Warner Bros. // 1983 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 22nd, 2003
The terrifying last word in home invasion from the director of "Tombstone" and "Cobra."
Bart Hughes (Peter Weller, Robocop) lives his life in the fast-paced rat race that is Wall Street. At the end of the day, Bart assumes he's left the rat race for homespun tranquility. Bart would be sorely mistaken. Inside his Manhattan brownstone lurks something even more terrifying than his business associates: a giant sewer rat. At first, Bart thinks he's got only a minor nuisance on his hands. It soon becomes clear that this rat is anything but ordinary -- chewing through his food, walls, money, and life, the rat soon makes Bart's life a living hell. After his beautiful wife (soft core late night queen Shannon Tweed, in her first major role) and son leave for a visit to her wealthy parents for a few days, Bart's safe haven becomes a bloody battleground. Miner's light and pick ax in hand, Bart wages a battle to the death with the oversized rodent. But when push comes to shove -- and gnaw comes bite -- who will get out of this terrifying rat race alive?
What is it with Hollywood thinking that rats make a frightening menace? Spiders I can understand. Snakes, definitely. But furry, scurrying rats? I realize that they can bite and carry disease. Yet for some reason I've never understood the paralyzing fear associated with them. In director George P. Cosmatos' Of Unknown Origin, one very large rat makes his way through a Manhattan apartment via POV shots and shoddy effects. While 1983 may have been a great time for certain movies, it wasn't the year of the rat -- there are too many shots in Of Unknown Origin where the titular beastie looks like either a close up of a much smaller (and less threatening) rat or a cheap looking effect that's been thrown onto Peter Weller's body while he lays screaming like a Catholic school girl. And this is the guy who played Robocop, for goodness sake. [Editor's Note: Though he did scream like a Catholic school girl when Clarence Boddicker blew off his arm with a shotgun.] In all honesty, I can't say that Of Unknown Origin is a worthless movie. There were some scenes of sheer fun and delight, as when the creature sneaks into bed with Bart and shifts his way under the covers. And who among you doesn't get slightly giddy when you see a man trample around his basement swinging away at what is most obviously an expensive prop rat? Peter Weller shows all the emotional range of a stale bag of peanuts. Weller has always been one of the least expressive actors working in film, which is why he worked so well in Robocop. In Of Unknown Origin, he walks around in business attire yelling obscenities at an off screen rodent. Either this guy loves schlock or needs to get a new agent. Shannon Tweed shows why she's been relegated to Z-level porn -- just because you've got an aeronautically sound set of nipples doesn't mean you can act. As for the real star, he spends most of his time crawling around the baseboards and chewing on the electrical system. When he finally does appear...well, let's just say the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi would even be rolling their eyes. Clocking in at under an hour and a half, I can't begrudge Of Unknown Origin. Director Cosmatos infuses the story (based on the book by Chauncey G. Parker III) with more energy than it has a right to display. Search your local Blockbuster and you should be able to find far better movies than this one, though with a few beers Of Unknown Origin makes for a fine Friday night cheesefest.
Of Unknown Origin is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall this transfer is a decent effort by Warner. The colors and black levels are all mostly solid with only a few imperfections marring the image. Aside of a small amount of dirt and edge enhancement, the print appears to be in good shape. While this isn't the sharpest, most defined image ever pressed onto DVD, fans of the film will surely be pleased to be getting a widescreen version of the film. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. There's not a whole lot to be said about this mix -- the soundtrack is clear of any major hiss or distortion with all aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music clear as a bell. Obviously, there are no directional effects or surround sounds. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The extra features are slim, though Warner has been generous enough to include a commentary track by director George P. Cosmatos and star Peter Weller. Both participants are chatty and provide the viewer with a decent amount of information on the production, the cast, and of course that big old menacing rat. Also included on this disc is an anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Director George P. Cosmatos and Actor Peter Weller
* Theatrical Trailer