In 1995, Bram Stoker’s short story Burial of the Rats was adapted – if that is the word – by producer Roger Corman. As the plot involves a young Bram Stoker being captured by scantily clad female warriors who use hungry rats to punish evil men, it should go without saying that any connection to the original short story begins and ends with the title. It should not be confused with the 2007 Japanese film of the same name, which has no connection to Stoker or rodent rampages.
Also in 1995, Mind Ripper (“Wes Craven Presents”) includes a shot of a couple of rats in an experimental underground facility chowing down on a human eyeball. Yeuch!
Trilogy of Terror II, a belated made-for-cable 1996 sequel to Dan Curtis’ 1975 cult TV movie, features the effectively creepy tale ‘The Graveyard Rats’ which, perhaps rather obviously, features giant rodents running amok in a run-down cemetery. It was adapted freely from Henry Kuttner‘s eponymous short story. The overarching TV anthology, which stars British actress Lysette Anthony in three different roles, is well worth seeking out.
Altered Species, made in 2001, sees rats attacking partygoers after the scientist host pours his new formula down the sink. For some reason, one of the rats has mutated into a giant.
Also from 2001 is Tara (like Ben, the name of the titular rodent), which was retitled Hood Rat to flag up its blaxploitation slumlord theme. Ice-T stars as a nasty soulless rent collector and the film is more drama-based than horror, with only some CGI-laden rat attacks to enliven its inner-city tale of woe.
2002’s The Rats has no connection to James Herbert, but instead has a department store infested by mutant rats – clearly, regular rats were no longer cutting it as horror creatures by this time. A year later saw the release of the similarly titled Rats, which takes place in a multi-purpose institution that houses both rich drug addicts and the criminally insane. It also turns out to be home to an army of super-intelligent giant rats, the result of past medical experiments of Doctor Winslow (Ron Perlman).
2001 German movie Ratten: Sie Werden Dich Kriege (also known as Revenge of the Rats) sees an army of rats brought out onto the streets during garbage collectors strike. To make things worse, these rats are carrying a deadly virus! Jörg Lühdorff’s film was popular enough to spawn a 2004 sequel, Ratten 2 – Sie Kommen Wieder!
2002’s Nezulla is a Japanese film in which a half-rat, half-human monster that has been created by American scientists goes on the rampage in Tokyo. Inevitably, the film is let down by its shot-on-video visuals although it might appeal to fans of Eighties monster movies.
Willard was remade in 2003, with Crispin Glover in the title role. Directed by Glen Morgan, the film sticks pretty much to the story of the original film, and is quite effective in its own right, yet seemingly failed to connect with audiences.
2006 film Mulberry Street sees an infection turning people into mutant rat creatures. Closer to the zombie genre than usual rat movies (the film was retitled Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street for UK release), this is one of the better recent films in that overdone genre.
Razortooth (2006) may be the giant mutated eel star of this creature feature but huge rats are still a problem for the local bayou eatery. Helpfully, the short-order cook suggests: ” You wanna get rid of them rats? Feed ’em some of your chilli!”
Rat Scratch Fever (2011) sees giant mutant space rats, who have stowed away on a spaceship and are now terrorising Los Angeles. Ultra-cheap, trashy and unashamed, the film is perhaps likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys watching lower-than-low rent giant monster movies on SyFy.
In Sinister 2 (2015), a video shows a murder scene in a Lutheran church in which a family is nailed to the floor with bowls placed on their chests, encasing a live rat (echoing an infamous scene from the 1977 Italian Nazisploitation movie The Beast in Heat). When hot coals from a stove are placed on the bowls, the rats burrow through their abdomens to escape the heat, causing them to bleed to death (the clip is called “Sunday Service”).
In Universal’s 2017 The Mummy (a flawed attempt to launch their ‘Dark Universe’ of movie monsters, albeit with action-packed plots), there is a supposedly terrifying scene in which Tom Cruise’s bemused adventurer character is besieged by an army of CGI rats in a British backwater. All the rodents do is scamper all over the Hollywood star before he is saved further travails by the arrival of their controller, a resurrected Egyptian mummy princess.
Soon, yet more enterprising filmmakers will hopefully realise that rats are both omnipresent and terrifying for many, and exploit that fear to its full potential…
Article by David Flint, with additional material by Adrian J Smith