Somewhere in 19th century France, a young Bram Stoker (Kevin Alber) is abducted by a cult of man-hating, bikini babes including beautiful blonde Madeleine (Maria Ford). Led by their imperious Queen (Adrienne Barbeau), the warrior women command hordes of ravenous, flesh-eating rats which they use to avenge themselves on all misogynistic males around the region. While Stoker’s father (Eduard Plaxin) contends with the indifferent local constabulary in the search for his son, Bram narrowly survives being tortured from a pendulum swinging above a pit of rats, thanks to the good-hearted Madeleine. His writing talent convinces the Queen to let him ride along and document their raids and he eventually wins Madeleine’s heart, angering her lesbian squeeze Anna (Olga Kabo).
Certainly the loopiest Bram Stoker adaptation ever concocted, Burial of the Rats is (as one might guess) a very loose cinematic interpretation of a short story from the author’s 1914 anthology “Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories.” With Stoker and gothic horror then fashionable again in the wake of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), an array of low-budget movies sought to cash in on his name, including such shoddy items as Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (1995) and Legend of the Mummy (1997). Burial of the Rats was among a slew of schlock movies resourceful exploitation legend Roger Corman produced in Russia around the mid-to-late nineties, where he gave a young Timur Bekmambetov his first big break. While not a “good” film in any traditional sense, this still proofs trash can be oodles of fun when delivered by someone who knows what they are doing.
Aside from its abundant nudity and sporadic gore, Burial of the Rats feels like a throwback to the kind of movies Corman made at A.I.P. Indeed the veteran producer indulges in some self-referencing including an obvious nod to The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). The film seemingly aims for the same kind of knowingly ludicrous camp that Ken Russell attempted with The Lair of the White Worm (1988), but Corman has a slyer sense of satire. Moments like when Bram urges someone to deliver a message to his father, unaware the man has a huge knife stuck in his back, and when Barbeau’s Queen executes one errant rodent using a tiny guillotine (!) signpost the tongue in cheek tone. Nevertheless, the film bears a pleasing romantic streak in keeping with Corman’s old Edgar Allan Poe movies, only slightly undone by the bland Kevin Alber although the beautiful Maria Ford makes a spirited, scantily clad heroine. Resisting the urge to play for laughs, the fan-favourite DTV star (often listed as Quentin Tarantino’s favourite B-movie actress) imbues the conflicted Madeleine with a disarming sincerity. Ford (who supposedly had martial arts training) and her vivacious Russian co-star Olga Kabo throw themselves into the sword fighting scenes with great gusto, whilst Adrienne Barbeau camps it up marvellously beneath her enormous bouffant wig.
Buried beneath the lurid kitsch are fairly solid ideas about literature being a force for ideological liberation and women seeking to avenge the wrongdoings of a male dominated society, but the script co-written by Adrien Hein and novelist and filmmaker Somtow Sucharitkul does not explore them with great depth. The Thai born Sucharitkul had an unorthodox career. Starting out as an avant-garde composer with the Bangkok opera, he went the exploitation movie route eventually directing The Laughing Dead (1989) and later Ill Met By Moonlight (1994), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream not to be confused with the Powell and Pressburger movie.
Corman ensures the comely cast disrobe often while the production design is sparse but imaginative. Dan Golden’s direction is rather humdrum but the crawling rat-cam exhibits some flair, including a sex scene shot from a spying rodent’s point of view. Eduard Artemyev supplies a surprisingly elegant score. Had this been made in the sixties it would have a bigger fan following, but it remains one of the more endearing B movies of the nineties.