Dr. Rage (2005)

Starring Andrew Divoff, Karen Black, Stephen Polk, Denise Duff, John Kassir

Directed by Jeff Broadstreet

An honest-to-god mad scientist movie – now here’s a genre that we just don’t see too much of nowadays. These days it’s rare to see a movie where the mad scientist and his insane experiments are at the heart of a film instead of just making the evil genius a side-villain to whatever inhuman menace he’s responsible for creating.

Taxi driver Michael Dare’s life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless man tosses himself in front of his cab. Michael gets out to check on the injured vagrant only to have the man begin rambling insanely and begin smashing his own head in the driver’s door. Michael yells at the guy and grabs the door in an attempt to stop the man from further injuring himself, but from witnesses’ point of view Michael was intentionally assaulting the poor transient. The judge agrees and Michael is given a choice: jail time or agree to participate in an experimental anger management research project. A reluctant Michael decides that being a scientific guinea pig isn’t nearly as bad as the possibility of being raped in prison. Actually, the real reason he opts for the experiment is because he’s currently in the process of filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a high-tech medical research company and his lawyer advises him that having a prison record could seriously hurt his chances in court.

Almost immediately, red flags emerge that should warn Michael that something is just not right about this experiment and he’d be better off rolling the dice in jail. First of all, he’s chauffeured to the lab in a decrepit old car that just screams “horror movie”. Secondly, driving him there is the mad scientist’s assistant, a guy named Moebius that strikes you as Igor if played by a guy that looks like the lovechild of Steven Soderbergh and Clint Howard. Thirdly, the lab where this research is being conducted looks like a ramshackle office building on the bad side of town. Fourth, and most importantly, the experiments involve injecting and swabbing him with a neon yellow serum. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – glowing formulas developed by scientists, whether glowing green or glowing yellow, are extremely bad for your health no matter what the person responsible for creating it tries to tell you. Just say no to glowing serums!

The man behind the R.I.D. (Rage Inversion Disorder) experiments is Dr. Timothy Straun; played with Michael Ironside icy intensity meets Vincent Price egotistical morbidity by Andrew Divoff, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite B-movie actors. A dapper-looking cripple that often hobbles around with two canes, Straun is looking to cure humanity of its anger problems. Despite often waxing philosophical about the nature of rage and how better the world would be if we could just find some way to control it, Straun himself clearly has serious rage issues of his own. And when I say rage issues, I’m talking about someone that goes into a cane-swinging fit upon seeing paper on the floor and kicks Moebius down a flight of stairs when he takes too long unlocking a door.

Anthony Straun is no Herbert West, but Andrew Divoff clearly relishes the opportunity to play a man that gives off the aura of being a refined intellectual who is really a diabolical madman given to fits of often drug-induced outbursts. A junkie hooked on his own rage formula, the crazy-eyed, teeth-gritting expression on Divoff’s face after dosing up can only be compared to Beavis when he experienced a sugar high strong enough to unleash his alter ego, The Great Cornholio. Divoff is in top form here and he breathes scene-chewing gusto into a character whose ultimate ambitions are a bit more muddled than they should be. His performance walks the fine line between being campy and sinister; a line the film itself often walks with not nearly as successful results.

Dr. Rage’s most pleasant surprise is that all of the actors are quite good in their roles. It’s rare that you see a B-movie with solid performances all around like this. Well, almost all around. Despite being given a top billing, Karen Black, who plays Michael’s attorney, is little more than a recurring cameo, spending most of the few minutes of screen time she occupies chain-smoking and giving a performance that conveys “let’s get this over with already.”

Dr. Rage is 2/3rds of a fun mad scientist flick that has a good first act, introducing us to the characters and the experiment, and a third act that is a fun albeit a tad confusing freak show, but it’s the slow, often muddled middle act that hurts the film. Most of this middle section has Divoff’s Straun taking a backseat to the on-going relationship between Michael and Straun’s female assistant who may know more than she’s letting on or may be an unwitting lab rat herself, Dr. Susan Verger, played by Denise Duff, who’s looking for more attractive than I remember her being in the Subspecies films. As the experiment goes on, Michael, who really didn’t have any rage issues to begin with, goes on an emotional rollercoaster that includes a potentially unhealthy dose of sexual aggression. Eventually Michael and Dr. Verger merger (if you know what I mean).

We also get a confusing subplot involving Michael, his father, and the lawsuit he’s planning against that medical research company that just happened to once have employed the services of Dr. Straun. Much more entertaining is the mystery surrounding a gimp that Straun keeps locked up downstairs that sits in a chair 24/7 watching “Bumfights” on TV. Even that gets drawn out for longer than need be.

When the closing credits rolled, despite being entertained for the most part, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling of “That’s it?” and not being entirely sure I fully understood what the point of it all was. The overall puzzle seemed simple enough but I felt like either all the pieces didn’t match or a few things just went completely over my head somewhere along the way. It doesn’t help that the finale feels a bit too abrupt and seems to leave a few things dangling.

Regardless, if you’re a fan of Andrew Divoff or need a good reason to become a fan of his, then check out Dr. Rage whenever someone finally gets around to releasing it in the United States. I watched the Region 2 PAL DVD so European fans can check this one out now. If you’re looking for a gorefest you’re going to be quite disappointed. If you’re looking for a different kind of horror movie; the kind of old fashioned mad scientist movie that’s rarely made these days, then Dr. Rage is worth a rental even if the sum of its parts don’t appear to completely add up.

2 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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