The Rage (2007)
Deep in the woods, a mad Russian scientist is doing experiments on innocent victims in his secret laboratory. He is developing the 'Rage' virus, which turns people into violent maniacs. But when one of his human guinea pigs escapes (and dies in the woods) the infection is spread via hungry vultures and onto others.
Yes - this movie features projectile-vomiting zombie vultures! Add to that a crazed scientist, some big mutated leeches, the odd bit of dodgy acting, and eye-popping amounts of gore, and that would normally have me rushing to get the popcorn and a beer. From the outset it seems clear that director Robert Kurtzman's tongue is very much in his cheek, and it really feels like a lot of fun was had in the production. Andrew Divoff certainly has a great time chewing the scenery as the crazy Dr Viktor Vasilienko.
Rather than following one main character, the first half of the film takes the unusual step of following the virus itself as it leaves the building, passes through various animals and people, until the action returns to the lab again in the final act. The gore effects are impressive, and there are jump scares that really will take you by surprise. The script is self-mocking ("I've seen a hundred shitty horror movies start off like this!" complains one of the characters as they take their vehicle down an unmarked short-cut through the dark woods). And while we may initially assume those murdered to be cliched (a topless woman and a fully dressed man having sex in their car) the film does go against convention by including victims who are, let's just say, controversial.
Other special effects are a mixed bag. When the mutated vultures attack, a combination of computer generated effects and practical puppets are used. The CGI vultures look like CGI. The puppet vultures look like puppets. Yet it sort of works. It creates a fun blend of cheesiness and gory horror, which is actually very entertaining.
When a character asks the scientist what kind of 'madhouse' he is in, he replies theatrically, "one which your simple mind could not possibly comprehend!" Clearly a major inspiration of this is the classic sci-fi b-movie of the 1950s/60s. Especially when we learn (through a sepia-tinted flashback sequence) that Dr Vasilienko was actually 'wronged' by the profiteers in the medical profession, and the 'Rage' virus is part of his revenge. I spotted a brief nod to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and a few of the scenes in the woods reminded me very much of The Incredible Melting Man (1977). There is even a reference to bird flu in the script, which would have been prevalent in the news at the time of filming.
It does have some significant shortcomings. The balance of cheese and gore is upset towards the end, when poor CGI effects become more of an issue. And the idea of using a character with a disability for horror or comic effect does not sit comfortably with me. Apart from that, The Rage is fast paced, scary and shocking in places, cheesy enough to provide a few good laughs, and mostly a lot of fun to watch.