Director/Screenplay – Vince D’Amato, Producer – David Aboussafy, William Carne, Vince D’Amato & Michele Savoldi, Photography – William Carne, Vince D’Amato & Turner Stewart, Music – Michele Savoldi. Production Company – Brivido Giallo
Jesse Inocalla (Jesse), Jessie Crabbe (Emmanuelle), Momona Komagata (Lina), Tristan Risk (Juliette), Ariel Hansen (Zara), Jacqueline Ryan (Lorraine), Michelle D (Amanda), Hans Potter (Dick), Larissa Jones (Eve), David Copper (Bobby), Lynn Lowry)
Jesse has just been released from questioning by the police over the murder of his girlfriend. He rents a limousine and takes a tour of the city, picking up various friends, ex’s and acquaintances where he questions them as to their involvement. In between assorted sexual dalliances, he tries to piece together what happened.
Vince D’Amato is a Canadian director. He has made a number of usually micro-budgeted films with the likes of the anthology Corpse-o-Rama (2001) and the feature films Human Nature (2004), Vampires vs. Zombies (2004), The Hard Cut (2011), Reversed (2013) and Glass (2015), plus an episode of the anthology Hell Hath No Fury (2006). All of these demonstrate a love of slasher, exploitation and giallo cinema. Elsewhere, D’Amato runs several Vancouver exploitation and horror film festivals – 1970s actress Lynn Lowry has been pressed into shooting a couple of scenes for this film after appearing at one of these. I watched the world premiere of The Valley of the Rats at the 2016 Shivers Cinemafantastique film festival, which Vince D’Amato also curates. It should be noted that this is not a final cut that is being reviewed.
The film takes place in a two-part structure. The first half involves Jesse Inocalla just released from police questioning where he has rented a limo and is travelling around the city picking up various acquaintances and questioning them about the murder of his girlfriend. Each of the sections is divided into a chapter with the name of the individual picked up. These limo sections come with some amusingly snide comparisons to David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012). The significance of the film’s title is spelt out in a line of dialogue but this is unfortunately drowned out by the score.
That said, the murder mystery aspect is no more than a hook to hang the film on – moreover, one to which it never seems particularly interested in ever providing an answer. Nor is there any urgency to the twists and turns that the plot takes that you might get in a standard thriller. The second half becomes a long drawn-out blur of scenes from nude and quasi-nude modelling shoots, sexual encounters and fetish scenes in what could be a flashback or possibly even sexual fantasy being had by Jesse Inocalla (or even one of the other people in the taxi). These scenes brim over with fetish imagery – tattooed nudes, Tristan Risk parading about with a snake around her body, girls in lots of leather and black lace lingerie, rope bondage, the killer carving a tattoo on someone’s back with a switchblade. Certainly, the blur of images interrupt the conversations in the limo in ways that are deliberately provocative, almost subliminal at times, and give the film an undeniable charge.
On the other hand, the second half of the film allows these scenes to take over and become the whole film. Charitably, you could compare The Valley of the Rats to a low-budget version of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013), which similarly offered up a blinding array, almost sensory overload, of imagery and provocative poses principally taken from giallo cinema, all of which seemed to be taking place on a subliminal, subjective level. On the other hand, these scenes slip into a fascinating blur that almost makes sense but eventually leave the audience behind. I failed to discern much rhyme or reason behind what was going on here. You sit through the twenty odd minutes of this parade of bodies with the feeling that all of this is going to coalesce into making some sense and offer an answer to the murder but it never does. Crucially, I reached the end of the film not clear who was that was the killer – there is a switchblade-wielding character who is listed on the credits as ‘Killer’ so you sort of have to go with that but equally the roles shift around so much that it is hard to tell what happened. For that matter, you are not even clear which of the girls in a state of undress is meant to be the victim. I liked The Valley of the Rats as it seems to bite off an enormous conceptual ambition that is way beyond most B-movies – what other micro-budgeted film could you describe as a giallo version of Cosmopolis? – but crucially where the final act should bring it together, it fragments off into narrative incoherence.
(Screening at the Shivers Cinemafantastique Film Festival)