I acquired this as part of a collection of Stephen King adaptations (also included were Silver Bullet, The Dead Zone, and Pet Sematary) and it was consistently reviewed as the movie in the set that you got either as a completist or to get a good deal on the other three. It’s rated around 3.6 on IMDb.
Boy, that sounds like a glowing endorsement, doesn’t it?
But, no. This is my favourite period in horror. While the 70s might have been the most revolutionary and paved the way for many of my favourites (and spawning some of them, too) they were still a little more self-serious, a little grittier–in a production way, moreso than as regards their atmosphere necessarily–and the fact that gore effects were still a burgeoning field showed. I am known not to ever hold such things against a film (unless, of course, they are very big budget and SHOULD have been able to do better) but it’s still nice when it’s not a concern in the first place.
Anyway, this is an adaptation (as you very possibly might know) of a Stephen King short story. I don’t think I ever read it, but I read so many of his short stories years ago that it’s possible I’ve just forgotten. The first question when I say something about adaptation that comes to mind–especially when people know I’m the one speaking–is, “How is it as an adaptation?” And, as I implied above, the answer is “I have no clue.” Which brings me to what was inevitable with my recent slew of Stephen King-based purchases (and this being the first I’ve watched, it gets this dubious honour): I don’t like King’s writing. I think he’s horrifically (er, sorry) overrated and is miserable at creating characters, finishing stories, keeping interest and reigning in his impulses to run off on tangent stories or descriptions. I stopped heavily reading his work around ten years ago and haven’t really ever looked back since. I do still like a few books, so it’s not some active anti-popular stance (my dislike may be enhanced by my frustration at his popularity in light of my opinion of his writing as “meh” at best though). What can be said here, though, is that at least (assuming it was not simply omitted…) there are no characters with any form of ESP. Thank goodness.
Anyway, I could go off on that tangent for a while, but it’s just a handy way to relate to who I am in reviewing this; I am not a Stephen King fan, and am in fact far from it. This movie doesn’t feel like Stephen King’s work, either, and for that I’m obviously going to be glad. What it does feel like is this glorious period of horror, where things were still carried off as purely serious, but you could tell it was with fun in mind at the same time. It’s difficult to describe how it is these movies work for me, as I know many turn around and enjoy them more as comedic horror despite intentions (or occasionally actually in line with them). I watch them as horror movies; they’re intended to be scary and gory, or maybe just the latter, and hold your attention and entertain you. And that’s what they do for me–they hold my attention and entertain me. I just love seeing things that I’m not normally going to see and might not be something I’d ever think of on my own, and I’d certainly never experience. It just engages my imagination, and my love for all things monstrous.
So, that’s the frame of mind I come from when I say that I don’t agree with all the negative reviews. Is it Oscar material? No. Is it an absolute classic of even the genre? Not really, no. But it’s fun, dammit, and it’s solid in and of itself. The performances and script aren’t excruciating or even all that bad. Probably mediocre, but as I mentioned in my review of Alligator, I take what I can get to see movies about giant, slimy rat-bats that eat people in an old broken down mill.
That’s what this is about, really. Warwick (Stephen Macht), the foreman, has re-opened a broken down textile mill in Maine (where else?) and is quite the “ball-buster.” John Hall (David Andrews) drifts into town and is hired to work there. Eventually he, Danson (Andrew Divoff), Brogan (Vic Polizos) and various others are assigned to the basement “clean up crew,” which is the worst job in the entire mill, spending the graveyard shift cleaning out fifty years of detritus, debris, rat droppings and tons and tons of rats. Down there we find a hideous, gigantic and extremely slimy animal that seems to be a combination of rat and bat. Director Ralph Singleton is smart about the beast–we don’t see it immediately, but we do see it, and we build up to it. The way it’s designed (it really is terribly slimy) helps with the suspension of disbelief as it hides any fakeness there might be to it–but it’s also very well sculpted.
Of other note is the production design–the mess feels like a mess, and everything is almost constantly dripping with water from a nearby river (as most of it is underground). Wonderfully creepy, it is.
Final notes: Stephen Macht I know as ‘the cop father’ in The Monster Squad, but here he has an accent that reminds me of the one Wilhelm von Homburg–known to many as Ghostbusters II‘s Vigo–had as Simon in In the Mouth of Madness, some weird amalgam of German and Southeastern American (er, I think anyway). He’s great fun as he is in that lovely 80s classic and holds onto that accent quite well, and it sounds great from him. Whatever it is.
And who can forget Brad Dourif’s little turn as a crazed Vietnam veteran exterminator? He’s as manic and excitable as Dourif usually is (you might know him as Wyrmtongue in the Lord of the Rings films, amongst other things) conflicting with Warwick (as every character does) and quite enthusiastically carrying out his war on the rats of the mill.
Do I recommend this to people? Probably not, unless you have the same approach I do to these things, and I’ve yet to find many (if any) who do. But, if a fun romp with a monster and a fair bit of gore is your thing–go for it. There’s certainly far, far worse in these adaptations.