Good news for all you aspiring Willards and Willardinas out there. 2020 has hit again in a strange, unforeseen way, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press, we’re going to be seeing more mice and rats in our homes.
Since little critters love eating our leftovers from behind the dumpsters of every mom-and-pop’s, Chili’s, and Chipotle (but not you, Del Taco…not you…), there’s a problem with people eating less at restaurants – there’s less food for these little dudes to enjoy in the “wild”. So, when they can’t eat in our suburban wastelands, where do you think they’ll migrate to?
Now, now, before you spout out the “not in my backyard dumpster”, let’s take a look at this again. Rats are pretty smart and resourceful. They don’t need much in the way of food. They’re hardy AF. They’re kind of perfect minions. There’s a reason why they have a better theme song than E.T. (I mean, besides Neil Diamond).
Honestly, there’s quite a few rats in horror, pop culture, and our history, so let’s talk about them a little. (Yes, I did go off on a rat rant during one of our podcasts, so what, come fight me)
In Pop Culture
Most recently while I was watching The Nutcracker (with the trying-his-best-but-completely-bored Macaulay Culkin as lead), the rats (although also referred to as mice) play quite the villainous role, especially the Rat/Mouse King. In the 1993 version, he’s a rat with multiple heads. In fact many versions call upon the “rat king” phenomenon as inspiration for this character/creature design, which…I mean, just look at him.
Then of course, there’s the wildly under-appreciated Ratigan (voiced by horror icon Vincent Price) in the equally under-appreciated Disney film, The Great Mouse Detective.
And that’s not the only Disney movie to put a rat as the villain. Lady and the Tramp had a pretty alarming scene with the rat trying to…I guess eat the baby? But seriously, it’s a tense action scene that ends with the baby thrown to the floor and the Tramp injured.
Even the R.O.U.S. of The Princess Bride look like a cross between a rat and a beaver (but more rat due to the snout and the tail). And no, that totally didn’t freak me out with its jump-scare, hahahaha, you fool…So stupid.
Or if you want to get more philosophical and bookish, there’s of course the overwhelming fear of rats from the main protagonist, Winston, from George Orwell’s, 1984. This is used effectively by the fascist government to get him to betray his love and fellow revolutionary, Julia. Spoilers for a book older than most of my readers.
Rats in Horror
Apart from the cuddle-fests of Willard and Ben…
1976: Burt I. Gordon’s The Food of the Gods (based on an H.G. Wells novel) is more like The Stuff, but for animals. While there are other animals that grow and get…cranky, you can see from even the poster it’s the rats that take center stage.
1982: James Herbert’s Deadly Eyes which takes place in Toronto with large, ‘roided rats (yes, this is the one where dachshunds are dressed as rats; yes, it’s adorable).
1983: George P. Cosmatos’s Of Unknown Origin is another Canadian venture, but is really more about the frailty of the human condition than of the rat. But, yeah, rat…
1984: Bruno Matteo’s Rats: Night of Terror is set in the distant future of…2015, where the nuclear fallout has pushed survivors to fight genetically enhanced rats for food (great twist at the end).
1989: Damian Lee’s loose sequel, The Food of the Gods II, is about a literal man-child and big killer rats.
1990: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk to Dawn (yes, yes, written and starring Tarintino) has a LOT going on – criminals, strip clubs, vampires, the hottest Salma Hayek ever, crisis of faith, Tom Savini as a biker named Sex Machine, and…a rat creature (who happens to be Tom Savini/Sex Machine). This movie is bonkers ball-to-the-walls insanity, but the effects are, of course, outstanding and this rat is ugly AF.
2001: Miles Feldman’s Altered Species (aka….uhg, Rodentz) borrows from the “rats as science experiment gone wrong” trope, but this time we’re trying to cure cancer. Like in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the “experiment goo” contaminates some rats, giving them strength and power. Unlike TMNT, there are sadly no quips about pizza, nor any ninja arts from said rats.
2002: John Lafia’s The Rats, a made-for-tv movie, is about New Yorker rats (“Hey, I’m gnawin’ here!) that are, again, failed genetic experiments.
2003: Tibor Takács’s (non-made-for-tv-Christmas-movie) Killer Rats is another experimental rat story but with a possibly supernatural bend as they begin to have telepathic bonds.
So, the years of the rat look like they’ve trickled out in the early 2000’s, but I think with this rise, maybe we’ll get some more flashes of inspiration in the future. Since horror is reflective to what our society fears in the moment, if this becomes a larger issue, then we probably will be seeing more of rats on the screen.
But hopefully as a Willard reboot-type situation (plus new and improved with telepathy!).