After Clint Eastwood’s career skyrocketed in the late ’60s following the American release of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the entire world was at the actor’s feet. Soon, the now-established crowd-pleaser was making one hit after another, often for his own outfit, The Malpaso Company (later Malpaso Productions). In fact, things were looking great and running smooth for several years. And then he met an anemic actress with large, lifeless black pools for eyes, stringy long concrete blonde hair, and a frail-looking frame. Her name was Sondra Locke, and for years, she generated many protesting groans of disgust from audiences members who simply wanted to watch a Clint Eastwood movie in peace.
But Clint kept putting her in his movies anyway. In fact, towards the end of the former Hollywood couple’s well-publicized break-up, Clint’s Malpaso Company actually managed to procure enough investors (or “suckers”, if you will) to permit a starring vehicle for Sondra Locke. And as if that wasn’t a bad enough idea already, they also agreed to let her direct. The resulting motion picture travesty, originally released as Ratboy, was later renamed by Oh, Dear God, No, Not That Movie! by studio executives at Warner Brothers, just about everyone who worked on the picture (Sondra Locke excluded), and the ten unfortunate souls who regret shelling out four hard-earned bucks so they could sit through the movie to this day.
A far cry from the thrills the original Willard provided fifteen years earlier (and which Sondra Locke co-starred in, when she still had a drop of blood in her system), the 1986 big-screen disaster finds Sondra Locke as a thoroughly unlikable schemer in Hollywood who is keen to leech off of bigger people with money. Her character is called Nikki Morrison so as to avoid any confusion with the real Sondra Locke. An unemployed window dresser who drives a pink Oldsmobile (the budget Pink Cadillac – note the Dirty Harry reference Sondra Locke throws in, too) , Nikki is rummaging through the dump one day for stuff as a few reporters investigate the disappearance of a young man who is said to have the facial characteristics of a rat.
Beating the mostly uninterested members of the press to the chase, Nikki soon snatches up the poor deformed youth from a pair of dimwitted ex-cons who want to sell him to the highest bidder. Fortunately, Nikki isn’t that cruel. Oh sure, she also tries to exploit the poor kid like the sideshow freak he is, but she also wants to keep him – so that the cash will keep rolling in. She takes Ratboy home to her two worthless siblings (brought to life by the bizarre casting of Louie Anderson and Gerrit Graham, the latter of whom tries to maintain his dignity despite being clad in some of the worst fashions the 1980s ever offered mankind), whom she leaves to look after the freak of nature while she goes out looking for high-profile Hollywood celebrities such as Brett Halsey and Merv Griffin to help her exploit the kidnapped, orphaned abomination.
Nikki’s latest get-rich scheme – this, following an attempt to build an inland surfing range – doesn’t go as planned in this dreadful film that features small roles by Robert Townsend as a streetwise urbanite, Christopher Hewett (yes, Mr. Belvedere himself) as an English acting coach, as well as character actors Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon, and Tim Thomerson, who is another big Hollywood star according to this movie. But, if you look closely at the faces during Thomerson’s big ’80s Hollywood penthouse apartment party, you can not only see the likes of Jon Lovitz and Bill Maher in early roles (with lines, even!). If you look even harder, you might spot Kevin Nealon at the back of a small grouping.
In fact, Ratboy has a lot of future talent lurking around every corner. Sadly, none of said talent had been established enough to say “Hold on, isn’t this a really bad idea?” during the actual making of the film. While it isn’t the first movie to be made without so much as a shred of common sense or dignity, Ratboy nevertheless has become a sideshow curiosity of its own making over the years for cinemasochists due to Locke’s inept directing (her acting was so bad, that she only earned a nomination for the Razzies that year: she wasn’t even good enough to be bad enough!), an uninspired story, a rather horrid rock/pop/early rap soundtrack, and a bevy of characters who come and go without leaving so much as a tiny bit of an impression.
Likewise, the film’s eponymous character itself – as played by actress Sharon Baird under a heap of Rick Baker makeup – lacks any depth. We’re supposed to feel bad for Ratboy‘s situation (how he came to be whatever he’s supposed to be is never accounted for, much like the film itself was when the investors had a meeting following the film’s release). We should be rooting for him to break away from all of the manipulative Sondra Lockes out there (and there are lots of them), and find his way to the legendary Island of Misfit Boys, but we don’t. Even when trigger-happy rural law enforcement officers (who are identified as “police” for some reason) chase him through the countryside and open fire, we still don’t care.
Unlike the movie itself, Rick Baker’s makeup job is quite good, and is definitely a high point of the twisted, anti-dramatic yawn. That said, I would like to call to you attention the shocking similarities between Rick Baker’s makeup design for Ratboy and Sondra Locke’s face. Seriously people, it’s uncanny. But of course, the true high point of Ratboy is the fact that, after the movie succeeded in crashing ashore like a doomed sailing vessel carrying plague-ridden rats (you know, just like in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – a story about another bloodless vampire), Clint Eastwood, Warner Bros. and basically the movie-going public of the entire world were finally able to release Sondra Locke back into the wild. And to think all it took for us to get rid of Sondra Locke was to let her direct!
It’s been nearly thirty years after Ratboy opened and tanked at the box office. During that time, the forty dollars the movie made from the ten original cinema patrons has been sitting in a savings account earning interest, and the dollar amount finally reached a balance where it was feasible to sink it into adding Ratboy to the Warner Archive Collection. Frankly, I never thought I’d see this one on DVD – and while I’m sorry I did, this is definitely going to be a hot item with cult-movie lovers near and far. Presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, the film is a bit shaky in some places, but the print is pretty much untarnished (it’s not like the movie went anywhere – though it was popular in Europe for some reason). The disc also includes an open matte trailer for the film as a bonus.
In short, there have been far worse productions (Malpaso or otherwise) to grace my screen over the years, but for the life of me, I can’t think of a single one after viewing Ratboy for what was my first – and surely only – time. That said, I know many of my fellow cinemasochists will enjoy the long, painful ride into the film that destroyed what little of a career Sondra Locke had.