Nelson de la Rosa
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4th May 09
Don’t you just wish you were the one who came up with the tagline “He’s the critter from the shitter??
There are experiences in life that are tough to convey with the appropriate level of enthusiasm in mere words. Mutual masturbation sessions in a cobweb-heavy garden shed with a claw-handed retarded lunk named “Mike”. That first tentative grab of a genuine firm boob. The first time you dismembered a Filipino hooker. To this list, make no hesitation in adding the experience of watching Ratman, a rubbish film that’s indescribably rubbish and makes you hope some nutter with a movie camera will one day get round to making Ratman Forever or Ratman Begins.
A British scientist, with one eye on the Nobel prize, injects rat sperm into a monkey. Given that it’s not every day you read the phrase “injects rat sperm into a monkey”, kindly take a few moments to ponder over exactly why you’re not already sitting down watching this movie right now. Or, at the very least, injecting rat sperm into a monkey of your own.
The resulting mutation is Nelson De La Rosa, a midget-actor here outfitted with super-strength, unfortunate dentistry, vicious claws and a really deadly bite. Ugly little bastard but you wouldn’t say that to his (rat)face. (There’s a K.F.C. in Norwich where one of the female counter staff looks like she might have been a photo double for “Ratman”. But you wouldn’t say that to her (rat) face.)
All set to be presented at a genetics conference, “Ratman” instead escapes his captivity and goes on the rampage on a Caribbean island. Here, a New York sleaze ball photographer and his two brain-dead swimsuit models are enjoying some tropical photo-shoots. One of the models is menaced in a laughably extended stalking sequence by a fat vest-wearing street bum until Ratman eventually shows up to rip her to shreds, and the photographer is quickly disposed of, while the surviving girl (Eva Grimaldi) disappears. (The K.F.C. is the one on Prince Of Wales Road.)
Enter David Warbeck as a TV mystery writer on the island searching for inspiration and constantly forgotten by the script despite top billing (Warbeck doesn’t get nearly as good a showcase here as he did in The Beyond and sports a generic US accent too). He flirts with Janet Agren (another Fulci veteran) who’s searching for her missing sister (Grimaldi), and the two take a very long time to figure out the threat posed by you-know-who. (Seriously, it’s worth a trip and you’d be able to get some very slowly presented “fast food” at the same time).
Made at a time when the 80’s Italian splatter boom had long since dwindled away to near-nothingness, Ratman is a cheap-looking, cliché-ridden and ponderous affair…but, hey, it’s Ratman! How can a movie called Ratman be anything but fun? Backed by Stefano Mainetti’s insistent tinkly 80’s electronic score (some of us own this soundtrack, you know), the movie gets a lot of entertainment value from its various un-PC scenes of the screeching, hirsute De La Rosa leaping onto screaming women and clawing them to pieces.
Poorly staged grue is married to outrageously bad, straight-faced dialogue like “Some bloodthirsty animal is killing all these people”. Everyone seems to take it all seriously, and this uncalled-for sincerity adds to the fun factor. Even the clichés are amusingly executed: this film’s obligatory, contrived cat scare doesn’t just feature a cat jumping out of a cupboard for a cheap shock, it features a cat seemingly propelled into the shot by a firework up its arse-hole. Now that’s a cat-scare!
The presence of a make-up man of the calibre of Gino De Rossi may have made this a more satisfyingly gruesome experience, but there’s still much to savour. The horny-handed will appreciate the lovely Grimaldi charitably showing off her fine boobies during photo shoots, running around in her knickers and soaping herself up while groaning with pleasure during a wholly gratuitous full-frontal shower scene watched, of course, by the lurking Ratman. Ratman has something of a crush on Grimaldi, and is fond of scampering around on her bedroom ceiling so he can watch her sleep. The movie’s final 20 minutes, with Grimaldi relentlessly pursued by the tiny terror, is standard final-girl slasher movie stuff with the added novelty of “Ratman” himself.
The flick tries to make its pint-sized villain into a credible threat, but the absurdist dialogue (“The village people were very frightened…”) just draws attention to how ridiculous Ratman is: instead of just kicking him in the face and running away, characters are often seen cowering in fear or standing still just so they can be killed without much in the way of effort. The leads come up with assorted silly excuses to leave Grimaldi on her own (“I have to get my research papers!”) so she can be terrorised and there is one meant-to-be-fear-inducing line of dialogue that could and should have been the tagline …. “Look under the bed…but don’t lean in to far!”. Then again, how could you beat one of the pic’s actual taglines, “The critter from the shitter!”?
Ratman’s poor production values and creative redundancy are typical of the one-way downward spiral taken by Italian horror at this point in time, though at least this movie is infinitely more enjoyable than most of its contemporaries. It even comes up with a hilarious variation on the apocalyptic fade-out of Zombi: Ratman heads to New York City via a luggage bag, and mass-panic is conveyed via the closing sounds of uncontrolled screaming played over a shot of the plane taking off.