John’s Old School Horror Corner: Of Unknown Origin (1983)
MY CALL: Man meets rat. Man tries to kill rat. Rat tries to kill man? Game on! Peter Weller shows us that an overly simplistic B-horror story can be executed well with the right leading man and a good sense of humor from the prop team. [B; it made me laugh a lot] IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH: Arguably the best rat-themed movie EVER: Food of the Gods 2: Gnaw (1989). If you enjoy Peter Weller, a king of the 80s-90s era horror and horrorish sci-fi, then see Leviathan (1989), Screamers (1995), and maybe even Robocop (1987). Weller was also amazing in Shadow Hours (2000), which was way-weird but far from horror or sci-fi.
We’ll start with minute one of this movie. Introducing Shannon Tweed in her first ever theatrical release in, you guessed it, a breastly shower scene. There are so few horror movies that don’t have shower scenes. But even fewer of them skip the foreplay and give you your gratuitous nudity before the counter on your DVD player hits 00:00:59.
Now that we’ve addressed his trophy wife, let’s paint a portrait of our protagonist. Peter Weller plays a proud father and husband who is an all-round nice guy. He says good morning to the newspaper stand lady every morning on his walk to his cushy corporate job. He has a stunning home which was apparently professionally decorated with all accoutrements indicating affluence. He’s also up for a big promotion and, if he gets it, he won’t have to struggle paying the mortgage on his gorgeous, recently renovated home. You know, white people problems.
What was that sound? It’s too early for the arrival of my Wallstreet Journal!
Yup, this is basically how well-to-do, upper-middle class folks react to learning they have rats in their house. Poor folks buy rat traps. This guy has a meltdown.
So this movie is essentially about a rat that drives a man insane while his wife and child are out of town. It starts out with the use of almost humorous ominous shadows. When they start showing parts of the rat it is always wet and somewhat slimy looking as if it just took a bath in raw sewage. The rat-cam shots also offer a charming “rodent’s eye-view” of things.
After calling in a work order on some burst pipes, Weller’s eccentric plumber has no difficulty diagnosing that a rat was the cause. Weller sets out some traps which, when he checks them, look like a cartoon surfboard after a shark attack. This is no ordinary rat, but a super-rat! Weller accordingly ups his game from the categorical, antiquated mouse trap to devices which more closely resemble mini-bear traps and tiny Spanish Inquisition purification devices. He also gets into some clearly obsessive, unhealthy research, during which he finds some encyclopedia identifying that the scientific name for rats means “of unknown origin”. Is this true? Don’t know. Don’t care. It works for me. Weller also finds some of the most vilifying articles and photos of “rat attacks” that one could imagine. With his newfound off-putting trivia Weller horrifies an entire dinner party ranting about disease.
Looks like it’s Rat 1, Rat Trap 0. And Peter Weller HATES to lose!
Weller’s alcohol-fueled decent into madness has begun!
Okay, he’s nuts. Sleeping in a hammock clinging to a baseball bat.
Back to the battle on the home front, Weller’s traps have been failing. He moves on to poison, which he purchases from another oddly fanatical anti-rat enthusiast. Then it’s back to the plumber for an awkward strategy session. Both this vendor and his plumber, whom you would no sooner trust to watch your kids than a homeless crackhead, appear multiple times attesting to how evil, methodical and ferocious rats are.
Somehow I doubt that this is Ranger Rick or National Geographic.
This rat accomplishes a few unreasonable acts of sabotage. I won’t explain how, but the rat actually prevents an exterminator from doing his job and even jeopardizes one of Weller’s big accounts at work. Of course, it didn’t do this before cutting the phone lines and the electricity. Christ, it’s like an Al-Queda rat with an MBA. Rather than simply calling the exterminator back, Weller using some sound problem-solving skills and recruits a stray cat. If it works in cartoons…right? This does not work out well for the cat. The rat even traps Weller with a rat trap.
Oh, did I forget to mention that there are numerous battle scenes between Weller and this wily rodent? The rat-attack scenes are precious. Imagine a rabid terrier assaulting a mailman—just tearing at his ankles…or in Gremlins when they were leaping onto people’s backs. That’s about the flavor of it. The ingenuity of some of the attacks are naturally ridiculous and always result the in destruction of a lot of expensive things. Realizing that it’s time to step up his game again Weller goes all Gangs of New York and engineers a needlessly elaborate weapon. He even as a brief training montage which includes some Rocky-esque sweaty ab work.
In the end, Weller does emerge victorious—I guess. He smashes the shit out of the rat while it’s hiding in a doll house which unsubtly looks exactly like Weller’s house. I’ll bet the director was just so proud of this clever symbolism: that he had to destroy his house to destroy the rat. How deep.
Was this plot reasonable?
Did Weller handle this situation the right way?
Did I like the movie any less for these faults?
Trailers are available on YouTube, but I suggest that you don’t watch it. It’s not a good representation of the quality of this movie, which any horror fan should add to their creature movie repertoire.