Andy Milligan fans rejoice! Code Red DVD has been revisiting a lot of the schlock auteur's titles for Blu-ray, and here we focus on THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! If you're not already educated about Milligan, he was a self-taught independent filmmaker who in the 1960s and 1970s was best known for series of period horror films, none of them costing more that $20,000 to produce, and none looking like they cost more than $5,000 to make. Milligan has often been referred to as the worst director of all the time, but you can decide for yourself after enduring some of his work. For the most part, Milligan worked out of Staten Island, New York, but some of his efforts, such as this film, were actually shot in merry old England. Andy not only directed the films, but photographed them, made the costumes, assembled the eccentric-seeming cast members, and just about everything else possible.
1972's THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! has one of the greatest exploitation titles of all time, but it's still an Andy Milligan film. Originally filmed as "Curse of the Full Moon," legend has it that the "rats" of the title, along with extra footage shot back in Staten Island, were added due to the box office success of WILLARD, as well as to make up for the short-changed running time. The plot concerns the Mooneys, an early 1900s English family suffering from some sort of genetic lycanthropy. The youngest daughter, Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) returns from medical school with her new husband (Ian Innes) only to have their marriage disapproved by the family. The clan includes the bedridden father (Douglas Phair, doing a very, very poor man's Vincent Price), the wacky middle sister (Milligan regular Hope Stansbury, BLOOD) who toys with man-eating rats and torments her locked up, idiotic animal-like brother who likes to toss chickens around the room.
Shot mostly in one mansion location, the film was passed with a PG-rating and is pretty tame for Milligan. Lots of strange characters talk a lot, incest and inbreeding is implied, cars are seen in the far background, the “Coca-Cola” logo is witnessed in an eatery window, electric wall switches are not obscured, and an unfortunate real rat is mutilated, as is a rubber one. There's lots of harsh lighting, dinner theater period costumes, a weird rat salesman who’s make-up is more monstrous than any lycanthropes in the film, and the ending werewolf fiasco (with the expected plastic fangs and lousy simian hair appliances which barely covers the actors’ faces) is even more disappointing than the finale of WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS. Milligan himself is credited as playing an elderly and lonely gunsmith who turns a silver cross into bullets. The familiar stock music is in check as well. The Heath House in Staffordshire, England (which was also used for 1970’s THE BODY BENEATH) is actually a beautifully gothic shooting location, with interiors not looking as cramped and claustrophobic as in most Milligan films (we wish we could say the same for the sets substituting as specialty shops). With both American and local British TV actors in the cast, the film was reportedly shot as early as 1969 but wasn’t released until 1972 when producer William Mishkin distributed it on a double bill with Milligan’s THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS (the on-screen copyright year is 1971).
The back of the Blu-ray’s packaging humorously states, “CODE RED DVD is ashamed to present this digitally restored version in HIGH DEFINITION”, but they have actually done a commendable job in doing so. Considering Milligan shot this on 16mm, using lots of "short ends" of film and live mic sound (with the footage later being blown up to 35mm for theatrical presentations) the transfer looks quite good here. The 35mm elements here mostly in nice shape, having solid colors and a healthy sheet of grain, while detail remains adequate throughout with only a handful of soft spots. Some of the footage shot in Staten Island appears a bit washed out, but this seems to stem from the original film stock and processing used, as these scenes look more or less overexposed. At the 1:13:07 point until the rest of the running time, the elements used are inferior than they are for the rest of the film, with a noticeable color fade and some blemishing and emulsion scratches on display. The clarity is always good, as previous VHS and DVD transfers tended to be too dark, so the climactic werewolf chaos is now easy to make out. The English audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and is good as can be expected given the technical limitations of the film (no subtitle options are provided).
The disc has no menu, but the feature film (which is in its correct 91-minute running time) is followed by trailers for TORTURE GARDEN, THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS, BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS and THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! Those who want to purchase Code Red’s Blu-ray for this film can find it exclusively at Screen Archives Entertainment, along with Code Red’s Blu-ray of Milligan’s BLOOD (on a double feature with Gerard Damiano’s LEGACY OF SATAN). Code Red’s Blu-rays of TORTURE GARDEN, THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS and BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS can be found for sale as a bundle-pack on their own Big Cartel Site. (George R. Reis)
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