Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983)

aka MAD HOUSE
Directed by George P. Cosmatos
Written by Chauncey G. Parker III (novel), Brian Taggert (screenplay)
Starring Peter Weller, Jennifer Dale, Lawrence Dane, Kenneth Welsh, Louis Del Grande, Shannon Tweed, Keith Knight, Maury Chaykin, Leif Anderson, Jimmy Tapp, Gayle Garfinkle, Earl Pennington, Bronwen Mantel

For some odd reason, even though I am a huge fan of the rat genre of horror and am deathly afraid of rats myself, having encountered them on the streets of Chicago almost on a nightly basis, I had never heard of OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN. Even after I received this film in the mail and looked at its innocuous cover art, I still found myself wondering if this were a werewolf film, a bigfooter, a UFO story, or something completely different. Turns out (to my surpsise), OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is probably one of the best man vs. rat films you’re ever going to see!


Peter Weller plays Bart Hughes, an engineer/architect and family man with a promotion on the horizon and rainbows and sunshine in his step. That is, until a giant street rat gets into his New York townhome and begins to terrorize his peaceful existence. With his wife and kid away for the week, Bart’s entire life becomes overrun by an obsession to destroy a rat that escapes one attempt at extermination after another.

This is a simple story of man vs. nature and I love simple stories like that. Seeing Bart’s neatly stacked life come unglued and topple is pure joy and a wonderful comment on how our lives can be completely disrupted by one random, unplanned factor. Metaphorically, the rat acts as a fantastic foil to the put together Weller, who revels in his perfect life, snuggling with future Skinemax mainstay Shannon Tweed in her first ever role and talking like a forties mobster, for some odd reason. Weller is the perfect choice for this role, as he exudes a kind of robotic calmness in most of his roles, yet is able to come unhinged well here. This is very much a descent into madness tale with Weller donning a makeshift suit of armor at the end to take on the monster rat.


George Cosmatos, who also did such macho man shows as RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD II, TOMBSTONE, and COBRA, is the perfect choice to direct this small scale monster movie. There are fantastic closeup scenes of rat paws and POV shots of scampering between the walls. While the locale is different, this is a domesticated version of PREDATOR with Weller taking on the Arnold role, fighting the monster rat (which seems to be only about six inches long), and destroying his entire house and life in the process. The film plays as rather goofy, but Weller’s performance and the intense action make it the circumstances steep. So while one might giggle a bit at this tale of man versus rodent, the setup is believable and Weller plays it completely straight. OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is a fantastic allegory about the fragile house of cards we stack for ourselves and the (sometimes small) bumps in life that are more than capable of toppling it all down.

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN Collector’s Edition comes with some great special features, including; a new “The Origins of Unknown Origin” featurette with an interview with executive producer Pierre David, a new “That Rat Movie” featurette with an interview with writer Brian Taggert, a new “Hey, Weren’t You In Scanners?” featurette with an interview with actor Louis Del Grande, an audio commentary with director George P. Cosmatos and actor Peter Weller, theatrical trailers, and a still gallery!




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