My greatest weakness as a writer, I have found, is that I’m just not very good at titles. I take cold comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one. How many movies are there titled Boiling Point? Maniac? Island of (fill in the blank)? So I get really excited – far too excited, really – when I know I absolutely must see a movie based on the title alone. Such a title – and I’ve been meaning to watch it for years – is The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!
There is no way I can not watch a movie titled that. It has, admittedly, taken me forty years to do so. I remember back in the dawn of the VHS boom, I saw a copy of it for rent, but I grabbed something else entirely. Maybe The Fantastic Animation Festival. Never regretted that. And now I know why.
Because, of course, the entertainment value of the movie is in inverse proportion to that incredible name.
That title is credited to producer William Mishkin, while the movie is the work of Andy Milligan. Milligan had a strange, troubled life; he entered the world of low-budget movies through his involvement in the off-off Broadway theatrical scene. His first movie was Vapors, a 30 minute gay movie set in a bathhouse. This got Mishkin’s attention, and Milligan was soon making low-budget sexploitation movies for Mishkin’s 42nd street theater connections. He knew where to find actors who’d work cheap and, thanks to his theater experience, knew how to build sets and make costumes.
So, really, I kind of sigh when I consider Milligan; His movies cannot be considered good, but it’s easy to see the aspirations at work. Given more than a few thousand bucks to work with and some support personnel, he might have been pretty good. But even his best work – something like The Body Beneath, say – still bears all the telling shortfalls of a creator wearing too many hats with too few tools at his disposal. Single mike recordings of dialogue, limited lighting, needle-drop music cues that cut off suddenly at scene changes…
But dammit, you see him trying. You see the actors trying. Milligan actually has some pretty good actors working for him… but they are betrayed by their material – almost always, written by Milligan. It is almost always stuff that would be ripe but tolerable on a stage, but on a movie screen, too often the kiss of ennui.
The Rats Are Comingconcerns itself with the Mooney family, in what we are eventually told is 1899 England. The period is a bit slippery here – Milligan’s costumes are serviceable for the period (if not entirely accurate – I’m particularly
skeptical of one of Monica’s hats), but two of his younger actresses are quite obviously wearing 1972 hairstyles and make-up. Not that I mind. 1972 was a good year for me.
The Mooneys are a dreadfully dysfunctional family, something with which Milligan, sadly, had a lot of experience. The aged father of the clan is given to “attacks” whenever his temper is roused, and must be given increasingly frequent injections. The eldest daughter, Phoebe, is running family matters as best she can, aided by eldest brother, Mortimer. Next oldest daughter is Monica, psychotically jealous (or just plain psychotic), and another brother, Malcolm, is best described as “animal-like”. The youngest daughter, Diana, returns to the Mooney estate with a new husband in tow, much to the disdain of Pa. He sent Diana off to medical school so she could help him with his “experiments”. Dian’s husband, Gerald, starts noticing odd things, like dismembered chickens showing up in the halls and Monica jumping out of wardrobes with a knife.
Oh screw it, they’re werewolves, okay? The Mooneys are a bunch of freaking werewolves! It’s right there in the title, for God’s sake. Pa isn’t trying to cure the lycanthropy, though, he’s working on life extension – he, himself is 199 years old! Then everything goes to hell in the last ten minutes due to really bad timing, and the estate becomes werewolf central.
Now, this was the basis for Milligan’s original movie, which was called The Curse of the Full Moon, and ran only 72 minutes. “Not long enough!” yelled Mishkin, and to pad the movie out, they have a subplot where Monica goes into town to buy a new pet from Mr. McHarbor (that’s actually a pretty clever name), who sells her some rats that ate off his left arm and half his face one night when he had too much to drink. Why is there this subplot? Willard was making money at the time. And Mishkin came up with that delicious title.
The title still gets it wrong anyway, because the rats last maybe five minutes at the Mooney household, until Monica is bitten by a rubber rat (what part of “flesh-eating” didn’t you get?) and she returns them to McHarbor, demands her money back, and then sets him on fire. At least I think that’s what happens. The scene is badly lit, and Milligan’s handheld camera tends to go into Swirl-A-Vision during murder scenes. But The Rats Have Come And Gone! The Werewolves Will Be Here Eventually! just doesn’t have the same panache.
It turns out Monica has a friend, another girl-woman named Rebecca, who is basically a Cockney Monica. Introduced at roughly the one hour mark, the only reason Rebecca exists, besides to give the tooth-grindingly annoying Monica more screen time, is to mention that she’s seen things at the estate that ensure that Monica will hack her up bloodily.
Except. I have the Video Kart DVD of this, paired with Bloodthirsty Butchers, and the scene is scissored into incomprehension, apparently for TV. Good grief, this sort of thing drives me mad. I’ve run into this twice – while writing reviews for Shriek of the Mutilated and I Drink Your Blood – where the available tapes/discs were TV edits. Those movies – and Milligan’s horror movies – are infamous for their gore. This renders judging them on any sort of reasonable basis moot. How am I supposed to judge such an incomplete product? It’s like trying to review a G-rated version of Deep Throat. Uncut versions of the two linked movies above have surfaced on DVD, but I somehow doubt an uncut version of The Rats Are Coming is ever going to appear.
Then again, I should probably count my blessings – according to Wikipedia, the DVD currently resting on my desk does not exist.
At one point in the movie, Diana goes into town to buy a pistol. This leads to a very long scene with a comical old gunsmith who sells her a suspiciously modern-looking automatic pistol and is sweet-talked into melting down a silver crucifix for bullets. Even as you wonder why the hell this scene is taking so long (outside of padding the running time) you find yourself liking the gunsmith, he’s one of the better actors. Then you later find out the gunsmith was Andy Milligan.
Milligan the writer has a problem with circular scripts; in Rats it’s characters that keep almost saying something significant, then saying, “I’ll tell you when the time is right.” But I’ve got to say the one thread running through the movie, and whereby we finally find out what the hell is going on with the Mooneys is very well handled, if somewhat drawn out over a lot of territory; but then, I’ve never run across a truly gothic piece of fiction that I didn’t feel the same about.
At any rate, there’s a reason, I re-discover, that I measure the time between Milligan movies in years, rather than months. I find them interesting to hash out afterwards, but the actual watching… ho, boy, that can be a chore. But why take my word for it? You can download it from The Internet Archive! Not that I necessarily feel you should.
(And dear God, I love that the comments all think this is a British movie, not something shot down the street from the Staten Island Ferry! Good on you, Andy!)
And hey, here’s a trailer that gives away what is supposed to be the final Twilight Zone twist! Now you don’t have to see it!