Werewolves are one of those trusty standbys when it comes to horror movie monsters. It’s kind of a perfect formula when you think about it. After all, the guy looks like anybody else during the day, but when that full moon hits, it’s all teeth and drool and the shredded bloody corpses start piling up. Most of the time the disease of lycanthropy is passed on by being bitten by a werewolf, but our film today looks at a case where full moon fever runs in the family. ..1972’s The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!
The film takes place in 1899 England and focuses on a young woman, Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) as she returns to her family’s home after spending several years at medical school in Scotland. Along with her is her new husband, Gerald (Ian Innes). Now, Diana’s family, the Mooneys, are an interesting bunch. Pa (Douglas Phair) is a bedridden former doctor and he is none too thrilled with Diana having gotten married without his permission. The siblings include the uppity Phoebe (Joan Ogden), businessman Mortimer (Noel Collins), Monica (Hope Stansbury) who spends her free time killing rats, and Malcolm (Berwick Kaler) who basically behaves like an animal and spends all his time locked in his room.
Things are not looking good for Pa right now. His sickness is getting worse and he is depending on Diana to continue his medical research. You see, the family suffers from a strange condition that forces them to be totally self sufficient. As you may have figured out, the family members are all werewolves who transform into snarling creatures once a month. Only Diana doesn’t transform when the full moon comes. Now there are concerns that Diana, who is now pregnant with Gerald’s child, may have no interest in finding a cure for this condition that has tortured her family for generations. However, there may be more to Diana than anybody is aware.
The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! was directed by Andy Milligan, a director with a unique history in the realm of exploitation cinema. Several of his early films have very lurid sounding titles and many are now lost. Though released in 1972, most of this film was shot in England in 1969. A few scenes were filmed in New York almost two years later at the request of the film’s producer to increase it’s running time.
There is actually very little about this film that would make it qualify as either a horror or exploitation film. Most of the film feels more like a soap opera, spending lots of time dwelling on family squabbling. There are long sequence involving the various characters explaining who they are and what role they play in the family dynamic. There is a moment where Diana literally runs through the list of each family member for Gerald, detailing their names, ages, and few other details about each. This, and other scenes like it, are over-scripted and seem to go on and on and on.
The scenes that were added to pad the film out are the scenes that involve the rats subplot. Apparently it was decided to focus on rodents after the success of the 1971 rat-centric film Willard. The names Willard and Ben both come up in this film as names for the rats. The rat sequences strangely show us two extremes when it comes to how this film was executed. In one scene we see Monica petting a rat which eventually bites her, throwing her into a rage. The camera lingers on her petting what is clearly a motionless rubber rodent. Yet, at another point in the film we see the actual execution of a mouse in graphic fashion. When all is said and done the viewer just ends up wondering what on earth the rats had to do with anything else we experienced in this film.
On a whole, the film is very amateurish in its execution. The actors are the chief offenders as they all try just a bit too hard to outdo whoever else they happen to be sharing the screen with. There is one major exception, though, and that would be director Andy Milligan, himself. He appears in two different roles (credited under two different names) which end up being the highlights of the film. He first appears as the disfigured man who sells Monica the rats. Half of his face has been gnawed off by rats, and he looks some what rotentine himself. It’s cheaply done makeup, but coupled with his eccentric performance it’s actually quite effective. Later in the film he plays a jovial gunsmith. He seems like he lept right out of a 50’s era live-action Disney film…which is both jarring and delightful for a film that also features the onscreen murder of a mouse.
When the big werewolf sequence finally comes in the last few moments of the film I couldn’t help but sigh, “well it’s about time.” Of course, the scene is unavoidably disappointing after waiting so long for the werewolves promised by the title to finally show. The sequence may also cause nausea for some viewers with the most dizzying hand-held camera work this side of the Blair Witch. Only the two cameos by the director make the long void between opening credits and werewolf carnage bearable. In truth, this film is just a slow moving soap opera with werewolves tacked on at the end.