Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972): Family is Toxic

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)
dir: Andy Milligan

Andy Milligan's origin in directing abusive plays is on full display in this gothic play-posing-as-a-movie where the horror is other people.

With a title like The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, one would be forgiven for thinking this was actually a movie about either rats or werewolves. In actuality, the rats make a fleeting appearance, and the werewolves only exist in the finale. What the movie is actually about is the damages that a family can do to each other regardless of role in the family.

The film is actually about the interpersonal dynamics of the Mooney family, a family of semi-werewolves where the werewolf trait is genetic and varies from character to character. The main thrust of the film is how the dynamics are disrupted when the youngest daughter, Diana, returns to her family's estate with a new husband in tow. She had been away to medical university to study medicine so she could develop a cure for her father's deadly disease.

Diana's older sister, Monica, is a crazy psychotic mean bitch of a woman who incessantly taunts and abuses her brother Malcolm, who is kept chained up due to his status as a permanent half-werewolf with animalistic tendencies. Her mother, Phoebe, is hiding secrets from everybody, and trying to keep relative peace in the family so that the father doesn't die. Then there is Mortimer who is an older brother who is treated like a butler, and also may be having an affair with Phoebe, his mother.

What this movie lacks in supernatural tendencies, it makes up in soap opera cruelty. Monica pours hot wax on Malcolm for the hell of it. She burns Diana's clothing. Monica buys rats from an animal dealer, pointlessly tortures them, gets bitten, then tries to return them. When the animal dealer won't return her money, she burns his store down. Meanwhile, Phoebe's reveal is that Diana actually isn't her daughter, but the daughter of Pa's second wife who was poisoned shortly after birth.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! opens with a shot of a group of people mindlessly torturing what looks like a retarded boy. That boy is Malcolm who is quickly rescued by his family only to be immediately tortured by them. It's better to be tortured by family, because it is inevitable. This sets the tone for the whole movie. The whole movie is about people mindlessly abusing themselves and each other. They're being burned with crucifixes, taunted with food, and throwing fights about everything. The majority of the dialogue is a fast-delivered screaming match about the shittiness families can do to each other.

Milligan's movies are frequently views into the soul of a damaged man. His movies are as cruel and abusive as he could be. He has a very misanthropic viewpoint that everybody is terrible, even if they post as "good people." Milligan, however, holds special abuse for women, believing that they have a special capacity for cruelty, deviance and manipulation.

Andy came from a troubled family, and it comes through loud and clear in this movie. His mother was emotionally abusive and his father was an alcoholic. He blamed his mother for his father's behavior. All of this is easily read in The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, but whether or not this knowledge adds to the movie is completely debatable. To me, the movie stands up on its own as an incisive view into a dysfunctional family. This type of family dynamic, with comedic abuse and ancient secrets, will be exploited for comedic effect in this Christmas' August: Osage County. And, of course, both of these films owe a significant debt to Tennessee Williams' southern gothic family portrait plays. Though, few of the gothic family plays are as cruel as they are when depicted by Andy Milligan.

Is it good? Well...that depends on your tolerance for no budget filmmaking by somebody who worked better without a camera. The acting is on a level of early John Waters, and there is very little humor in the movie to get you through the shouting and the amateurish camera work. But, once you get past the student film aesthetic there is something that is undeniably pulsing about the content in this film. You just have to have a black soul to find it.

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