George P. Cosmatos, 1983
Starring: Peter Weller, Louis Del Grande, Kenneth Welsh, Shannon Tweed
"Two forces have claimed the house. Only one will survive."
The wonderful Peter Weller plays Bart, a business man who has it all. He’s working his way up through an important company, he recently bought and restored a brownstone in New York, his wife is hot, and his son is adorable. When they go on vacation and Bart is forced to stay behind for work, he discovers a rat in his home and begins a quest to get rid of the pesky vermin that descends into madness and violence.
Despite the mind-blowing plot, this isn’t a perfect film. It’s a slow burner that takes awhile to get interesting. Unlike most other animals attack films, this is a psychological thriller, and is primarily the story of one man’s mental deterioration in the face of urbanized nature. It’s meant to be menacing and claustrophobic, but it doesn't really succeed and winds up being cartoonish much of the time. The effects are silly, there is little in the way of plot and the rat isn’t particularly menacing. The real reason to watch this is the amazing Peter Weller. First of all, it’s Peter Weller. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Robocop (1987), Naked Lunch (1991), etc. Enough said. His hilarious conversations with the rat help to get past some of the slow moments.
Though this is most definitely Peter Weller's film, there are a number of other interesting personalities associated with it. This Canadian-American production was helmed by Greek/Italian director George Cosmatos, who worked with Otto Preminger before beginning his own career with some great action films like Rambo: The First Blood Part II (1985) and Cobra (1986), the sci-fi film Leviathan (1989), which also stars Peter Weller, and the western throwback Tombstone (1993). Producers Claude Héroux and Pierre David produced The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983) and many of Cronenberg’s other films from this period. Wellers’ costar Louis Del Grande also appeared in Scanners. Kenneth Welsh -- Windom Earle from the second season of Twin Peaks -- has a small part, as does Playboy model, erotica actress, and wife of Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, who appears briefly as Bart’s wife. Topless, because why not.
Cosmatos adds a certain credibility to many of the rat close up or POV shots, though I am completely unable to find rats scary or creepy. There are some truly incredible scenes in Of Unknown Origin, my favorite of which involves the increasingly insane Bart’s fantasy of a children’s birthday party where a rat bursts out of the cake and terrifies everyone. Other great moments include a lengthy rant about rats at a fancy dinner party, Bart watching a lot of footage of rats eating, and a wonderful moment where he tries to take on the rat in a kitchen pantry and winds up on the ground, covered in flour and other food the rat has gotten into. No matter what he does -- traps, a psychotic, medieval looking weapon, poison, a cat, hand-to-hand combat -- he can’t get rid of this rat. Not only does the rat destroy his home, it drives him to madness and then has the audacity to attack him multiple times.
Though I haven’t read it, the film is based on a book, The Visitor, by Chauncey G. Parker III. I don’t know anything about Parker other than that his name is amazing, though I have my doubts about his novel. I’m not sure if I can recommend this film, but some of you will love it for the simple fact that it is PETER WELLER VS. THE RAT. The ending must be seen to be believed. Fortunately, it is out on DVD from Warner.