It’s funny how some people have such an adverse reaction to certain things and some don’t. And I mean the common stuff like spiders and snakes, not ridiculous shit like pickles and cotton balls. I guess it comes down to events that happen during our formative years. My exposure to rats as a child was countless viewings of The Secret Of NIMH. Now, I’m sure that rats aren’t the noble and courageous creatures portrayed in that, but the message stuck. Rats are intelligent animals and highly adaptive survivors. To me, that makes them fascinating. I also had a bunch of these little rubber critters. Ah, memories. These guys got into some EPIC battles with my GI JOE’s back in the day.
I was talking to Serena the other day and when I mentioned my idea of Rat Week, she brought up an old Peter Weller movie that scared the shit out of her as a kid. She couldn’t remember the title, but I was sure I’d never seen it. The next day, she emailed me the name. It was Of Unknown Origin. I knew of it and remembered the coverbox, but never knew that’s what it was about. So, off to zip.ca I went and a week later it was in my DVD player.
While his family is away, corporate banker Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) realizes he is not alone in his newly renovated brownstone. An unusually cunning rat has set up shop in the house and is not leaving without a fight.
After seeing Of Unknown Origin, I can understand how it might plant that seed of fear. I would go so far as to say that it may be the suriphobic equivalent to Jaws. They certainly don’t paint a pretty picture. In fact, the rat is portrayed as an unrelenting and insidious monster. Weller (in his first starring role) just runs with it beautifully as Hughes slowly takes more and more time out of his busy schedule until finally declaring outright war on his unwanted housemate. Also, Of Unknown Origin was Shannon Tweed’s (fresh off her appearance in Playboy) first movie. It was kind of cool to see where the ubiquitous b-movie bombshell started out.
The root of the story is one man’s descent into obsession. The rat is just the catalyst, a symbol and the director’s on-the-nose references to Moby Dick and The Old Man And The Sea are hard to miss. That being said, the star of this picture really is the rodent. In an era before CGI and a production budget that didn’t include stop motion animation, they did well with the available macro lenses and furry puppeteering. The only downside is that the perceived size of the rat seemed to change from scene to scene. There are some great shots though. They really get creative with the camera to make up for their monetary shortcomings.
Overall, Of Unknown Origin is pretty good. It has that same charm that a lot of those old Canadian productions like The Changeling and Cronenberg’s early works have. If you like movies about giant rats run amok (as I obviously do), this is certainly one to check out.