The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of The Rage was for the “DVD Insanity” column of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
Each week some of the strangest films ever thought up are released straight-to-DVD and we’re committed to finding the craziest ones out there. They aren’t all going to be winners, but with DVD Insanity, we will strive to bring some attention to the most boundary-pushing, unusual, and just plain wacky films available.
By no traditional means of looking at films can The Rage be considered a good movie. So why am I giving it three stars?
In this tale of a mad scientist who seeks to unleash a devastating virus that turns people into insane, flesh-eating monsters, special effects artist turned director Robert Kurtzman completely frees himself and the film from the constraints of logic or good taste. The result is a silly, graphically gory, tongue-in-cheek horror flick that offers up the truly original idea of zombie vultures. In my book, that earns a film more leeway than one that only offers up another tired variation on the infected zombie genre. It still doesn’t make it a good film, but it does make it a fun one.
Dr. Viktor Vasilienko (Andrew Divoff) is the mad scientist. For convoluted reasons that are eventually explained through an extended flashback, he wants to wipe out the human race with a rage-inducing virus. Unfortunately, one of his test subjects escapes from his lab and eventually falls dead. Some unlucky vultures happen upon the dead man and proceed to treat the corpse like an all you can eat buffet. Now infected, the vultures attack and chow down on some unlucky bystanders before they attack a group of twenty-something stock characters in an RV. Eventually, the stock characters that survive take refuge in a nearby building that is — you guessed it — Vasilienko’s lab. Then the fun really begins.
But the plot is incidental to the ridiculous gore effects and Divoff’s truly nutty take on the mad scientist role. It may just be me, but the casting of Divoff seems like a master stroke by Kurtzman. I suppose any hammy actor available to a budget-conscious director could have played Vasilienko, but there’s something about Divoff that makes it natural when he bulges out his eyes, wipes blood from his face and tells the whimpering heroine (Erin Brown, better known as Misty Mundae known from several — ahem — erotic features), “I just had the overwhelming urge to pull out your eyeballs and eat them.”
It’s a good thing that Divoff is so good in this film, because the rest of the cast range from good enough (Brown) to painfully embarrassing (Ryan Hooks as a generic frat boy-type). But the audience for this film is not looking for great acting or coherent storytelling. The gore is all that matters and Kurtzman understands this.
Not only does the virus turn people into frenzied killing machines, it also mutates them to the point where they look like giant tumors. These effects are handled with the skill you would expect from a director who was one of the top make-up effect artists of the ’80s and ’90s. Bodies are torn apart, crushed, chopped, and explode in vibrant, over-the-top ways. Thankfully, Kurtzman keeps the proceedings at a very silly level, never allowing any of the extreme gore to become mean-spirited or unpleasant.
If only the film had the budget for decent digital effects. There are some terrible CGI explosions and many shots of the vultures attacking rely too much on digital effects that are amateurish at best. Compared with the charming stop-motion animation used for the closeups of the vultures, the digital shots are embarrassing.
But Kurtzman brings as much of a professional sheen to the film as he can with such a small budget. Shot on Hi-Def video, the image is crisp and, combined with better lighting, sound design, and music than most DTV features manage to pull together, it’s obvious that some care went into putting it together. This is a lesson that more DTV producers need to understand — if a film feels half-assed, it’s not going to be very entertaining. With The Rage, I got the feeling that Kurtzman was doing his best to put together an entertaining movie, not just get some piece of junk out to the DVD market to turn a quick profit.
If there is a glaring problem that can’t be blamed on the low budget, it’s the running time. Even at only 85 minutes, The Rage goes on far too long. After a terrific opening sequence, the narrative takes an extended timeout while the stock characters are introduced with the sketchiest of personalities and conflicts. Much of this material could have been cut to keep the action moving at a faster clip.
Maybe I have a sick sense of humor, but I really enjoyed The Rage. It’s impossible to take seriously and I had a goofy grin on my face through most of the running time. If you’re a fan of old school gorefests like The Evil Dead and Re-Animator, you’ll have a blast. But if the promise of zombie vultures makes you roll your eyes, you might want to skip this one.
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