RAT FINK (1965) Blu-ray
Director: James Lanis

From the director of THE SADIST comes this long-lost “rise and fall” psycho thriller, a vanity piece for its aspiring star—putting up a large portion of the budget—who old made one other picture. From a recently-found 35mm print, Retromedia rescues to Blu-ray RAT FINK, and man he sure is!

Farmboy Lonnie Price (Schuyler Haydn, whose last name is referred to under his alternative “Hayden” all over this release) jumps aboard an empty train car and is discovered by an angry railroad worker. In a chase, he loses his guitar as well as his bundle, but he gets away. He then comes across a lonely housewife (Eve Brenner, TORMENT) hanging up the laundry in the yard. He easily charms his way into her house; he's fed and she is welcomely seduced. When she goes to doll herself up for a stayover that never happens, Lonnie takes the money from her wallet and takes off to Hollywood. One night he comes across an auditorium where pop idol Tommy Loomis (Don Snyder, LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS) is giving a concert before a string of swooning teenagers. As Lonnie looks at this fancy guitar strummer as competition, he fills Tommy's car with gasoline, lighting a match to it as he’s set ablaze in front of his screaming fans.

Following the shocking incident that has left Tommy Loomis unable to perform, Lonnie picks up another guitar at a Hollywood Boulevard pawn shop and bluffs his way into the office of Mr. Finlay (Hal Bokar, THE WILD ANGELS), the assertive entertainment agent who made Tommy what he was, and now Lonnie is aimed to take his place. Finlay likes what he sees in Lonnie, and gets him a record contract and he becomes an overnight success, even getting a starring role in a movie. Well since Lonnie has a bad habit of stealing and setting people on fire, his wild lifestyle of partying with beatniks is amplified by his seduction of women he shouldn’t be messing with, including an underaged teeny bopper (Judy Hughes) and Finlay’s own much-younger wife (Warrene Ott, THE WITCHMAKER) who initially despises him but too succumbs to his wicked (and deadly) charisma.

RAT FINK is difficult to classify, and although it’s the story of an arrogant asshole musician who rises to the top (not exactly YOU’RE CHEATIN’ HEART meets THE SADIST), it has that whole psychological thriller angle going for it as well as the psychotronic sleaze (an illegal abortion clinic hidden in a veterinarian's depressing animal shelter) but the drama is played out well by an interesting cast, some familiar and some who didn’t do much of anything else. Handsome Haydn (who died in plane crash in the late 1970s at the age of 38) basically carries the film despite despicable Lonnie being anything but an anti-hero; he’s hateful in every way and moreso as the film progresses. When you think his character is about to take a conscious turn for the better after the girl he got pregnant breaks the news to him, it gets even uglier, and the resulting events are told in artsyflashback to keep some momentary suspense going. Haydn never made it big (despite some rave reviews in Variety at the time of the film’s release) he did show up years later in AIP’s RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (an MGM property also crying for a Blu-ray release) as basically the same character; an arrogant, rich celebrity kid with scrupulous followers, and he's responsible for drugging and raping the adolescent wholesome character played by Mimsy Farmer.

Also known as MY SOUL RUNS NAKED, the film is fast-paced with Landis’ direction (it never overplays the music aspect of the story) overcoming the tight budget, and composer Ronald Stein’s music is hip for the period the film was shot in, but the real star here is the black and white cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond; it's masterfully brooding, especially when focused on darkened shadow-lit rooms, truly bringing a sense of doom. For those who've never seen the film and are fans of Zsigmond’s work, RAT FINK is an impressive showpiece for certain. As Lonnie’s farmer parents, horror fans will recognize actor Jack Lester as the sheriff from THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT, as well as actress Alice Reinheart who starred opposite Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as “Miss Jones” in HORROR EXPRESS.

For a film thought to be lost and a transfer made from a surviving 35mm print with issues (“severely damaged by crippling arc burns”), RAT FINK looks amazingly good here. The black & white feature has been presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. Density and contrast are stable, blacks are properly deep, white levels look fine, and grayscale is also very good. The grain looks natural throughout with no apparent DNR tampering added. Most surprising—knowing the origin of the print source—is that blemishes are fleeting and not obtrusive, with only a handful of splices to be witnessed. The audio is provided in a 2.0 mono track which has perfectly good range and no problematic issues. No subtitle options are offered on the disc.

Extras include the featurette “Remembering Schuyler Hayden” (8:31), an interview with his daughter Ursula where she talks about his struggles in Hollywood, the tragic event that inspired the movie, and that he put everything he owned into the budget. She talks about her father dropping out of the show business scene for years, and that he planned a comeback before his death. She also points out where her mother appears briefly in the movie. Researcher Vicky Torrace is also interviewed here, detailing the known facts in the tragic plane crash. “Rat Fink: A Look Back” (1:29) has Retromedia’s own Fred Olen Ray narrating a mini bio on Haydn and the release of RAT FINK. A great trailer (under the alternate title WILD AND WILLING) is also included. (George Reis)