While not much of a horror fan, I do occasionally enjoy cheesy horror: silly, over-the-top pictures that have a clear idea of the kind of film they really are. Although rarely fine cinema, these films provide a few laughs, some entertainment and maybe a fright or two. "The Rats", originally a FOX TV movie, revolves around thousands of genetically altered rats overtaking a Manhattan department store on their way towards...oh, I don't know, world domination, I suppose?
Enter the PR woman for the store (Mädchen Amick), who hires an exterminator (Vincent Spano) for the store once a customer gets a nasty bite in the store's dressing room. What starts off seeming like a mere house call turns into a battle as it turns out these freakish rats are multiplying in greater and greater numbers underneath the city.
Certainly, a film like this one puts more consideration into the smaller costars than the human cast. The film's rat population, a mixture of real rats, CGI, animatronics and what look to be puppets bought at a department store, can either appear utterly hilarious or surprisingly convincing. The film's highlight is a pool sequence where hundreds of the creatures spill out of the drains and paddle off after the swimmers. If "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was still around today, it would have a field day with this sequence.
As for the actors, they don't fare particularly well. Cult favorite Amick ("Dream Lover") provides a flat, uninterested performance. She's paired up with Vincent Spano ("Alive"), who doesn't fare much better. Daveigh Chase (the voice of Lilo in Disney's "Lilo and Stitch" and Chihiro in the US dub of the animated "Spirited Away") is good in a small part.
Overall, there's really nothing much story-wise that hasn't been covered before. We even get the city and department store that don't want to close down due to possible lost business, even if all the evidence is there that something's about to happen. Still, it's fairly nice looking for a TV production (given this DVD's R-rated edition, I'm guessing it was originally filmed for direct-to-video release, then picked up by Fox after it was completed) and there's even a little bit of tension on occasion. Fans of this kind of silly horror may want to try a rental.
VIDEO: Although presented in full-frame on teevee, "The Rats" actually gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this presentation that's actually quite attractive. Sharpness and detail generally remained good, although it looked a bit more average in some of the film's darker sequences.
The picture remained almost fault-free throughout. Although a few minor instances of artifacts were spotted, no edge enhancement was seen nor were any print flaws. The film's color palette remained a bit on the subdued side, but still looked accurate and natural. Nice work.
SOUND: As surprising at the widescreen presentation is the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack included on the DVD. Although it maybe doesn't deliver the kind of experience one might expect (there could have been more rat squeaking placed in the surrounds), this is still a fun soundtrack that delivers on occasion. "Mimic" still remains the best 5.1 soundtrack dealing largely with creepy underground tunnels.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated menus that offer film-themed images as backgrounds.
EXTRAS: A short featurette about working with the creatures and a couple of trailers for other Fox features are all that's included.
Final Thoughts: Bad, but still kinda fun, "Rats" should provide some laughs and thrills for those into silly, B-movie horror. Fox's DVD provides unexpectedly good audio/video, if nothing much in the way of supplements. Rent it.
The Film * 1/2