Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Film Review: OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983, George P. Cosmatos)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Peter Weller (ROBOCOP, NAKED LUNCH, THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI), Kenneth Welsh (SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, TWIN PEAKS, PERFECT), Maury Chaykin (TWINS, THE ADJUSTER, DANCES WITH WOLVES), Jennifer Dale (THE ADJUSTER, SUZANNE), Shannon Tweed (HOT DOG THE MOVIE, STEEL JUSTICE, ex-Playboy Playmate, and ex of Gene Simmons), Lawrence Dane (SCANNERS, BRIDE OF CHUCKY), Louis Del Grande (SCANNERS, ATLANTIC CITY). Produced by Pierre David and Claude Héroux (VIDEODROME, SCANNERS, THE BROOD, VISITING HOURS).
Tag-line: "Two forces have claimed the house. Only one will survive."
Best one-liner: "You never said anything about rubber gloves, you boneheaded fart."

It's like MOBY DICK, except instead of Captain Ahab, we have Peter Weller. And instead of a great white whale, we have a giant brown rat. And instead of the high seas, we have a New York apartment building (actually filmed in Montreal). It's a familiar tale. You know- He had it all. The perfect wife. The perfect job. The perfect kid. The perfect home.

Until... a mere rodent made his life into a living hell... a succession of grotesque blightings... an obsession beyond human comprehension...
I suppose, the main lesson here being, 'Don't fuck with a man's brownstone.' And so it's war. Peter Weller is taking this infestation personally.

Needless to say, only one of our two combatants will be left standing. But who? And at what cost?

Helmed by creature-feature conoisseur and ghost-director extraordinaire George Pan Cosmatos (RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, COBRA, LEVIATHAN, and TOMBSTONE), OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN possesses that strangely sterile, alienating 'Canadian horror' vibe that Cronenberg has used to such great effect in films such as THE FLY, CRASH, and DEAD RINGERS.

Of course, this may have something to do with the producers, Pierre David and Claude Héroux, who produced most of Cronenberg's 70's and 80's output. The atmosphere certainly works: we have man, existing in the carefully constructed steel, glass, and concrete compartments he has created for himself. Tubes and vents ensure proper ventilation and waste disposal. Everything fits within the lines and the walls and the gridlike streets and life is good and– SCHLERP SCHLERP SCHLERP–

Next thing you know, the rat is leaving its creepy little footprints on your coffee table. You know, those terrifying, pink, viscous, semi-translucent, soggy fuckin' paws. It's eating your cereal, knockin' your phone off the hook, leavin' its hairs in your sandwich, playin' your piano, and tryin' to chomp your nuts as you're sittin' on the toilet.

My thoughts exactly, Peter Weller.

Filmed with PHASE IV-style macroscopic photography and hideous attention to detail, OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN dashes headlong into the claustrophic, nasty little world of vermin.

Sewer rat POV.

Peter Weller slowly descends into madness– the rat is one tough customer. Can't trap it. Can't poison it. Can't shoot it. Can't even sic the cat on it. Next thing you know, Pete's talking to the stuffed animals. He's reading MOBY DICK. His day job suffers. It's awesomely clichéd: oh, now he's hitting the bottle.

Next he's sifting through microfiche. He's researching the rat. He's discovering there's 24,000 reported rat bites a year. It's becoming an obsession. He loses touch with co-workers. At a company dinner, he just rattles off facts about rats, much to everyone's chagrin.

Including the chagrin of genius character actor, Kenneth Welsh.

He witnesses the miracle of rat birth. He watches Spencer Tracy in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. It's man versus nature versus man versus nature. "This isn't some ordinary rat I'm dealing with. It killed my cat." He screams "You want a war, I'll give you a war!" Weller is great. He's always great. He appears to be wearing the same nerdy glasses he later wears in NAKED LUNCH, and he's unraveling at the seams. There are other characters, I suppose, but this is a one man show.

Before you can say, "It's clobberin' time," Weller has devised a rat-smashing implement that can be best described as an 'atomic bear-trap war-club.'

He's gotten to the point where he just sits in his home. In the dark. Wearing a woolen cap. Clutching his atomic bear-trap war-club. Waiting. Like a coiled spring. Waiting. Ready to snap.
There's a final showdown, of course. It's pretty satisfying. Only one of the two rivals will survive. Who will it be? Our hang-dog urban commando? Our twitchy, disease-spreading, four-legged fiend? Will it be "watch and weep, you furry fucker!" or will it be curtains for the man who thinks of his home as his castle? Well, watch the movie and find out.

Three stars. A fine, crittery, jittery time. Not a classic, but it's one of the best 'man versus rat' movies out there.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

Boy, take away the rat and you've got the Unabomber biopic. Love Weller. He's the man. I saw him NYC once in the early 2000s on the Upper West Side coming downstairs from a cigar bar with two leggy supermodels. It was quite a sight.

Sean Gill said...

Ha- terrific about the Weller sighting! It's unfortunate he hasn't had a meaty leading role in a while, but nice to see he's apparently been getting some work on DEXTER this season, but I haven't watched it yet.

film finance said...

Haven't watched it either, but good thing he has a part in Dexter.

- Dexter DeLima

Sean Gill said...

I'm caught up on DEXTER now, and while I have vast reservations about the quality of the storylines and where they're headed, I'm pleased to report that Weller is (predictably) fantastic. He gets to show a bit of a villainous streak, schlerp on limes, shoot tequila, and then pour salt into his mouth afterwards, straight from the shaker. I won't give anything more away, but he's certainly a bright spot in a season I'm far from sold on.