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.

Friday, December 5, 2014

[Musophobia] Of Unknown Origin (1983)

Of Unknown Origin - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
Bart Hughes is one of many financial big shots that were all the focus of the 1980s, just this side shy of being a yuppie. He and his wife Meg are nearly done remodeling their townhouse, their young son Peter is happy and healthy, and Bart is practically a shoe-in for a big promotion, so all-in-all, life is pretty damn good. Meg and Peter go on vacation with her parents, but Bart has to stay behind for his job. What should have been a fairly relaxing bachelor respite proves to be anything but, beginning practically the moment his family walks out the door.

It all starts with a malfunctioning dishwasher that floods the kitchen. This is a situation that Bart is obviously ill-suited to deal with, as evidenced by the two tiny dish towels that he wields to cope with the gallons upon gallons of water. He quickly calls in Clete, a professional all-around handyman, who tells him that a rat has chewed through one of the dishwasher's tubes. Rather than immediately call in an exterminator to deal with the problem, he allows Clete to peer pressure him into dealing with it on his own, like a real man.

Bart lays down traps upon traps and poisons upon poisons, but this rat is always one step ahead of him. A full-fledged war is waged between man and rodent that threatens to drive Bart to the brink of madness and leave his home, if not his life, in shambles.

This is a man-versus-nature horror film of sorts, but it actually takes many of its cues from war films and home invasion flicks. Bart becomes a hardened veteran over the course of this movie’s running time, one who threatens to suffer a psychological break due to the horrors that he has seen. It is APOCALYPSE NOW dialed way down, or FUNNY GAMES sidestepped far to the left. It is not THE BIRDS, ARACHNOPHOBIA, or THE SWARM, as it does not operate on a level of nearly that magnitude.

Yes, it’s a fairly simple storyline, but that's actually one of the film's strengths. It doesn't get bogged down with complicated plotlines or too many characters. Sure, we have Bart's family, his secretary, assorted coworkers, and an army surplus dealer that all pass through, but they are all of little consequence to the story. The only human being aside from Bart who is of any real value is Clete, and the story would remain complete (albeit slightly less entertaining) even without him. Were you to cut out the extraneous material, and boil this down to its purest form, you would have a one-man, single-set stage play of the most ingenious design.

Bart's wife and son were scarcely seen in the film, save for the beginning, the ending, and a few rather
Of Unknown Origin - The Big Book Of Rats
The Big Book Of Rats
pointless phone call interstitials that were there for no other reason than to prevent us from forgetting that those characters even existed. The sole purpose of Bart's family seemed to be to give him something to fight for, lest fighting for his property wasn't seen as enough in some people's eyes. They were pretty thin characterizations that didn't add much to the story or to the character of Bart, but they didn't take anything away from it, either.

Clete, as played by Louis Del Grande, was an unusual character, a blue collar philosopher somewhat obsessed with rats and the lore that surrounds them. He rather reminded me of some great hunter who had spent his life chasing a mythical beast, and was now passing his wisdom onto the next generation of hunters, as if the rat was a great white whale, he was Ahab, and Bart was Ahab, Jr. Surely it was no coincidence when Bart grabbed a copy of Moby Dick off the shelf to read. Indeed, many sources call this movie an "urban Moby Dick", which isn't that far off the mark.

Bart's secretary Lorrie adds very little to the proceedings, either, other than introducing an element of temptation. When the cat's away, the mice will play, so to speak. The two of them had a mildly flirtatious relationship from the start, but it culminates in a kiss that is rudely interrupted by the greasy little house guest, and it goes no further than that.

Of Unknown Origin - Bart & The Bat From Hell
Bart & The Bat From Hell
By the end of the film, what had first seemed to be an idyllic life for Bart now seemed like an illusion. You grew to understand how much of his time was consumed by the remodeling project and his job, and how little of it was spent with his family. But in the wake of the rat invasion, both the career and the house that have dominated Bart's time for so long are virtually destroyed, and when his family returns, he has obviously never been so happy to see them. Any romantic notions of his secretary have been squashed, and they can begin to rebuild their lives from the ground up.

Meaning that the rat wasn't there to end Bart's life, no matter what the script may have you believe. Rather, it was there to save it.

Despite any of the minor complaints listed above, this is still a fantastic and relatively obscure gem, quite possibly the ultimate Man Vs. Rat movie (which is a dubious honor, to be sure). Bart's character arc even seems believable, which is quite an accomplishment, seeing as how he's fully decked out in battle gear and swinging a weaponized baseball bat for the final confrontation. Sometimes it is the little things in life that drive us mad.
Of Unknown Origin - The Visitor by Chauncey G. Parker
The Visitor by Chauncey G. Parker

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN was based on the novel The Visitor by Chauncey G. Parker III, an English
professor with a long standing role in politics, having served as an advisor to U.N. representative Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban missile crisis. He wrote only one other novel, In Sheep's Clothing, of which very little information seems available.

It was adapted to the screen by scriptwriter Brian Taggert, who also wrote the made-for-TV CARRIE clone THE SPELL (1977), the Michael Ironside thriller VISITING HOURS (1982), POLTERGEIST III (1988, with Gary Sherman), and THE OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991).

It was helmed by director George P. Cosmatos, who worked with some vintage beauties in his day—Raquel Welch in THE BELOVED (1971), Sophia Loren in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976), and Claudia Cardinale in ESCAPE TO ATHENA (1979). He traded in the beauties for beefcake in the Sylvester Stallone action flicks RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985) and COBRA (1986), followed them up with the western TOMBSTONE (1993), and ended on a low note with Charlie Sheen in SHADOW CONSPIRACY (1997).

Shannon Tweed, who portrayed Meg Hughes, fits squarely into the director's wheelhouse of lovely ladies. She had appeared on the soap operas DAYS OF OUR LIVES and FALCON CREST, and the television movie DROP-OUT FATHER (1982), but this was her first theatrical role. She continued to guest star in countless TV shows and appear in B-movies and erotic thrillers, including CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), NIGHT EYES II (1991) and THREE (1993), and VICTIM OF DESIRE (1995)—though I like to think the highlight of her career was an appearance on HOMEBOYS FROM OUTER SPACE in 1997. A cursory glance at her IMDB page shows that she has played a doctor an inordinate amount of times—at least nine—and I'm willing to bet that most if not all of them were practitioners of erotic medicine.

Bart's secretary Lorrie was played by Jennifer Dale, who appeared in the penile dysfunction drama YOUR TICKET IS NO LONGER VALID (1981), played Jacqueline Kennedy in the mini-series HOOVERS VS. THE KENNEDYS: THE SECOND CIVIL WAR (1987), and starred in the serial killer thriller PAPERTRAIL (1998). She has a substantial amount of geek cred, as well, having appeared in episodes of the ROBOCOP television series (1994), TEKWAR (1995), and MUTANT X (2001), and supplying numerous voices for the animated X-MEN series (1992-1996) and the SILVER SURFER series (1998), as well as a pair of X-MEN video games.

The role of Bart was filled by Peter Weller, who is of course best known as ROBOCOP (1987), but also starred in THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984), and NAKED LUNCH (1991). He also had a stint on season 5 of 24 (2006), season 5 of DEXTER (2010), and season 7 of SONS OF ANARCHY (2013), and he voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the animated films BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 and PART 2 (2012, 2013). He teamed up again with director Cosmatos in the 1989 flick LEVIATHAN, but sadly the rat was not invited back.

Of Unknown Origin - Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday
The rat, who unfortunately was never given a name, may have gone on to bigger and better roles, but it is hard to tell in the world of animal actors. We'll just have to be content with the disgusting close-ups in this film of her greasy fur, soulless eyes and gnarled feet, and the absolutely terrifying scenes of her lunging out of the toilet and bursting out of a cake at a children's birthday party...and all of the interminable nightmares that such things doubtlessly bring.


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