Due to some 15-minute hoopla for the recent remake of WILLARD, Warner decided to dig out this almost forgotten rat thriller which played a lot on Cable TV in the 80s. Directed by the man who gave us 80s Stallone epics like RAMBO and COBRA, and starring Peter Weller (ROBOCOP, BUCKAROO BANZAI), OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is the perfect flick for those who cringe at the thought of coming face-to-face with one of the these rampant rodents.
Bart Hughes (Weller) is a successful businessman living in a refurnished Manhattan brownstone. After his beautiful wife (former playmate Shannon Tweed in her first feature) and her son leave for a vacation, he plans to concentrate on a project in the office that could mean a big promotion. Things go very badly when Bart discovers there's a scheming rat loose in the house, and it eats through wires and destroys just about anything it can get it's large teeth in. Not being able to find an exterminator when you need one, he combats the thing himself, finding it nearly impossible to defeat and taking a toll on his well being. He becomes increasingly obsessed with killing the fury critter as he seems headed towards insanity.
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is one of those efforts that shows how creepy a thriller of this sort could be in the years before overblown CGI effects put a damper on things. Our star seems to be a regular sewer rat, though super-sized (like a fat cat), and is exposed as a real rodent, intermixed with a puppet in some shots. Although some of the man vs. beast antics are reminiscent of an old Looney Tune, there's some definite scares that will make you jump when caught off guard. Weller is basically the whole show (with the subplots of his job and vacationing family being less interesting but necessary), and his largely subdued performance is pretty intense, with a satirical edge to it. The director manages to build adequate suspense, while delivering some clever camera movements, surprising nightmare sequences, and the sequences with the rat are pretty convincing and sharply edited. There are allegoric references to Moby Dick and The Old Man and The Sea, and though shot in Canada, New York is played off realistically, although it's way too easy to get a parking space in front of the brownstone!
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is presented in an anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer, preserving the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. They obviously went back to the original source materials, as the transfer is remarkably clean and blemish free. Fleshtones look natural and colors on the whole look satisfactory. The color schemes are mostly on the dull side, and some scenes look very dark, but apparently it was shot that way. Blacks levels always looks appropriate. Although mono, the audio track comes off fine. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
There's a commentary track with star Weller and director Cosmatos, and they were recorded separately and edited together here. Both gentleman are admirable of the film, but seem to take things too seriously, so sometimes the chatter is a bit stiff, but some worthwhile comments are made nonetheless. Also included is the original trailer, which makes the film look more like a horror story along the lines of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, then the man vs. nature thriller that it is. There's some filmographies thrown in as well.
I must add, as I finish writing
this review, the front cover of today's New York Daily News reads, "RATS
TAKE OVER FIREHOUSE." Very scary! (George
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