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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Susan: So, you're saying we have a rat problem?
DVD ReviewThe words "made-for-television horror movie" have generally had a bad connotation for me over the years, because more often than not these films are notoriously and noticeably short on budget, effects, and more importantly, genuine horrific chills. There have been a few that have risen above the ranks of the usual crud (I still get shivery recalling Trilogy of Terror or Gargoyles), and Fox's television movie The Rats is definitely a modern-day equivalent of one of those pieces of wonderful campy goodness.
The title of this one says all you really need to know about the plot, and it is nothing more than a rather loose, but certainly fun, excuse for a massive army of ravenous rats to cause havoc in downtown New York City. This one harkens back to the good old days of "animal attack" movies, and the advent of CG effects has allowed a director like John Lafia (Child's Play 2) the over-the-top luxury of creating a truly undulating mountain of chittering, flesh-eating rodents.
Susan Costello (Twin Peaks' Madchen Amick) is the Operations Manager of a Macy's/Bloomingdale's-like store called Garsons, and when a customer is bitten by a rat in a dressing room, she has to call in super exterminator Jack Carver (Vincent Spano) to clean things up. That's really the plot in a nutshell, and the rest of The Rats centers on their eventual discovery of what we, the viewers, already know to be a giant colony of aggressive rats living underneath the city.
With his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard), Jack and Susan investigate the infestation, speaking of "dispersal patterns" (re: poop) and "points of entry," and the story moves underground where there are plenty of X-Files-worthy sequences involving dark, drippy caverns illuminated by powerful flashlight beams. The process of discovery follows genre-familiar paths here, and is just filler between rat attacks, including a terrific scene where a maintenance man gets some unwanted furry visitors while trying to watch The Fly on television. There is even a clever, tongue-in-cheek Jaws homage, when a flood of CG rats invade a crowded indoor pool.
There isn't a lot of wasted subplots in The Rats, and aside from very minor Susan/Jack wooing, the film pretty much barrels along its merry way, culminating in a wild climax involving a literal sea of rats that is so outrageous as to be nothing short of complete entertainment. I'll admit that this one caught me totally off guard, and I wasn't expecting to mine as much pleasure out of it as I did.
This DVD release has spiced up the made-for-tv proceedings by including some brief nudity, and a smattering of well-placed gore, too.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Bravo to Fox for releasing this made-for-television movie in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and if that's not simple cause enough for celebration, then the quality of the transfer certainly is. Colors are strong and bright, with equally well-rendered fleshtones. Black levels are quite good also, though some of the film's underground sequences reveal trace elements of grain and occasionally muddy shadow depth at times. Still, the overall image quality is consistently excellent, and director John Lafia's television movie generally looks good enough here for it to easily be confused with a theatrical release. Another worth-mentioning plus is that the transfer is noticeably free of any pesky edge enhancement issues.
Nice job, Fox.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Fox has included a solid 5.0 Dolby Digital surround track as the primary audio option, and while it is not really on par with major theatrical releases, it does offer far more depth and spatial dimension than one might expect from a television movie. Rear channels get a subtle but effective workout during some of the film's frequent rat assaults, with plenty of chattering and gnawing going on. Character dialogue is crisp, and is well-mixed and reproduced cleanly across the front channels.
Also included is a 2.0 Dolby Surround mix, which lacks the fullness and depth of the 5.0 track, but is still adequate if your home theater system is limited.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Ablaze, From Hell, The Fury, The Omen, Phantom Of The Paradise
Extras Review: Aside from an odd assortment of five trailers for a disparate set of Fox titles (Ablaze, From Hell, The Fury, The Omen, Phantom of the Paradise), the only extra to be found here is the featurette Wild on the Set: The Rats (09m:08s). This lightweight piece, originally broadcast on the Animal Planet cable channel, understandably focuses exclusively on the work of the film's rat trainer Brian Gibbs, with nary a mention of any of the extensive CG effect shots. We get behind-the-scenes glimpses of the climactic subway sequence, and Madchen Amick tosses out a few kind words about rodents while gently petting a rat in her lap. When all is said and done, this is just lightweight filler.
The disc is split into 28 chapters, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThe Rats proves to me that made-for-television horror movies can actually be a ripping good time, even if the storyline is as crazy and silly as they come. The creepiness factor is turned way, way up by director John Lafia, as he mixes shots of real rats with an obscene fountain of CG-created rodents, and the result is a fun little film that is far better than it should be. There are plenty of shadowy, subterranean caverns to explore, a subway train overrun by rats, and a hoot of a final showdown that just has to be seen to be believed.
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