Remember the good old days of horror, circa 1985, when horror movies were fun? The villains were creepy and evil, but they were having such a good time you almost forgave the fact that they were murdering and mutilating everyone in their path. Dr. Hill, Dr. Praetorious… lotta doctors, as I recall… Well, “The Rage’s” Dr. Viktor Vasilienko is cut much from the same cloth as previous mad scientists from cool ‘80s gore-fests, albeit focused on getting revenge on the world. See, he discovered a cure for cancer, and the minute the pharmaceutical companies (so dependent on the income they receive for treating the disease) catch wind of it, they have the good doctor institutionalized, tortured and discredited—not necessarily in that order. Now, utterly off his nut, Dr. Vasilienko takes to experimenting on human subjects, infecting them with a mutagen he dubs “the rage”, turning them into horrible, deranged and, naturally, cannibalistic monsters. Once this new disease becomes an epidemic, and only he has the antidote, well the whole world will have to see him for the beneficent genius that he is! (Reminder: Dr. Viktor Vasilienko is crazy.)
Unfortunately for the best-laid plans of Dr. Vasilienko, one of his ungrateful subjects escapes, attacks a kindly fisherman and his young niece and nephew (!), dies and is eaten by vultures. The enzymes present in vulture gullets complicates things, creating a disease even Dr. Vasilienko has no cure for. Add to that a Winnebago full of partying young folk and, of course, horribleness ensues.
In the wake of all the torture-horror movies released lately (movies like “Hostel,” “Wolf Creek,” et al, designed to torture not only the on-screen victims, but also the in-seat audience), “The Rage” comes along to embrace all that was cool and fun about the ‘80s. The aforementioned Stuart Gordon-helmed Lovecraft adaptations, “Evil Dead II,” “Return of the Living Dead”—even a little pre-80s “Jason and the Argonauts”—all of these movies and more are paid tribute to, if not in gag, but in spirit, as former KNB-honcho Kurtzman gives us mutants, gore, fights, electrocutions, elective brain surgery, big-a*s syringes and killer mutant vultures, all mixed into a break-neck paced ride that should bring back the concept of “party movie”.
Shot very quickly in 2006 around Kurtzman’s Precinct 13 company digs in Ohio, “The Rage” represents both the advantages and drawbacks of independent filmmaking. At the top of the scale is the freedom to do anything you want without worrying about this demographic or how well this producer will like it. At the bottom is the hit-or-miss acting and the occasional feeling that something small but possibly vital had to be jettisoned due to lack of time. But in the end, “The Rage” feels like a present to those who grew up on ‘80s flavor and were yearning for a return to the tongue-in-cheek-then-ripped-out-and-thrown-on-the-floor days of their youth. Niggling problems be damned—we get mutant midgets, cool vultures (shot in an almost Harryhausen-esque stop-motion style) and axes to the head!
Fun. Kurtzman and “The Rage” bring fun back to horror. From the joy of seeing Reggie Bannister turn into a cannibalistic mutant to the utter thrill of watching Andrew Divoff saw into someone’s skull while trying to reassure the poor fellow that the whole thing will be over quickly because, after all, “I’m not a sadist,” “The Rage” is just entertaining. Never is anything taken too seriously or given much weight, though, at the same time, is not treated with any less importance. (Bisson’s script even gives us a group of friends who actually like each other—little differences in opinion over boundaries aside)—and thus encouraging the audience to like them as well—and, more importantly, care about whether they live or die, as opposed to, say, the recent trend of sticking us with a band of a******s for 90 minutes.
So, ultimately, your enjoyment of “The Rage” will rely on your own sense of fun and whimsy. If you want to watch a group of people you don’t like get tortured to death, “Hostel 2” comes out this summer. If you want a popcorn-and-beer movie with oozy, deformed monsters and a whacked-out-yet-dignified scientist, then write to your congressman (or, you know, studio head) and recommend that “The Rage” get picked up by a major distributor right now to share the joy.