In the 1988 Italian film, Ratman, Terry (Janet Agren) has come to a Caribbean island, not for a vacation but instead to collect the remains of her sister, Marlis (Eva Grimaldi). Marlis was an up-and-coming model who came to the island with a photographer named Mark (Werner Pochath) and another model named Peggy (Luisa Menon). Marlis had her entire life ahead of her but apparently, someone murdered her on the island and then left her body in an abandoned building where it was eaten by a rat.
Obviously, identifying a dead sibling would be a difficult task for anyone. Fortunately, no sooner has Terry arrived on the island than she runs into Fred (David Warbeck). Fred is a true crime writer, a man who knows the island and who is always ready with a quip or a joke. For reasons that are never quite clear, Fred invites himself to accompany Terry down to the morgue. Why does Terry allow a complete stranger to go with her to identify her sister’s body? Who knows? Maybe it’s because Fred is played by David Warbeck, who was one of the more likable actors to regularly appear in Italian horror films.
It turns out to be a good thing that Fred came along because, when they arrive at the morgue, it turns out that the police don’t actually have Marlis’s body! Instead, they have Peggy’s body. Peggy was murdered while wearing Marlis’s dress, which led to a case of mistaken identity. But, if Marlis isn’t dead, where is she?
Could she and Mark have gone deeper into the jungles of the island, hoping to find the perfect place to take the pictures that will turn Marlis into a superstar? Of course, they have! Unfortunately, what they did not take into account is that the island is also the home of the Ratman!
Who is the Ratman? Well, his name is actually Mousey (Nelson de la Rosa), despite the fact that he doesn’t really act like a mouse. Mousey was created a mad scientist who wanted to see what would happen if he crossed the genes of a monkey and a rat. The end result was a 2’4 sociopath with really sharp teeth and an insatiable urge to kill. The scientist thinks that he’ll win the Nobel Prize for this creation but Mousey seems to be more concerned with killing people. As soon as he gets out of his cage, he goes on a killing spree….
Mostly because of the presence of Nelson de la Rosa (who, until his death in 2016, was the world’s shortest man), Ratman has a cult following. And it must be admitted that de la Rosa makes for a memorable ratman. Unfortunately, he’s not really in the film that much. The majority of the film is made up of filler. For instance, we spend a lot of time watching Mark take pictures. A lot of time is also devoted to Fred and Terry having to deal with the incompetent island police. (The police are convinced that Marlis is dead and are apparently willing to force Terry to look at every dead body on the island to prove it.)
Fortunately, this film also features David Warbeck and, as any fan of Italian horror can tell you, Warbeck was one of those actors who improved any film in which he appeared. Warbeck always approached his roles with a sense of humor and a likable joie de vivre and he’s probably as convincing as anyone could hope to be when appearing in a film like Ratman. Warbeck delivers his lines with just enough of a smile to not only let you know that he’s in on the joke but to also invite you to play along with him.
Reportedly, Ratman was a troubled production and the film’s producer stepped in to take over from the credited director. That perhaps explains why the film itself sometimes feels rather disjointed. There is one undeniably effective sequence, in which a model is stalked by a knife-wielding maniac just to then be attacked by Mousey instead. Otherwise, by the standards of most Italian horror films, it’s a visually bland movie. I would have liked to have seen what someone like Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci could have done with Ratman.
Ratman exists in several different version. The version I saw was dubbed into French and it was obvious that a good deal of gore had been cut from the film. (The “official” Italian version has a running time of 82 minutes. The version I saw only ran 76 minutes.) Still, even in an edited form, this film has an undeniable “What did I just see” appeal to it and it’s always worth watching anything that features David Warbeck.