Last updated: August 20. 2014 12:57PM - 349 Views
Tom Doty Times Columnist

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A swarm of giant rats threatens Canada in this drive-in classic that delivers the low-budget horror goods with style and clever effects work.

The film opens with college students hearing a lecture about vermin on a class trip. Most nature-run-amok flicks save this information for the halfway point, but this movie dives right in to the deep end. We learn that rats eat one-fifth of the world’s food supply, outnumber us 24-to-1, and cause millions of dollars in property damage every year.

The trip heads back to campus and we meet basketball coach/chaperone, Harris. A gorgeous cheerleader sets her sights on him, but he resists her charms. Meanwhile, a health inspector, Kelly, is busy telling a businessman that his grain will have to be burned (rather than sent to Africa to feed the poor for a tax break) because it contains a snot load of steroids. It also contains some “roid-raging” rats, but they are quick to dart into the sewers as the burn begins.

Poetic justice department bulletin: The first victim turns out to be stray cat who finds that curiosity does turns out to be lethal to felines.

That night, one of Harris’ students is bitten by one of the critters, which brings Harris and Kelly into the same orbit. It’s love at first sight.They enjoy dinner that night as the rats continue their reign of terror. While Kelly and Harris make like lovebirds, her field inspector is sent into the city’s tunnels to trace the attack route. He finds it but is soon ground into so much hamburger by our angry rodents.

It all builds to an exciting climax that finds the city attacked on three fronts. The creatures mount assaults on a bowling alley, a movie theater and a subway station. These scenes generate plenty of rat carnage but also show how useless people can be when confronted by mutated vermin. Most get crushed in stampedes, which only makes it easier for the rats to get at the good bits of their victims. It all comes down to a “Hail Mary” attempt to blow up the main nest by our romantic leads, who face down the vermin horde during the opening of a new subway stop.

This is fun stuff and it works thanks to a tongue-in-cheek attitude by all of the talent involved. This is one of those flicks that was blessed by a low budget, rather than cursed. Everyone brings their A-game here. The script lays it all out, thanks to Charles Eglee. He would go on to write for “Dexter” and “The Walking Dead,” but he started out here.

The director is Robert Clause and this guy knows how to stage an action sequence. He got his start working for Golden Harvest Studios, where he directed Bruce Lee in the classic, “Enter the Dragon.”

The cast is seasoned, too, and includes Sam Groom and Sara Botsford as the romantic leads. You also get 1980s scream queen Lisa Langlois, as the predatory cheerleader, and Scatman Crothers, as the unfortunate health inspector.

The extras here are a hoot and include a segment on the effects. Turns out the rats are played by Dachshunds in suits. They look pretty convincing in the long shots and you have to appreciate the six months of training it took to get them ready to perform in the film. There are also recollections by the cast which reveal that nobody read the book it was based on (“The Rats,” by James Herbert, so good it generated a sequel), Crothers fought the cold temperatures by hitting the bong like Cheech and Chong, and that the rat sound effects are a combination of leopard snarls and pig squeals.

1982, rated R.

Best Lines

“My guess is he picked a very bad place to have a heart attack.”

“You always hear stories about super rats.”

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