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A review of the Shameless DVD release. It'll set you back £6 on amazon.
This Italian horror from 1988 has one of the dumbest premises I can think of. A geneticist in (I think) the Dominican Republic creates a hideous monkey/rat hybrid. The diminutive critter soon escapes, and predictably has a taste for human flesh (even more predictably, he seems to prefer the taste of attractive young women). An American fashion model called Marilyn goes missing on a photoshoot, and her sister comes to look for her, helped out by a thriller writer. The bodies pile up and the police are baffled - who can save us from the claws of Ratman?
I get the feeling this film was dreamed up purely as a vehicle for the tiny lead actor, Nelson de la Rosa (he later played Brando's very small sidekick in The Island of Dr Moreau). Only about two feet tall, he's described on the IMDB as the world's smallest actor, and who's to say they're wrong? (He sadly passed away in 2006). He has really stupid looking fake teeth and claws, and appears to be wearing a brown romper suit. But he is quite creepy, at least when he isn't seen close up. Exploitative though it no doubt is, there is something uncanny about an adult human being that small, and even though he obviously isn't very strong or fast in real life, he does manage to pose a decent threat to the human characters.
I really wasn't expecting this to be any good, but at least in some respects it works quite well. It has a pretty decent stab at being scary, and although there's always an edge of silliness to the horror set pieces, there is some nice suspense. The direction is mostly bog-standard, but the way Ratman himself is filmed - done in such a way as to stop us getting too good a look at him, and generally kept in shadows - is quite effective.
The film has the gumption to be quite nasty, although the gore effects are perfunctory. The plot is predictable, and often a bit too dumb. The ending, sadly, is too stupid to work. The set piece where someone is stalked by a murderer and ends up hiding in the same wardrobe as Ratman would be stupid under the best circumstances, but the fact that the murderer had never been mentioned before that scene and is never alluded to again takes it into the realm of insulting. And how does crossing a rat with a monkey result in a creature with powerfully venomous claws and near-human intelligence?
The dialogue is awful - a non-stop string of clichés. The hero and heroine meet while they're trying to hail the same cab, the police tell the crime writer to leave the investigation to the professionals, the scientist believes that his ludicrous creation will win him the Nobel Prize, etc. None of the dialogue is funny (apart from the line "the village people were very frightened", which summoned up entirely the wrong image). It's so generic it could have been lifted randomly from any number of other films.
There are many more problems. Despite being only 80 minutes, there's a hell of a lot of padding (we seem to spend an eternity watching a plane land). The 'jungle' where the model and her photographer go is obviously a park (there are concrete paths!). The incidental music is a bit too much like Airwolf or something (otherwise the only really 80s stuff is Marilyn's outfits and makeup. This feels like it should have been made five to ten years earlier than it was). The film is dubbed appallingly, with garbled, hurried, and seemingly improvised lines trying desperately to vaguely match with the actors' lip movements.
The actors are a mixed bag. Mostly they're apathetic bit players. The hero and heroine are played by David Warbeck and Janet Agren, both Italian exploitation veterans, who are fine, but have the unmistakable air of good actors slumming it in a cheap horror movie. (There's a whole treatise to be written on the ways good actors try to come out of dire films with their dignity intact.)
Marilyn the model is played by Eva Grimaldi, who's very sexy when she isn't plastered in ludicrous make-up that makes her look alike a cross between a drag queen and a clown-porn actress (yes, there is such a thing as clown porn. Google it. Unless you're at work). She's involved in a lot of gratuitous nudity, which is more than welcome. (She has one shower scene in which she moans sexily while washing her arms, for ages. I never knew women in showers do that! The mysteries of woman, eh?)
Anyway, it has plenty of faults. It's cheap and too long and not made that well. But it's much better than I was expecting. If you are indulgent towards such things then this may work for you.
The DVD has quite bad picture quality a lot of the time, but Shameless claim that this is the most complete print (I'm sure they're right), and it doubtless had to be pieced together from various sources. The only extras are a short but pretty good trailer for Ratman, and trailers for some of Shameless' other releases. As ever, the cover annoyed me ("The critter from the shitter", for god's sake - there's one scene where Ratman emerges from a toilet). The blurb on the back also contains a whopping great spoiler, so I'd advise against reading it.
Shameless are putting out an interesting selection of modestly effective, interesting Italian exploitation, which is entirely creditable, and I'll watch for any future releases with interest.
There is something ultra-special about Shameless Films 12th release Ratman that has left me wanting it months before its release. Back in the day when you could get to see Ratman (Aka Quelle Villa In Fondo Al Parco) via dodgy video's and when I never knew my arse from my elbow I avoided movies like Ratman instead favouring the latest Friday The 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street. Then in the late 1990's when my appreciations of horror widened I came to think of Ratman rather affectionately and strived to get hold of it, regardless of whether it was any good or not; I'm sure fans of the genre will be in similar situations. Now 20 years after you could last see the film Shameless pulls a blinder by releasing the movie for the first time in the UK.
Ratman is set on a Caribbean island is the story of a part human part rat creature whole its scientific father, for want of a better term calls Mousey (odd considering it's a Rat hybrid). The reason for creating this "hybrid" is to enhance science. The day prior to showing Mousey to the great scientific public, he escapes his birdcage home, which he can hardly fit in. Being an un-socialised individual Mousey heads for the beach where he quickly massacres a man. Later Mousey strikes again attacking a young woman, causing the shock to make her die of a heart attack. Through mistaken identity Terry (Janet Agren) is called to the island, believing the dead woman is her missing sister. Hitching up with crime novel writer Fred Williams (David Warbeck), the pair becomes amateur sleuths desperate to hunt down the killer and discover the reason behind the rat like claw marks and bites on the bodies.
I love the work the guys over at Shameless put into releasing a DVD, they are already fighting a losing battle to some degree because in the UK those into horror from this generation will more often than not opt to watch the latest pile of dogs mess that passes as a horror movie, they might even say something really dirty like "The Tripper by David Arquette is a really good film!" Not only are they naive in there horror tastes, but they also deserve a good slap round the face. Sadly this time round while Ratman is a great DVD for a horror enthusiast to own, falls very much into the Manhatan Baby camp of Italian horror movies you must own, but probably will never watch again.
Ratman is abysmal, it's drawn out and boring, padded out with bits of nudity and humour in times that may or may not mean to be horror. Our little killer a real life small person the late Nelson De La Rosa, (who many might know best from the 1996 version of Island Of Dr Moreau staring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando) but be more like a rat than he appears because he manages to manipulate himself in and out of a toilet to attack his prey. While I can understand the logic of this, and I'm kind of justifying this manipulation in my own head because it's never said that's how he does it; the sad reality is that regardless of how small he is he wouldn't even get his head through the U-bend. In fairness you could have hours of fun just trying to figure out how he does it, but don't go expecting a cast iron answer.
I was a bit disappointed with the movie because of that whole anticipation thing. Not only did the plot seem reasonable, and the cheesy trailer lure me in the fact that it had two Italian legends in the form of New Zealander David Warbeck, and 70's horror legend Janet Agren (the pair reunited after last working on the far superior 1976 movie Panic), to bolster reasons to watch. While Warbeck does reasonably well, with dreadful dubbing heseems strangely missing for most of the movie, while Agren bothers the hell out of me, "For God sake kill her!" I was shouting inside; as she vaguely looked into the screen, you know that look that you give a sick relative?
The horror is not well paced, you sit for ages waiting for something to happen and you get several things happen at the same time, not much of a surprise that its director Giulano Carnimeo was nearing the end of his career, with one final turkey to spew out after this. The only joy I really got from the movie was bit of a laugh at the end, obviously meant to inspire fear; one thing this horror offering could not do even if you're the most weakened to the world of horror.
What annoyed me a lot was the musical score, which was not only incredibly repetitive but sounded an awful lot like Guido and Maurizio De Angelis' score for Lambert Bava's A Blade In The Dark. It's almost like composer Stefano Mainetti had been so impressed with Blade's score that he would drag it kicking and screaming into another movie, making the odd change here and there in the hope that nobody would notice; believe me listen to the two scores separately from the movies and you'd have difficulty placing which score belonged with which movie. Bizarrely Mainetti has the dubious honour of being the only composer to have written for both horror maestro Lucio Fulci, and Pope John Paul the second, nice combo.
As I said i'm glad I saw it, and chances are any genuine horror movie fan will feel the same, but it's not a movie I'd ever watch again. But with Shameless turning out such high calibre stuff, two Turkeys in a collection of 12 titles so far is a forgivable mistake. Technically speaking though, to achieve such a feat as to bring this title to DVD regardless of how bad it is hardly a mistake anyway, so forgive them all the same.
About the DVD:
The movie itself is of varying quality, the reason for this being to preserve the performance of the legendary late actor David Warbeck, although this version is presented with an awful dub for the actor; sad because Warbeck's native language is English. I personally am happy to accept a print of varying standards in order to get a more complete vision, and if we are to be honest I'm not saying the print quality is that bad either, it just goes hazy ever so occasionally, a bit like soft porn.
Shameless cover takes a big nudge and a wink from Spielberg's Jaws, with the shark being replaced by a giant rat (teeth still however exposed), and a woman bare breasted floating on the water's surface; the rather bizarre but explained "He's The Critter From The Shi**er" tagline in a prominent place on the cover. The now all too familiar Giallo (Yellow) colours of a Shameless release adorn the cover as its backdrop. I know I've said it before but each time I see a Shameless DVD I'm transported back to the days when VTC was a popular if not obscure video company that's titles filled video libraries across the country, VTC have to be my all-time bad taste company, and the prime reason why I was drawn to Shameless titles before I knew more about the company. Shameless draw attention the too fact that the running time is 78:08 minutes long, though due to various versions across the passage of time I'm not sure if this is fully uncut, or whether it's as much footage as they could get their grubby little hands on. Shameless state that it's the most complete version ever deserved. It's certainly longer than other releases overseas in the past. Whichever the case, I'm pretty sure the BBFC in fact 100% so never made any cuts to the movie. On the reverse of the cover is the original poster art, showing a dead woman and a giant spirit like hand coming from the base of a house, presumably to add a further dimension of terror.
The DVD comes with a few trailers for current and future releases such as: The Frightened Woman, My Dear Killer, Baba Yaga, The Black Cat, New York Ripper, and Manhattan Baby. There is also the trailer for Ratman, which I believe is a mix of old style trailer and Shameless's own personal touch, presumably because of foreign influence in the trailer (i.e. Italian titles).
The guys at Shameless put such hard work into their releases, and if you visit the forum of their website you'll find they not only actively communicate with their buying audience but ask their opinions. If you enjoy your horror movies then invest some cash in this or any Shameless title, because the more they sell the more likely they are of in the future being able to afford to purchase the movies that currently they cannot afford but that genuine horror fans want to see.
Ratman is available from high street HMV's for £13.99 or from play.com and Amazon for £9.99 or £12.99 respectively.