the product-testing wing of a biotech firm, and neither is it the research facility of a large university. This is the private lab of Professor Irwin, a scientist so close to making a great discovery that he was run off from his research grant. While Prof. Irwin has state-of-the-art equipment he must have busted his budget because he can only afford rent on a condemned warehouse. But things are looking up for the good doctor because he is on the verge of developing a cure for cancer, which apparently is made up mostly of the fluid found in Cylume glow sticks.
Aiding the professor in his research is Walter, a 20-year-old assistant who is on the verge of clearing puberty. Walter and the Professor have an ongoing debate concerning the color of the fluids they are injecting into their rats. Walter suggests it is a different shade of green while Irwin testily insists everything is fine. It is clear that these two have a deep emotional rift that they gloss over with their protracted passive-aggressive argument, but what director Serge Rodnunsky failed to mention was that this change of serum leads to alterations of their lab experiments—I had to discover that nugget of info from an online source.
No matter the hue of the liquids, Walter is about to derail the research when he bypasses the HazMat disposal system and decides to dump his chemicals in the sink. The very fact that his beaker glows like a Chernobyl Slurpee should clue Walter not to pour the contents down the drain, but doing so sends the chemicals through pipes with more leaks than the Nixon Administration, and the infested warehouse soon has rats splashing through the runoff. This causes them to turn aggressive, and one particular rat swells to the size of a left-tackle on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The first victim of the scourge is the lab’s mascot cat, which turns a corner and gives us a cartoonish CGI scene of blood splashing and fur flying. Next on tap is the janitor, who nips at his flask and manages to get completely drunk in the time it takes him to descend two flights of stairs. He becomes the first of many individuals to stand still for the onslaught to be effective, but then Rodnunsky realizes he has few victims remaining. Enter “The Party Van”. Three guys and two gals are driving around in search of debauchery and naturally come to the conclusion that whiny Walter and his decrepit lab would make for a bitchin’ bacchanal. They weasel their way in and now more people can die.
First the Professor buys it in the basement, and then one of dolts stands idle so he can be attacked. He defends himself by grabbing an electrical conduit, effectively frying the rats but also himself in the process. The smell of burnt fur and feces must have overpowering—not to mention the smell of the rats as well! (Thank you, thank you.) Next we have one randy couple who go to the van for a condom. The guy takes fifteen minutes to search the glove box while the girl walks to a fence and stands there, looking at nothing…also for fifteen minutes. They eventually get eliminated by our super rat, but the cameramen focused too close to fully appreciate how bad the rat suit appeared.
By now no one has thought of simply leaving the building, so Walter and his date hide in an elevator only so he can immediately climb out through the roof. When the rats find their way inside the girl becomes the first person who discovers a rat is easily killed by stepping on it. It would be painful to explain how they eventually escape from the lab, so I’ll just say they use alarms to kill the small ones, and our mega-rat it dispatched when their van explodes about six times.
In the end this DVD earned a one-star rating. As the credits rolled I realized I was out of twists for my Skyy citrus martinis. I found I was able to use the disc as a perfect cutting surface to slice my Key limes without leaving a scratch on my coffee table. That’s performance!

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