ICFIFC: AH, RATS!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ICFIFC: AH, RATS!

The best-known rat species are the black rat (Rattus rattus) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).  The group is generally known as the Old World rats or true rats, and originated in Asia.  Rats are bigger than most Old World mice, which are their relatives, but seldom weigh over 500 grams (1.1 lb) in the wild.

The term "rat" is also used in the names of other small mammals which are not true rats.  Examples include the North American pack rats, a number of species loosely called kangaroo rats, and others.  Rats such as the bandicoot rat (Bandicota bengalensis) are murine1 rodents related to true rats, but are not members of the genus Rattus.  Male rats are called bucks, unmated females are called does, pregnant or parent females are called dams, and infants are called kittens or pups.  A group of rats is either referred to as a pack or a mischief.

The common species are opportunistic survivors and often live with and near humans; therefore, they are known as commensals.  They may cause substantial food losses, especially in developing countries.  However, the widely distributed and problematic commensal species of rats are a minority in this diverse genus.  Many species of rats are island endemics and some have become endangered due to habitat loss or competition with the brown, black or Polynesian rat.

Wild rodents, including rats, can carry many different zoonotic2 pathogens, such as Leptospira, Toxoplasma gondii, and Campylobacter.  The Black Death is traditionally believed to have been caused by the micro-organism Yersinia pestis, carried by the tropical rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) which preyed on black rats living in European cities during the epidemic outbreaks of the Middle Ages; these rats were used as transport hosts.  Other zoonotic diseases linked to pest rodents include classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease.

The average lifespan of any given rat depends on which species is being discussed, but many only live about a year due to predation.


Ratman's Notebooks is a 1969 short novel by Stephen Gilbert.  It features an unnamed misfit who relates better to rats than to humans.  It was the basis for the films Willard, Ben, and the 2003 remake of the original film.  After the release of the original film, the book was rereleased with the title Willard.

The book is set as a series of journal entries, where the unnamed narrator goes back and forth between his life with the rats and his work, in a low-level job at a company that his father used to own.  In these entries, the young man dwells on the hatred he feels for his boss, the stresses of caring for his aging mother, a nameless girl he becomes fond of and above all the families of rats which he has befriended and which he uses for company and companionship.

Eventually, the young man trains the rats to do things for him.  His favorite is a white rodent, which he calls "Socrates".  A rival to Socrates is "Ben", a large rat that the narrator grows to despise when it refuses to listen to him.  The young man uses the rats to wreak revenge upon his boss, and havoc amongst the local shop owners and home owners, whom he has robbed with the aide of his rat pack.  His "ratman" robberies become a newspaper sensation in the area, and the man makes quite a stash of money for himself and for the girl he is courting at work.  After his mother dies, the young man inherits the house.

When Socrates is killed at the young man's work place by his boss Mr. Jones, the young man is forced to use Ben in his criminal escapades.  He devises a plan to have the rats kill Mr. Jones, avenging Socrates's death.  He then abandons all the rats at the scene of the crime, ridding himself of that part of his life.  Eventually, as his relationship with the office girl moves towards marriage, Ben and his pack return, chasing the girl out of the house and trapping the young man in the attic.

The book ends with the young man madly scribbling about the rats chewing away at the door.


Willard (1971)

  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Daniel Mann
  • Produced:
    • Mort Briskin 
    • Charles A. Pratt
  • Written:
    • Stephen Gilbert (novel "Ratman's Notebooks")
    • Gilbert Ralston
  • Starring: Bruce Davison, Sondra Locke, Elsa Lanchester, Michael Dante, Jody Gilbert, William Hansen, John Myhers, J. Pat O'Malley, Joan Shawlee, Almira Sessions, Pauline Drake, Helen Spring, Alan Baxter, Sherry Presnell, Ernest Borgnine
  • Music: Alex North
  • Cinematography: Robert B. Hauser
  • Editing: Warren Low
  • Studio: Bing Crosby Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Columbia Broadcasting System  
    • Cinerama Releasing Corporation  
    • European Video Corporation  
    • Prism Entertainment Corporation
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 18 June 1971
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Willard is a 1971 horror film starring Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine.  The movie is based on the novel Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best picture.  The supporting cast included Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein) in one of her last performances, and Sondra Locke (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Every Which Way But Loose) in one of her first.  The film was a summer hit in 1971; opening to good reviews and high box office returns.  It inspired other horror films with wild animals as predators, as well as psychological thrillers with social outcasts as the protagonists, climaxing in 1975 and 1976 with the hit films Jaws and Carrie.

Willard is a meek social misfit who later develops a strange affinity for rats.  He lives in a large Victorian home, with only his cranky and decrepit mother for company.  On his 27th birthday, he is humiliated to come home to a birthday party thrown by his mother, where all of the attendees are her own aging friends.  After having left the party in embarrassment, he notices a rat in his backyard and tosses it pieces of his birthday cake.  Later, his mother gets upset with him for leaving the party and she scolds him later while also discussing how badly the house is falling apart.  The next morning he goes out and feeds another rat (this one has babies with it) while imitating their squeaks.  His mother starts telling him that he needs to kill the rats that have been running around their yard, to which Willard refuses.

When Willard goes to work he is promptly scolded by his boss Al Martin.  Later he returns home and sets about killing the rats as his mother ordered.  He puts food on a center rock in a large well, placing a wooden plank to act as a bridge for the rats.  When the rats have gathered on the rock, he removes the plank, trapping the rats.  He then turns on the water, letting the well fill up thereby drowning the animals.  Willard soon feels guilty and returns the plank before turning off the water.  When his mother asks if he killed the rats he lies and tells her he did.

That afternoon he begins playing with a rat he names Queenie, and begins teaching the rats words like "food" and "empty".  He sees a white rat and immediately takes a liking to it.  The white rat becomes his best companion and he names it Socrates for his wisdom.  Numerous other rats quickly emerge, one of which is a bigger black specimen whom he names Ben.

At work, Mr. Martin continues to antagonize Willard, telling him he will not give him a raise and then urging him to sell his mother's house.  Willard sneaks up to a party Mr. Martin is throwing, opens his suitcase which has rats in it, and then urges them to go get the food and ruin the party.  The guests begin screaming and Willard laughs behind the bushes where he is hiding.

The next day Willard's mother dies.  He discovers that the house is heavily mortgaged.  After this Willard is further pressured by the banks to give up the house.

Willard decides to bring Socrates and Ben to the office with him.  He sets them on some shelves and tells them to be good.  One of his friends at work gives him a cat named Chloe.  Chloe constantly claws at the suitcase where Ben and Socrates are residing.  Willard hands her off to a complete stranger and drives away.

The rat population is getting too big, and Willard can not afford to feed them much longer.  He decides to steal money from his boss, using his now-trained rats.  He orders the rats to "tear it up" and puts them in front of the office door.  Later, at home, Willard gets mad at Ben and starts putting him outside the bedroom, but Ben persists in sleeping in his room.

The next day he again takes Ben and Socrates to work.  One of the workers spots the rats and Mr. Martin bludgeons Socrates to death, leaving Willard devastated.  After Mr. Martin confronts Willard over the theft, Willard instructs the rats, led by Ben, to kill Mr. Martin.  Slightly unnerved by Martin's gruesome death, Willard then abandons Ben, goes home and begins sealing up any holes through which the rats could gain entry.  He also puts as many rats as he can into cages and drowns them in the small pool outside.

Willard has dinner with Joan, a co-worker he likes, but is startled to look up and see Ben back in the house staring at him from a corner shelf.  He gets up and notices hordes of rats running up the stairs from the basement.  He orders Joan to leave and locks the door before confronting Ben.  Willard stalls and begins mixing rat poison, but Ben reads the box and squeals loudly, alerting the others, some of whom attack Willard.  In an act of desperation, Willard tries to hit the rats with a broom, but misses.  He runs upstairs but the other rats come after him.  Shutting the door, he stands there terrified.  The rats begin to gnaw at the door and eventually break in and devour him, and he says to Ben, "I was good to you".  The camera zooms into a close-up of Ben and the credits roll.


Ben (1972)

  • Genre: Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Phil Karlson
  • Produced:
    • Joel Briskin 
    • Mort Briskin 
    • Charles A. Pratt
  • Written:
    • Stephen Gilbert (characters) 
    • Gilbert Ralston
  • Starring: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O'Connell, Rosemary Murphy, Meredith Baxter, Kaz Garas, Paul Carr, Richard Van Vleet, Kenneth Tobey, James Luisi, Lee Paul
  • Music: Walter Scharf
  • Cinematography: Russell Metty
  • Editing: Harry W. Gerstad
  • Studio: Bing Crosby Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Cinerama Releasing Corporation  
    • Columbia Broadcasting System  
    • New Cinema Corporation  
    • Paramount Home Video  
    • Prism Entertainment Corporation
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 23 June 1972
  • Running Time: 94 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Ben is a 1972 horror film about a young boy and his pet rat, Ben.  The film is a sequel to the 1971 film Willard.  The theme song, entitled Ben is performed by pop singer Michael Jackson.  It was also included on his 1972 album of the same name.

A lonely boy named Danny Garrison befriends Ben, the rat leader of the swarm of rats trained by Willard Stiles.  Ben becomes the boy's best friend, protecting him from bullying and keeping his spirits up in the face of a heart condition.

However, things gradually take a downward turn as Ben's swarm becomes violent, resulting in several deaths.  Eventually, the police destroy the rat colony with flame throwers, but Ben survives and makes his way back to Danny.  The film closes with Danny, tending to the injured Ben, determined not to lose his friend.

The film's theme song "Ben" is performed by Lee Montgomery in the film and by Michael Jackson over the end credits.  Michael's recording of the song became a #1 pop hit single.  Later included on Michael's album of the same name, "Ben" won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (it lost to "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure).

The song is calm and mellow, which contrasts with the horror content of the film.  A live recorded version was released on the 1981 album The Jacksons Live! and eventually appeared on Michael's Number Ones album in 2003.

Crispin Glover re-recorded a version of the song for the soundtrack of the 2003 remake of Willard.  Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, & Lea Michele perform a cover of the song for the Glee season 3 episode Michael which was a tribute to Michael Jackson.  Pearl Jam's song Rats talks about the film, the last line of the song is an obvious reference to Ben.  The line is, "Ben, the two of us need look no more."


Ben received mixed to positive reviews, currently holding a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The consensus was that the film was decent, but not as scary as the original Willard.  Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and wrote "This isn't a thriller but a geek movie.  In a thriller, we're supposed to be scared by some awesome menace to mankind -- the Green Blob maybe, or Big Foot, or the Invincible Squid and his implacable enemy, red wine sauce.  But in a geek movie, the whole idea is to be disgusted because the actors have rats all over them."


Ratboy (1986)

  • Genre: Comedy – Crime – Drama
  • Directed: Sondra Locke
  • Produced:
    • Fritz Manes 
    • Rob Thompson 
    • David Valdes
  • Written: Rob Thompson
  • Starring: Sondra Locke, Robert Townsend, Christopher Hewett, Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Gerrit Graham, Louie Anderson, Sharon Baird, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon
  • Music: Lennie Niehaus
  • Cinematography: Bruce Surtees
  • Editing: Joel Cox
  • Studio: The Malpaso Company
  • Distributed:
    • Warner Bros.  
    • Carat
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 17 October 1986
  • Running Time: 104 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Ratboy is a film released in 1986 and directed by and starring Sondra Locke (star of 1971’s Willard).  The film had a troubled production and was both a critical and commercial failure (which resulted in Locke receiving a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress).  The film's make-up effects were designed by Rick Baker.  Ratboy did however receive better reviews in European countries, especially France, winning the Deauville American Film Festival.

A physically deformed and somewhat feral teenager whose face looks like the snout of a rodent lives in solitude and misery in a city dump.  Two rednecks come across his lair and kidnap him.  They inform the papers about their find in case someone might want to see or interview the "Ratboy".  Only Nikki, a bored fired window dresser pretending to be a reporter shows up.  She wants to profit off of the child as well, so she calls the cops who arrest the rednecks and she takes the child with her to her flat.  She and her two dummy brothers try to think of a way to profit on the boy, but he tends to get easily agitated and depressed and no one wants anything to do with him except possibly hurt him emotionally or even physically.  At the same time, Eugene (“Ratboy”) wishes to avoid public attention.  There is never any explanation for Ratboy's existence as a human/rat hybrid.

Notes:

1.  The Old World rats and mice, part of the subfamily Murinae in the family Muridae, comprise at least 519 species.  Members of this subfamily are called murines.  This subfamily is larger than all mammal families except the Cricetidae (true hamsters, voles, lemmings, and New World rats and mice) and Muridae (true mice and rats, gerbils, and relatives), and is larger than all mammal orders except the bats and the remainder of the rodents.

2.  Zoonosis describes the process whereby an infectious disease is transmitted between species.  It usually refers specifically to diseases that can travel from non-human animals to humans.  They include all diseases that people can catch from animals such as wildlife, domestic animals, insects, primates, and birds.

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