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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Killer Rats (2003)

"Flesh eating predators"


The Brookdale Psychiatric Hospital is a crumbling, run-down institution which is ideal for rich people to send their teenagers for rehab without attracting unwanted attention from the media. An undercover reporter poses as a patient in order to get a scoop on a story but what she didn't expect to uncover was an infestation of genetically altered rats, the results of long-forgotten experiments by Doctor Winslow, the head of the institute.


Killer rat films or 'ratsploitation' - somewhere out there is a huge sub-genre of these little bleeders. Apart from being disgusting creatures which spread disease, rats aren't exactly up there with great white sharks and grizzly bears when it comes to the fear factor. So why are there so many? There's only so much one can do with a film about killer rats. They're too small to be a threat on their own, unless you super-size them, so you know at some point there's going to be a scene with a whole horde of rats causing mayhem. Judging by the rest of Nu Image's atrocious creature features, my hopes for seeing anything other than an abominable waste of time were not high. And low and behold, Rats made sure that any little hope I had was actually exceeded. It's not going to be on anyone's DVD shelf but the ninety-two minutes were nowhere near as bad as I had predicted it to be.

Rats had some minor potential for extra marks in my eventual rating but the problems are the effects. I know this is low budget but come on! The special effects are terrible and even worse, they're shown a lot. To show the fact that they're super-intelligent rats, they're given glowing red eyes to differentiate them from normal rats. Ooh, scary! The attacks are filled with silly-looking CGI rats which don't look to be interacting with their victims in the slightest form which is a bit of a shame considering that it's clear some real rats were used in the build-up scenes. We also get a couple of rat POV shots as they home in on their victims which seem a little out of place. These are rodents, not the Predator using its thermal vision! And, as I mentioned at the start, the only way to really emphasise the threat of rats is to super-size them so we get the obligatory giant rat at the end of the film. This looks even worse than the regular rats and kills any potential pay-off that the build-up was gearing towards. It's all well and good trying to make rats scary but the hilarious effects just ruin the illusion.

The mental institution is reliable horror setting and there are plenty of dark, damp and deserted places in the hospital to create something of an atmosphere. But as soon as these awful rats scurry onto the screen, everything goes up in smoke. There's a weird sub-plot about the janitor being able to telepathically communicate with them and command them but he's soon dispatched when things don't go the rats way. At least the majority of the gore is of the traditional kind and there's plenty of it here with various decomposing bodies and bloody rat attacks. The rats get well fed throughout the film too and like any classic creature feature flick, unnecessary characters are introduced in the same scene that they're killed off simply to up the body count.

Ron Perlman pops up in a small role as the head doctor in the hospital. So it's not a major role and it's a pretty embarrassing film to have your résumé but at least he doesn't slum too badly, probably because the role has pretty much zero development throughout the film. I guess he needs something to do to pass the time between major roles but from the film's point of view, surely a cheaper actor in that throwaway role would have freed up more cash for the effects. Perlman starred in this around the time he started getting bigger supporting roles in Star Trek: Nemesis, Enemy at the Gates and Blade II

The rest of the cast are acceptable enough in their stereotypical roles and with the daft script not giving them too much to do, it's hard to be too critical. Put it this way, I've seen a lot worse in this type of film. Don't even think about the fact that this hospital consists of around three medical staff, one janitor and about seven patients. Just go with the flow and remember what film you're watching. Director Tibor Takács would go on to make a slew of these genre flicks for Sy Fy with the likes of Mosquito Man, Ice Spiders, Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep and Mega Snake. He certainly knew his killer animal formula.


Final Verdict

It's hard to say that I enjoyed Rats because it was a bit of a slog to get through at times but with a bigger budget for the special effects, this could have worked a lot better as a low grade shocker. As it stands, Rats delivers an adequate and inoffensive dose of grade-z hokey.


Killer Rats

Also Known As: Rats

Director(s): Tibor Takács

Writer(s): Jace Anderson (screenplay), Boaz Davidson (story), Adam Gierasch (screenplay)

Actor(s): Sara Downing, Amy Parks, Bailey Chase, Michael Zelniker, Sean Cullen, Michael Hagerty, Tarri Markel, Ron Perlman

Duration: 92 mins


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