When it comes to post-apocalyptic movies they mostly fall into two categories; there is your Road Warrior type of film with its bands of leather clad survivors battling to stay alive in a world savaged by nuclear war, or some such disaster, and then there is your modest science fiction outings like Damnation Alley where we follow a small group of people dealing with redneck survivors bent on rape and murder or radioactive creatures (i.e. giant scorpions and flesh eating cockroaches) that threaten our heroes at every turn, but then there is 1984’s Rats: Night of Terror by director Bruno Mattei and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso which kind of blends the two.
Like most post-apocalyptic movies Rats: Night of Terror begins with an opening crawl to explain to us the world the story takes place in (with added voice over for the reading impaired of course), and in this opening we learn that in 2015 nuclear war devastated all five continents and that the survivors fled underground to begin the period called “The Second Human Race.” We are then told that a century later some men were not happy with the current underground system that was imposed on them and these men fled to the surface to live as their ancestors did. These revolutionaries would be called The Primitives and the two communities would have no contact a long period of time. The narration ends with, “The people still living below ground are sophisticated and despise the primitives, regarding them as savages. This story begins on the surface of the Earth in the year 225 A.B. After the Bomb…” That’s pretty hefty info dump for a movie that basically turns into group of characters getting eaten by rats in a deserted building.
Our cast of characters consists of eleven members of a roving band of primitives; there is Kurt (Ottaviano Dell’Acqua) the groups esteemed leader, next is his second-in-command Taurus (Massimo Vanni), then there is Duke (Henry Luciani) who is clearly jockeying for leadership and the title as biggest asshole, next is Lucifer (Jean-Christophe Brétigniere) whose sole purpose seems to revolve around yelling angrily and screwing around, he’s followed by Noah (Christian Fremont) as the “smart one” who tries to figure out what’s going on, next of course is the group’s mystic Deus (Fasto Lombardo) who is bald, has a weird insignia on his head, and whose job is to apparently spout mystical nonsense whenever appropriate, and then there is Video (Gianni Franco) who got his name from being an expert at video games even though civilization has been wiped out and there are no signs of either Atari or Sega having survived the apocalypse.
Then we have the women of the group; first is Diana (Cindy Leadbetter) who looks to be Kurt’s girl but mostly stands around looking stoic, then because every horror movie needs a hysterical female we have Myrna (Ann-Gisel Glass) as the girl voted most likely to die screaming, and next is Lilith (Moune Duvivier) who is dressed in a cape and fedora and looks to be an escapee from a Japanese manga, and finally there is Chocolate (Geretta Geretta) a black woman who at one point has a bag of flour dumped over her which causes her to dance around singing, “I’m whiter than all of you!”
Though this film is draped in all the proper accoutrements of a post-apocalyptic movie it’s really at heart a slasher flick, sure the cast of characters are dressed in typical Road Warrior fare, and the setting is a decimated city ravaged by nuclear war, but for the next ninety minutes these eleven misfits will be picked off one by one as if they were in a standard horror movie. In fact the first to die is Lucifer and Lilith who break the cardinal rule of having sex in a horror film. Of course there is no machete wielding maniac terrorizing this group but instead it’s a bunch of rats that seem to have developed a taste for human flesh, and because this is a low budget Italian horror movie from the 80s there will be no CGI rats, thus most the attacks involved someone either throwing a rat at one of the actors or dumping a bucket of rats over their heads. I’m also guessing neither PETA nor the American Humane Society were invited to Italy to monitor the production for during the end credits the usual “No animals were harmed” is conspicuous by its absence. In one particularly horrifying scene Noah is attacked by rats and Kurt, their fearless leader, comes up with the brilliant solution to use a flamethrower to kill the little bastards. Needless to say this doesn’t help Noah all that much as he goes from a screaming man covered in rats to crispy corpse covered in burnt rats, but what is truly shocking is seeing the stuntman in full burn flailing around with live rats on him.
This movie doesn’t seem to concern itself with much of anything let alone the ethical treatment of animals, what we do get is gore, nudity and people running around in the dark yelling at each other while being bombarded with rats. There is barely a threadbare of a plot to be found; a gang rides into a desolate town/city, said gang enters what looks to be your debilitated building only to find out that it’s chock full of food and supplies, it even has a water purifier and even a hydroponics garden in the basement. They proceed to make themselves at home and then start dying one by one as the rats attack because our “heroes” have the combined IQ of a head of lettuce. That they don’t take finding a bloody corpse being eaten by rats as a clue that this place may not be all that safe kind of says it all when it comes to these characters and their intelligence.
The only hint of a plot deals with a computer room they find, one that Video is able to get working by just randomly hitting buttons, which later reveals just who the previous occupants were and what happened to them. This found recording informs our idiots that this whole place was part of an experimental station for something called “Return to Light” and that the mission failed. Turns out a recent mutation of rats, one with sharpened intelligence and who will now eat anything not of the same species/race as them, came to consider this outpost to be an intrusion into their territory. The recording warns the listeners to stay in the control room as it’s the only place safe from the rats…the voice is wrong. Very wrong.
Rats: Night of Terror would normally be considered one of those forgettable Italian low budget films with terrible dubbing, with much of the dialog having been changed to make the dubbed English track match the lip movements of the Italian actors, which resulted in such great lines as, “If you must copulate, why don’t you go outside and do it?” Now this does add to the entertainment value of this movie but what truly makes this film memorable is the ending, the incredibly “What the fuck were they smoking” ending. If you don’t want the amazing twist spoiled for you stop reading now.
The movie ends with Kurt, Deus, Video and Chocolate trying to prevent the rats from bashing down the door to the control room, and don’t ask me how rats are able to break a door down (I always thought chewing their way through stuff was their thing), Deus is killed by corpse full of rats, again don’t ask, and Kurt dies trying to buy time for Video and Chocolate to escape. During all this fighting the film keeps cutting to a group of hazmat clad figures in gasmasks climbing out of the sewers and spraying some type of gas around to kill the rats, and eventually Video and Chocolate are rescued by these strangers. Video informs their rescuers that they are glad to have been found by friends, and then Chocolate states, “Once, someone told me they read in a book that we all lived on the Earth together, that we were all brothers. The book was called the Bible, and it said that God created man and animals.” Now this may seem like an odd thing to say to a group people who just saved you from being eaten by rats, but before you even get a chance to digest just how idiotic the drivel she is spouting was one of their rescuers removes his gasmask.
Rat people, they were seriously saved by rat people? Why did we just spend ninety minutes watching a bunch of Road Warrior rejects getting pelted with live rodents when there was motherfucking rat people around? Why wasn’t the movie about these guys? Worse is that the movie just ends there without any further explanation. Did those people who stayed underground eventually turn into rat people? Or are they an offshoot of rats that grew to be large humanoids? Well we will never know and I’m betting the writers of this movie didn’t know either. My guess is that they could only afford one rat mask so that’s all we got. Clearly neither Bruno Mattei nor Claudio Fragasso understood how a “twist” is supposed to work, this is like if The Sixth Sense ended with the reveal that Bruce Willis was an alien all along. Somewhere Rod Serling is rolling in his grave.