The feature length directorial debut from director (and co-writer) Jim Mickle, Mulberry St. is kind of a mix between plague/zombie films like 28 Days Later and killer rat films like Food Of The Gods. While that might sound like an odd mix, when you consider that rats are notorious for carrying disease and that they inhabit pretty much every major city on the planet in untold numbers, maybe it's not such a strange concept after all...
A middle aged former boxer named Clutch (Nick Damici) is excited that his daughter Casey (Kim Blair), a soldier who was injured in the Iraq war, has been let out of the hospital and is coming home to his Lower East Side Manhattan apartment to visit. What neither or them, or anyone else for that matter, realize is that a plague is spreading through the city courtesy of the rats that live on the island. As the rats bite humans, the plague starts to spread and those who have been bitten begin to mutate into flesh eating rat people.
The plague spreads while Clutch and the other tenants in the building - the effeminate Coco (Ron Brice), a middle aged bartender named Kay (Bo Corre), her son Ross (Tim House), an surly senior citizen named Frank (Larry Medich) and his friend Charlie (Larry Fleishman)- go about their business. Soon, the plague has spread far enough that Kay gets trapped in the basement of her bar while the owner, Big Vic (John Hoyt), abandons her to fend for herself. Of course, soon enough the entire island is under quarantine and the small group of survivors holed up in the apartment building are left to survive on their own...
Mulberry St. is a slick little horror movie that works quite well despite some obvious budgetary constraints that show up in some of the special effects. Damici makes for a likeable and believable lead and the supporting players are all well cast and completely believable. Director Mickle does a good job of capturing New York City for what it is, a sprawling metropolis full neighborhoods and character and the location shooting lends an air of believability to the film where there wouldn't be one had the filmmakers opted to shoot somewhere else. The rundown building, the subways, the street scenes are all very obviously the real deal and this, coupled with the skillful casting choices, helps the film quite a bit. Add to this the fact that the central characters are fairly well developed and completely sympathetic and you've got a pretty decent set up for a horror film.
So the picture is well acted, well shot, and makes good use of its very real locations, but is it scary? It definitely has its moments. A lot of people are naturally scared of rats and as such, the picture taps into that innate sense unease that a lot of people will be susceptible to. While the infected act much like fast moving zombies, at least here it makes sense that they'd move quickly, and they react much like real rats do, scattering around erratically and snatching whatever bits of food (in this case, people), they can find. They make for effective antagonists here, and they're fitting monsters to find running around the city, making Mulberry St. a considerably smarter than average horror film.
Mulberry St. arrives on DVD in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This shot on digital video productions looks a little dark in spots and suffers from some mild color bleeding here and there but is otherwise quite nice. There aren't any obvious compression artifacts nor is there any edge enhancement to complain about. A bit of mild aliasing shows up if you want to look for it but that issue aside, things look pretty good. There are some scenes that look to have had their colors manipulated for artistic effect, and they also come through fairly well.
The sole audio option on this DVD is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with subtitles available in English or Spanish, with closed captioning provided in English only. You really notice the surround channels kicking in during the attack scenes but during the quieter moments in the film, they're more subdued. Dialogue stays clear throughout playback and there aren't any issues with the levels nor is there any audible hiss or distortion. The score sounds decent but at times it could have carried more punch. Aside from that, this is a solid track and it works well for the film.
Lionsgate has included a few little supplements, but they're all fairly brief and don't add too much value to the package overall. First up is a Storyboards (8:45) section that shows us a couple of scenes on the bottom of the screen while their illustrated counterparts play out on the top - it makes for some interesting comparisons. Two Deleted Scenes (2:13 combined) are also here, one where some of the tenants site out on the street and talk, and a second one where Casey has an unusual encounter with a man in a Manhattan subway. The Early Director Sketches (1:34) segment is a selection of Jim Mickle's illustrations used in preproduction, shown here in slideshow format, while the Make Up Test (3:25) bit is simply a look at some of the rough effects work conjured up for the film. There are a few Outtakes (2:55) included here that are mildly amusing, as well as a segment entitled Behind The Scenes: The Rats (2:17) which shows how animal trainers convinced the live rats to perform as required in the film.
On top of that, Lionsgate provides animated menus, chapter stops, some previews for coming attractions that play when the disc loads, and a collection of footage from the Miss Horrorfest Contest Webisodes that were used to promote the After Dark Horror Fest. Here, various goth-ish gals in silly outfits parade around various locations and visit strange places to see who is the one most worthy of becoming Miss Horrorfest.
Mulberry St. was a surprisingly engaging horror film. It moves at a great pace, it features some very strong performances, and while it might borrow from a few other films a little too much, at least it does so well. The extras aren't anything to write home about but the movie is strong enough that the disc comes recommended regardless.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.