For years, the makers of low-budget films have done whatever it takes to get their movies made. I've noted a recent trend where independent horror films are shot in what appear to be abandoned buildings. Now, I know that the filmmakers can get a lot of mileage out of locations like this, but for some reason the thought of people shooting in what should be condemned dwellings makes me uncomfortable. Thus, I was dismayed to find that the Japanese film Nezulla, The Rat Monster opens in what appears to be an abandoned building and much of the action takes place there. I can't say why, but I would have thought the Japanese above this.
Nezulla, The Rat Monster takes place in an unnamed small town in Japan which is being ravaged by a plague. The infected sport black sores and the local clinic is overrun with patients. A representative of defunct local company DN admits that the firm had been conducting chemical warfare experiments for the United States Army and that some infected rats had escaped -- thus infecting the locals. One such rat had mutated and had grown to enormous proportions. A group of soldiers, led by John (Yoshiyuki Kubota) and Aso (Masato Gunji), are sent to the abandoned DN laboratory to destroy the rat monster and secure a sample of its tissue so that a vaccine can be made. Once the group gets on-site they find themselves locked in and that the self-destruct system has been activated. Worse, conventional weapons don't work against the rat monster. Will the group be able to save the infected and themselves?
Nezulla, The Rat Monster was an official selection of the 2002 Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival, and was chosen for this honor based solely on the film's synopsis before any filming was done. In addition, the powers-that-be at the Film Festival co-sponsored the making of the movie. They really should have done some research before getting behind Nezulla, The Rat Monster, because the movie is simply awful.
I don't even know where to start when describing this movie. I guess I'll go with the fact that writer/director Kanta Tagawa has opted to tell two stories in this movie. He cuts back and forth between the DN lab and the clinic. This is a mistake because the goings-on in the lab is the more interesting of the two stories, and we know so little about the people at the clinics, both the medical staff and the patients, that it's hard to care for them. He also seems to cut away at the most inopportune times. Then, we have the story, which is either really simple or really convoluted, I'm not exactly sure which. There may have been something lost in the translation, but I was never sure who was doing what at the lab. One of the soldiers is revealed as a saboteur, but I wasn't sure why they wanted to blow up the lab. Also, despite the fact that all of the soldiers are Asian, some are supposedly with the U.S. Army, and their discussions on this topic was very confusing. Finally, when John and Aso first meet, there is tension between them, but the last 30 minutes of the film is filled with their male bonding, and the dialogue is incredibly trite and cliched.
However, the biggest problem with Nezulla, The Rat Monster is the titular monster itself. Before seeing the film, I read somewhere that it was a "rubber-suit" monster movie, so I assume that Nezulla, The Rat Monster would be big like Godzilla. But, no, Nezulla, The Rat Monster is only about 10 feet tall, and he looks like he escaped from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Yes, the monster here looks like shiny plastic and is incredibly stiff. The beast only appears a few times in the film and instead of creeping into frame, he pop up like a rodent jack-in-the-box. The creature is simply laughable and it's comic appearance didn't help what was already a weak movie.
Nezulla, The Rat Monster lumbers onto DVD courtesy of Media Blasters. The movie is letterboxed at 1.78:1, but the transfer is not anamorphic. The picture quality shows varying degrees of quality. Some shots are very sharp and clear, most notably some of the exteriors. But, some of the interior shots are dark and murky. The level of detail in the image fluctuates as well. Colors are generally good and the framing appears to be accurate.
The Nezulla, The Rat Monster features the original Japanese track in a Dolby 2.0. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, but other than that, it is quite unspectacular. I noted no significant surround or stereo effects. The yellow subtitles are very clear and easy to read.
The Nezulla, The Rat Monster contains a 44-minute featurette entitled "Making of Nezulla". This segment does offer some behind-the-scenes footage -- some from the set and some showing how the creature was made. However, the bulk of it is devoted to interviews with all of the cast, and footage of the film's premiere from the Film Festival, complete with comments from festival-goers who didn't like the movie! The only other extra is the trailer for the film.
There's nothing better than a good monster movie. Unfortunately, Nezulla, The Rat Monster isn't a good monster movie. Confusing and cliched, the movie is bad enough as it is, but when I'm waiting for the Pink Ranger to come in and kick the monster, something has gone horribly wrong.