A British scientist living in the Caribbean has high expectations for his latest experiment (maybe a Nobel prize and international fame and fortune). The scientist has successfully crossbred Rattus norvegicus and Homo sapien to produce the titular character of one of Giuliano Carnimeo's last directorial credits, Ratman (1988), portrayed by Nelson de la Rosa. Before the good scientist can show off his creation at the latest scientific expo, the hybrid creature escapes. Meanwhile models, Marlis (Eva Grimaldi) and Peggy (Luisa Menon), are getting their photos snapped by Mark (Werner Pochath) on the beach. The day's shoot concludes. Mark is taking Marlis deeper into the jungle for more photos the following day, and Peggy is flying back to New York. Mark develops his photos that evening and notices something unusual in the corner of one of his photographs (but can't really make it out). Peggy is on the town en route to a party and when her cab breaks down, she has to trek to the bus station on foot through a dark alley. A psycho is on the loose, and Peggy captures his eye. She manages to duck into a dark house and hide in the closet. Unfortunately, a diminutive clawed creature has already taken up residence within. Enter lovely Terry (Janet Agren) who arrives at the airport and encounters television mystery writer, Fred (David Warbeck). They share a cab into town. Terry's destination is the morgue. Apparently her model sister was murdered. Fred has a good heart, a nose for investigation, and an eye for Terry. He'll help her out.
In an excellent book of interviews, Spaghetti Nightmares, legendary producer Fabrizio De Angelis is asked: What can you tell us about Quella villa in fondo al parco (Ratman)...? His terse answer: Well...I had problems with the director, Carnimeo. I don't think it was one of my most successful productions...[I edited out of the question and answer an additional query and response into another De Angelis production].
Actor and genre legend, David Warbeck is interviewed later in Spaghetti Nightmares and has this to say about the production: when asked, "That film was officially directed by Giuliano Carmineo, but there seems to be a suspicion that Fabrizio De Angelis was really the guilty man...," Warbeck responds:
No, he was the producer and he set everything going, but the other guy...I though he was OK. We didn't fight, I just thought he was a bit of a lost cause, and this is where Fabrizio stepped in and whipped the thing into shape a bit. The other guy didn't know what he was doing, or maybe he didn't really want to do it; I just couldn't work it out. What can I say? The whole thing was complete madness, but, yes, it did do very well.
Despite its leading man and producer having few nice things to say about Ratman's veteran director Giuliano Carnimeo, he has made some notable works. My favorites are his giallo, What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body? (1973), Secrets of a Call Girl (1973), Poker in Bed (1974), all with Edwige Fenech, his Western, Man Called Invincible (1973), and his 80s post-nuke contribution, Exterminators in the Year 3000 (1983). Carnimeo's work doesn't easily fit into any auteur theory and it's often competent and professional.
If Fabrizio De Angelis wasn't producing notable Italian genre cinema in the 80s, he was directing it. Rabid fans of Italian 80s genre cinema (of which I am a very proud member) owe a big thanks to the man. Some of my favorite production credits of his are (inhales): Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), Marino Girolami's Zombie Holocaust (1980), Enzo G. Castellari's 1990: Bronx Warriors (1982), Tonino Ricci's Raiders of the Magic Ivory (1988), and Luigi Cozzi's Paganini Horror (1989). Let's not forget about his directorial credits, and alongside Bruno Mattei, De Angelis consistently directed some of the best Italian action films of the period. Some of my favorites are: the Thunder series (three films in 1983, 1987 and 1988), Deadly Impact (1984), Man Hunt (1984), and one of the best, Cobra Mission (1986) (exhales).
The screenwriter of Ratman, Dardano Sacchetti, is also legendary. Two of his earliest screenwriting credits are on Mario Bava's excellent and influential Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) and Dario Argento's A Cat O'Nine Tails (1971). With approximately fifty screenwriting credits in the 80s alone, Sacchetti was a major figure in Italian genre cinema (his 70s work is very notable, as well). My carpal tunnel syndrome will explode my hands if I attempt to list my favorites here. I recommend clicking the link above to peruse his credits. In Spaghetti Nightmares during his interview Sacchetti is asked, "How do you manage to write so many scripts?" His response: On average I write five or six a year, but I write every day, including Sundays. I enjoy writing and I think a good story is always better than good directing, which is another reason why I've never gotten behind the camera.
In addition to the talent behind the camera, Ratman boast four actors who all made notable contributions and/or are stalwarts of Italian genre cinema (especially their 80s work): Warbeck, Agren, Grimaldi, and Pochath. One of the reasons that I love the cinema from the Italians during the 80s is because it appears the entire industry was feeling the crunch the American blockbuster. The cinema feels, on the whole, driven by a desire to produce pure entertainment and pure exploitation: a little money in the participants' pockets and lots of tremendous fun to be had by the viewer. The 80s is Italian genre cinema's magic hour, and in a lot of ways, Ratman feels like a swan song.
The biggest flaw of Carnimeo's film is the lack of screen time that Warbeck and Agren receive. Their two characters drive the story through their investigation of the rodent murders, and when they are on screen, they feel like cogs in the wheel. Possessing an immediate chemistry and both with the ability to pull off wonderful humor, the two's ability is lost. When they are on screen, they're a lot of fun to watch. Eva Grimaldi as Marlis truly drives the story. Ratman's viewer gets treated to the lovely lady during a swimsuit photo shoot and another where she pulls off her best Flashdance moves. Extremely charismatic, Grimaldi brings a lot of enthusiasm to her role, as ultimately the Ratman's biggest obsession. Either the director, the producer, or the screenwriter should have kept the focus on Marlis and cut the Warbeck/Agren plotline. Ratman would become more of a straight horror film, and the attempt to have Warbeck and Agren provide romance or mystery to the story never happens anyway. Carnimeo's scare scenes range from effective, as with the earlier sequence with Peggy, to hilariously bad, as when Ratman pops out of the toilet for a scare. When the short running time of Ratman ended, I had a complete smile on my face. If one can get past the ludicrous premise of the film (a half-rat/half-man killer); its low budget and highly sensational elements; and the occasional dip into ineptitude and disbelief, then...well, you probably won't see Ratman, because after that, not much is left. However, if you love all of those elements, then you're probably like me a fan of Italian 80s genre cinema and will highly enjoy Ratman.