Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

[Musophobia] Nightmares: Night Of The Rat (1983)

Nightmares: Night of the Rat - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
NIGHTMARES is a 1983 anthology film that began life as a made-for-TV movie, but somewhere along the way, plans changed and it was released theatrically instead. It is comprised of four different segments, but for our purposes here, we are only concerned with the final segment, "Night of the Rat".

The Houston family has a problem. Housewife Claire has been hearing the tell-tale scuttling sounds of rats around the abode lately, and when she mentions calling in an exterminator, her curmudgeonly husband Steven vetoes the idea, insisting on going the alpha male route and capturing the critters himself. He returns home that evening with a few traps, which he places in the attic, and when the married couple's bedtime bickering is interrupted by the distinct snap-and-squeal of success, she forces Steven to get dressed and dispose of the dead rodent in the outside trash immediately.

Their problem is not over, though. The next morning, their young daughter Brooke is complaining that her pet cat Rosie has gone missing. At the same time, the kitchen sink is plugged up nearly beyond repair, and some deep plunging breaks loose a massive amount of rat hair from the pipes. Steven insists that it is nothing to worry about, but Claire is hesitant to believe him.

A brief expedition into the crawlspace beneath the house reveals to Claire what the viewing audience is already privy to: ol' Rosie is dead as can be, having been mauled by a preternaturally large rat creature with glowing red eyes and a heart of darkness. A short time later, she discovers that her daughter's bedroom has been completely ransacked (ratsacked?) by the creature, though, amusingly, the only thing left unscathed is a stuffed mouse, wearing a bonnet and sun dress, no less.

Finally, she calls an exterminator and the folksy old Mel Keefer (Albert Hague) arrives on scene to save the day. At least, that is, until Steven gets home and gives Keefer the boot. Worried for their safety, Keefer still calls back later with a warning. This is no ordinary rat that the Houstons are dealing with. This is Das Teufel Nagetier—the Devil Rodent—from European folklore, "huge malevolent rodents with unbelievable cunning and strength", which proves to be something of an understatement.

After this devil rodent knocks over a China cabinet, very nearly crushing Brooke, Steven decides that he has had enough, retrieves his rifle, and starts shooting up the house like a lunatic. Meanwhile, the rat has safely made its way to Brooke's room for a finale so ludicrous that it seems unreal.

We finally get a good look at this creature, and what a sight it is. The rat is roughly the size of the bed that it
Nightmares: Night of the Rat - Big Ass Rat
Big Ass Rat
has cornered Brooke in, and the effect is achieved with some substandard green screen work that might have lived up to its potential if a little more care had gone into it. As it stands, the palate of the rat is much lighter than the rest of the scene and so it is blatantly obvious that it was added in later, without so much as an attempt at color correction. What's more, there is apparently a psychic bond between child and rat that had never been mentioned before, as Brooke insists that all the mama rat wants is her baby returned to her.

Steven rushes out to the trash can where the dead rat that he plucked from the trap in the attic mercifully remains, and brings it to the giant critter. After a few failed attempts at reviving it, she wails like Godzilla and leaps out the window, disappearing into the night.

"Where do you suppose she's going next?", Brooke asks, but the question remains unanswered...though I can't imagine it would be that difficult to track a rat the size of a hippopotamus, even if it is crafty enough to somehow fit into the walls of an average sized American home.

One of the most curious aspects of this segment to me is that it was a story about a giant killer rat, and yet tonally it hit all the points of a ghost story. An unwanted apparition (or, in this case, aberration) arrives and frightens the family with creepy sounds from an unseen source; lights flicker; furniture moves about seemingly of its own will; there are even instances of canned goods flying out of cupboards, the radio turning on and off by itself, and piano keys sounding from an empty room! Some of these can only be explained by the rat possessing telekinetic powers, which wouldn't be the least believable aspect of the story. I would call it Paranormal Rativity, but the mama critter seems unnaturally drawn to the adolescent daughter, so this may as well be POLTERGEIST with a rodent twist.

The Houstons are certainly not the Freelings, though. Steven is not kind and caring, Claire is not lounging seductively/innocently in her underwear, and they are not secretly smoking marijuana in the last vestiges of their carefree hippie youth. The Houstons are yuppies, and terribly unhappy ones at that. Their relationship was strained long before the rat arrived, and they both harbor strong resentment for each other. Steven is an overbearing jerk, almost consistently rude to his wife, who tells him that "You use a sledge hammer most of the time when just a word or two will do!" He gets off on playing the Big Strong Man and bringing home the bacon, and yet seems to resent Claire for not working—though that was undoubtedly his idea. When he tells her, "You know what your problem is? never occurs to you to do something yourself!", it is likely that he is not merely talking about catching rats.
Nightmares: Night of the Rat - The Houstons
The Houstons

Jeffrey Bloom and Christopher Crowe were both credited as writers of the film, though I'm unsure if they collaborated on each segment or if they divided up the work. Bloom also wrote and directed the other genre efforts BLOOD BEACH (1980) and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987), while Crowe scripted the Mark Wahlberg-Reese Witherspoon thriller FEAR (1996). Director Joseph Sargent also helmed THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), and the History Channel mini-series SALEM WITCH TRIALS (2002).

Richard Masur (Steven Houston) showed up in the wacky time travel adventure TIMERIDER: THE ADVENTURES OF LYLE SWANN (1982), John Carpenter's hit THE THING (1982), the possession horror film THE DEMON MURDER CASE (1983), the sci-fi favorite MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985), the voodoo cult thriller THE BELIEVERS (1987), and the Stephen King adaptation IT (1990).

As a young girl, Veronica Cartwright (Claire) appeared in an episode of ONE STEP BEYOND (1960), two episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1960, 1961), and one episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1962), as well as Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1963). Upon growing up, she appeared in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), ALIEN (1979), FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987), CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995), and the Mick Garris-Stephen King-Clive Barker mashup QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997).

Bridgette Andersen (Brooke) was a child model before becoming a promising young actress at age seven. She played the title character in the family comedy SAVANNAH SMILES (1982), portrayed a young Mae West in the biopic that shared her name (1982), and appeared in all six episodes of the short-lived sitcom GUN SHY (1983). She made appearances in a number of other TV shows, including FAMILY TIES (1982), FANTASY ISLAND (1983), and THE GOLDEN GIRLS (1986), but this was her only genre effort before succumbing to a heroin and alcohol overdose at age 21.

Although a decent enough time-killer, NIGHT OF THE RAT is not the best musophobia film in existence. It is not even the best musophobia film released in 1983—that would have to go to OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, with which the character dynamics in this movie share certain similarities. Both films feature upwardly mobile professionals whose drive for status and success is damaging their home life, and the dangerous rodent in their paths is not the cause of their troubles but only a stressor. If anything, their unwanted visitors are a manifestation of their problems, and by overcoming them, they are primed to right their wrongs and work toward establishing a happy home life. It would seem to me that both filmmakers were commenting on the shallowness of a selfish and material existence, which surely isn't an unusual message to convey, though it is unusual that both chose to do so using large rodents as their messenger. I suppose that the very nature of the characters required an urban or suburban setting, which cut down the options a bit—a lion invading the home would have seemed pretty bizarre (but don’t tell that to the director of 2010’s fantastic BURNING BRIGHT)—and of all the possible housebound pests, rats would be the most likely candidate. Killer bedbugs just don’t bring the same level of fear.

If the bedbugs were the size of the bed, though, that might be a different story.


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