Mulberry Street (2006)

Hey folks, it’s been a while. I took a break from here for a few months to allow myself to recharge. I know, you wanted your cheap and exploitative fix, and I wasn’t here providing the sugar. I’m sorry. I was busy getting married.

Anyway, I have a tradition every October of watching 31 horror films that I’ve never seen before. Sometimes I go with themes, sometimes I don’t. This year will mark the 7th year of the tradition, and I’ve elected not to do anything fancy. There are quite a few groups that do this kind of thing now, so if you want to get involved, you can either delve into your own list or seek out the more thematic sets that can be found at places like Bloody Disgusting or on Reddit (and I’m happy to provide you recommendations if you so desire). Without further ado, I give you my first foray of the month: a movie about rat people in New York City. So pretty much a movie about a normal day in New York City.

One day, rats in Manhattan suddenly turn fiercely aggressive, and they now transmit a plague which infects the bitten and mutates them into violent rat-human hybrids. In New York, this is known as Tuesday. But the residents of one condemned tenement building on the island are now trapped, struggling to deal with the growing horror and the crumbling building they’re all being evicted from. Yeah, I know, it’s basically a zombie movie with a coat of paint, but it’s a good coat of paint.

Here’s a fun question: can a horror film made for $60,000 actually manage to be an effective piece of cinema? Nick Damici and Jim Mickle prove in this micro-budget movie that yes, a solid script with believable, realistic characters can in fact do exactly that. Jim directs Nick as he plays an aging former boxer known as Clutch, who is waiting for his wounded soldier daughter Casey to return home. Meanwhile, he’s busy dealing with the potential of dating a neighbor, Kay, talking to the two old guys upstairs, or spending time with his friend, a flamboyant black man known as Coco. It’s the little things in their lives that make them seem believable, like Kay struggling with her groceries, Coco possibly dealing with his own feelings for Clutch, or the elderly Frank and Charlie dealing with their bad hearing and need for oxygen while bantering constantly. The building feels dilapidated, but more importantly, it feels lived in by actual people that you really would find living in rent controlled apartments in New York.

I was thinking over the last few weeks about possible themes and elements that I’ve seen recurring in horror films, and the truth is, rat movies had actually popped into my head for some reason, so this ended up fitting the bill. There is a small pantheon of these kinds of flicks, including the likes of Willard (original and remake), sequel Ben, post-apocalyptic Rats: Night of Terror, made-for-TV-movie The Rats, and the great Peter Weller vehicle Of Unknown Origin. Note that this is not a fully comprehensive list of rat-based horror movies too. Yeah, even further defining killer animal movies into animal-specific categories, you can come across some weird and cool stuff.

Recently I was also asked for some attention to obscure films on a streaming service, so here you go. Mulberry Street is up on Amazon Prime. While you can see the limitations in the budget (the few instances of special effects are blatantly awful), that money went to making sure the script was shipshape and the talent was well worth it. It’s not the greatest micro-budget film I’ve ever seen; that’s reserved for the stupidly amazing The Head Hunter. Yet it’s one of the earliest from the Damici/Mickle combo, which has given us Stake Land, We Are What We Are, and the Hap & Leonard TV series, along with Damici’s work in films like the geriatric werewolf movie Late Phases.

Look, Mulberry Street ain’t exactly Schindler’s List, but it’s amazing what Mickle and Damici pulled off. This is a movie that has heart, despite the limitations. If I wasn’t already a fan of these guys, I probably would have become one after seeing it.

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