BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Another take on Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.

Musophobia, or the fear of rats and mice, is one of the most common phobias. This should not be surprising, as rats are legitimately frightening creatures capable of savagely attacking a human and spreading lethal diseases. One acquaintance of mine can testify to their scariness, having had several unpleasant encounters with them during his childhood, including stepping on a rat and happening upon a mob of rats devouring a dead dog in an abandoned building.

Consequently, it is only natural that rats have been a go-to subject for horror, ranging from stories such as H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and James Herbert’s The Rats. Director Bruno Mattei’s Rats: Night of Terror may not live up to these classics, but it still manages to deliver an enjoyable hour and a half of thrills. The film follows a group of post-apocalyptic nomads who stumble into an abandoned settlement (composed of sets that had previously appeared in Once Upon a Time in America) that appears to have all the food and water they will ever need. Unfortunately, it boasts some prior inhabitants who don’t appreciate interlopers in their rodent paradise.

Rats delivers the primary thing one wants from a film like this: gore. Mattei thinks up some interesting ways for his rats to kill people that go beyond simply swarming and devouring them, in particular one scene that manages to evoke Alien while giving it a particularly queasy twist. (The scene is graphic enough that it caused Rats to encounter censorship issues in Ontario, Canada.) Although the gore effects reflect the film’s limited budget, they still manage to elicit a cringe or two. Beyond the bloodshed, Mattei manages to inject some genuine tension into certain scenes, as when some of the nomads had to tiptoe their way through a small army of rats.

The film also benefits from a reasonably decent cast for a low-budget Italian genre movie. Geretta Geretta of Demons fame appears as Chocolate, the lone black person in the troupe of nomads, bringing a certain level of charisma to the proceedings. (Geretta gave an interview to Delirium magazine reminiscing about her time working on Rats several years ago.) Fausto Lombardi (credited as Tony Lombardo) is also interesting in the role of Deus, the group’s resident mystic who goes around with a triangle drawn on his head. At times, I found myself wishing that they had concentrated more on Deus than the nomads’ leader, a rather uninspiring macho man type played by Ottaviano Dell’Acqua.

The film does have some issues, however. In particular, some of the dialogue is straight-up clunky. For instance, when one of the nomads rebels against him, the leader angrily warns that “Next time, I won’t be len-I-ent!” enunciating each syllable to comic effect. More disturbingly, in some scenes, the cast actually appear to be throwing rats around and actually hurting them, to the point that the Rifftrax version of the film has a disclaimer warning that the movie “Includes some scenes of violence against rats.” Geretta Geretta, while not directly addressing the issue of animal abuse during the filming, admits that some rats died on set and continued to be used in the background by Mattei, to the point that the set began to smell.

The film also features the horror standby of characters acting in incredibly stupid ways, to the point that viewers start to lose sympathy for them. For example, in one scene, the characters board up the entrances to the room they are holed up in to protect themselves from the rats, but fail to notice an open window. One guess what happens next.

Nevertheless, Rats: Night of Terror is well worth watching. It delivers all the thrills and fun you could reasonably expect from a film like this, and there are certainly worse entries in the killer rat genre (cough…Deadly Eyes).

Rats: Night of Terror can be viewed for free on Tubi.

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