Some years back, I had a basement apartment in a big, huge house in Connecticut. For a few consecutive days, I noticed that my cat had been paying real close attention to a closet door- he was a like a little sentry, sitting about 6 inches away and just staring at the crack under the door.
Then, one day, I heard the scratching.
I opened the door, and there was a friggin' RAT sitting on my suitcase, looking at me. A rat. In my house. A rat- in my house! I wasn't as cliched as the housewife-on-tabletop-going "eeeeek!", but I shut the closet door real fast. I called my landlord, and his solution was to simply drop off 2 boxes of D-Con. Well, I finally worked up my nerve and opened the closet door...and found a hole in the floor, where the rat (or rats) was getting in and out. I peered down into the hole, ready to pour the D-Con, and saw something glint in the light. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a tube of toothpaste. And next to it? A bar of soap! I looked up on the closet shelves, and sure enough, the little bastard had chewed through boxes in order to abscond with my health and beauty aids! Living in my house was one thing, but stealing my shit was quite another. I was pissed! My toothpaste was Tom's of Maine, too- no ghetto-ass AIM or something. It's premium, man, and I had to suffer the indignity of having it stolen by a rodent. I dumped the D-Con down the hole, and the little thief was never heard from again.
Having read my tale of woe, you can be sure I sympathized heavily with Peter "RoboCop" Weller's character in today's feature, 1983's Of Unknown Origin. Based on the novel The Visitor by Chauncey Parker III (yes, there's actually someone named "Chauncey", and of course he's "the third"), the movie centers around Bart Hughes (Weller), a fastidious executive who duels to the death with a big mama rat after she invades his newly restored brownstone.
Now, this box art just cracks me up. If your movie is a part of the animals-gone-amuck genre, just go with it. Don't try to sex up a movie about a rat the size of a koala bear! Sheesh. Although, between this image and "Introducing Shannon Tweed" appearing in the credits, I will admit I was a little nervous as to what awaited me when the DVD started. Don't worry- there's no human/rodent nooky at all. Nor, in fact, does Of Unknown Origin sink as far into shlockiness as most other entries in the killer-animals genre (see 1975's Bug, wherein intelligent cockroaches spell out "WE LIVE" on a wall). It's very telling that Bart's bedtime reading is Moby Dick, as he becomes so obsessed with outwitting the rat that he nearly loses his mind. He stops going to work, he takes to wearing baseball cleats around the house...the rat pushes him to the brink when she chews through the traps Bart lays and takes to destroying his house.
Without a doubt, the film is carried by Weller's intense performance. He's one of those actors that I feel could be a little off-balance offscreen as well, and when Bart begins his descent into Vendettasville, it's Weller who keeps it believable. There's lots of nice close-ups of rat parts- from the scaly feet to the beady eyes to the long, yellow teeth. Bleh!
During a dinner with company executives, Bart is distracted, thinking about his little problem at home. He's been researching rats in a "know thy enemy" kinda way, and at the table he spouts off alot of neato rat facts, which I will now share with you:
-One-fifth of all the world's grain is destroyed by rats. This amounts to 5 billion pounds in the US alone.
-A rat can wriggle through a hole the size of a quarter.
-Rats can eat through lead and concrete, exerting a force equivalent to 24,000lbs per square inch per tooth! Wow!
-In less than 3 years, 2 rats gettin' it on can result in excess of 20 million baby rats! Gasp!
-RE: The Bubonic Plague...honey, don't get me started. Don't
even get me started!
I should qualify this review by stating that I love animals gone amuck movies, particularly the films of the 70s and 80s, like Pigs and Slugs. I think they're great fun. There's been a small resurgence of these in the last few years (yes, I saw Killer Buzz), but the animals are for the large part CGI-rendered, which leaves me cold. Personally, I'd rather see an actor battle a rubber slug on a string than "brush off" something that's not even there.
This movie ain't Food of the Gods, or even Gnaw: Food of the Gods 2. Nope: it's one man vs one rat. All that's missing is a steel cage. I give it 6-and-a-half out of 10 pilfered tubes of Tom's.