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Ratpocalypse (2017)

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Ratpocalypse

RatpocalypseStarring Casper Van Dien, Victoria Summer, Linda Bella, Catherine Oxenberg

Written and directed by Vladimir Uglichin


“Whoever doesn’t fight corruption will be turned into filthy, dirty rats!”

Like Noah before him, Senator John Perryman has a warning from God he wants to deliver to the politicians of the world – at least Russia, and maybe the United States. There will be no flood, no ark this time. The corrupt will be doomed to live out the rest of their lives as cartoonish looking motion capture rat people. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is what this Ratpocalypse is all about.

Not a Syfy nature gone amok movie about rampaging rodents…

Not a Mulberry Street-style horror flick about killer rat people…

Ratpocalypse is about a American Senator on the run in Russia after corrupt Russian politicians and crooked oligarchs blame him when they begin transforming into humanoid rats right after he delivers his warning from God above to put an end to their greedy ways.

I’m still not entirely sure how to categorize this movie. I’m not even sure how to review this movie. Movies like Ratpocalypse only get made when a filmmaker has a particular demented vision that makes absolute perfect sense in their mind, but somewhere between their mind and the celluloid canvas, it all turned into a 22-car pile-up. I’m just an eyewitness driving by, slowing down, and getting a better look at the carnage before a reporter asks me to describe what I saw.

Originally entitled Higher Mission, Ratpocalypse is the creation of Russian architect/businessman turned first-time writer/director Vladimir Uglichin. I did a story about this movie way back in February of 2014. I’m going to go out on a limb speculating that Russia and politics being big in the news of late is why these rats finally got sprung from whatever shelf they’ve been on.

Ratpocalypse opens with United States Senator John Perryman (Casper Van Dien) having a nightmare about washing ashore on an island covered with rats that immediately begin covering him. Nightmare or calling from a higher power? He wakes up in bed with his money-grubbing wife (Catherine Oxenberg, also Van Dien’s real-life wife), who promptly answers the door to accept a briefcase full of bribery money from a mysterious figure.

Senator Perryman is so corrupt he describes himself later by advising, “Don’t look for anything positive in me except for my blood type.” But it’s going to be okay from now on because the message from high above he received in this dream has led him to warn the world (again, Russia, primarily) that the corrupt are about to be physically turned into the rats they are.

He loudly proclaims this while addressing the Russian parliament. Not surprisingly, they all laugh and agree he lost his mind, the President of the United States (looks more like the dad from “Family Matters” than Obama) apologizes on behalf of our country, and even Perryman’s wife is ready to file for divorce.

For vague reasons, the Russian government does not want him to leave the country and freezes his assets. At the airport his credit card is declined, and he only has $100 cash on him. He then does what any US Senator after being stranded in a foreign country in which he committed career suicide by standing before that government and proclaiming God will turn all corrupt politicians into rat people would do: He picks up two hookers named Polina and Anna.

At least, I think they’re hookers. One is definitely a hooker. The other is a student being talked into her first gig by her prostitute friend. I’m not even positive they’re actually supposed to be Russian. One sounds like a Boris & Natasha character when she speaks. The other has an accent that seems to come and go. Did I read correctly that this movie set almost entirely in Moscow was actually shot on location in Oklahoma?

Our Senator wastes no time taking both of them back to a ratty apartment despite, presumably, no way to pay for them. A matter never addressed; not that it matters since he’s too busy performing chintzy magic tricks for sex. Besides, any potential humping gets interrupted by news that there’s a mysterious outbreak causing people all over Russia to transform into human rats. A $20 million bounty has been placed on the Senator’s head; the Russian government is convinced he did it by hypnosis or something.

Really… The Russians initially speculate Perryman performed some sort of mass hypnosis during his speech, causing crooked politicians and corrupt oligarchs to morph into ratmen, who then either contemplate suicide over their rattiness or double down on their deviousness as they vow to become human once more, including turning to a diabolical spiritual quack who convinces the government she can undo the ratformations by crucifying Perryman and bleeding him out.

Now the movie turns into a chase flick with the two hookers helping Senator Perryman elude capture, even as one repeatedly suggests they turn him in for the $20 million bounty. There’s also an unlikely romance brewing between the Senator and the much younger student-hooker-in-training, including a scene where Polina sings him a love song and – not making this up – parallels are made between the two as potential modern day equivalents of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

Ratpocalypse

This is the part where I would write, “You can’t make this stuff up,” but someone did make this stuff up; and that’s why I’m writing about it.

Much like the equally ludicrous US-Russian anti-advertising flick Branded from several years ago, Ratpocalypse is another movie that’s trying to make some kind of point but goes about it in the clunkiest, most head-scratching manner possible. Making comparisons are almost unfair to Branded, a far more polished turd than this. Part of me wonders if this movie would have held more meaning to me if I were Russian. On the other hand, as much as the filmmaker seemed intent on crafting some sort of surreal allegory it really doesn’t seem to have anything all that deep to say. Political corruption is a serious problem. You don’t say? The solution is to not be corrupt. You don’t say?

Characters and subplots are frequently introduced only to go nowhere or get blown off almost as soon as they’re introduced. Even the performances are schizo, with Perryman and Polina played with the utmost sincerity while others seem to be striving for camp with their characters. Once the chase begins, it all begins to feel like a series of interchangeable scenes edited together in a manner vaguely resembling a plotline, almost always off-kilter, periodically amusing, but one that drags more often than not.

Given the bizarre mix of comedy, metaphor, and body horror, I almost want to sarcastically call this flick “Cronenberg’s Birdemic” but that might mistakenly make this white hot mess of a movie sound more enticing than it actually is. Ratpocalypse could have been an all-time great WTF movie if it was actually more entertaining about it.

The film culminates with Casper Van Dien standing before the United States Congress giving a fiery speech as to how maybe a new species of rat people should inherit the earth since rats are by nature less greedy than man. Not since John Saxon stood before the United Nations at the end of The Bees proclaiming the hyper-intelligent killer bees were the new rightful rulers of the world because of mankind’s poor treatment of the environment…

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User Rating 3.57 (7 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3 (11 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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User Rating 3.4 (20 votes)
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