DirectorGeorge P. Cosmatos
Release Date(s)1983 (May 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
It’s unsurprising to me that Of Unknown Origin didn’t do well upon its initial theatrical release. Its appeal definitely doesn’t warrant a broad spectrum of people – only those with a certain bent on seeing a fastidious businessman who is determined to kill a pesky rodent that is slowly destroying not just his home, but his life as well. Over the years, the film has fallen in with a number of other rat-related movies including Willard, Ben, and Deadly Eyes, but with a title like Of Unknown Origin, it doesn’t really give you an idea of what it’s about. It’s no wonder that it failed, despite the numerous positive reviews it received from critics.
George P. Cosmatos helms this adaptation of Chauncey G. Parker III’s book “The Visitor”, purportedly being quite faithful to it. Thankfully, we have the great Peter Weller at the center of everything to carry us through. Without him, Of Unknown Origin would likely have been a lesser film. His magnetic screen presence as well as his ability to just go with it and go out on multiple limbs with his performance is what helps to sell it. The rat itself, which is a combination of different effects, including the use of possums and mechanical rats, rules the roost, so to speak. It’s always one step ahead of Weller, whose need to have things perfect gradually deteriorates once his obsession with finding and killing the rat reaches its zenith. He’s not only endangering himself and his sanity, but his job and, as his repeated nightmares remind us, his family, who are on vacation and unaware of what’s going on at home.
Of Unknown Origin isn’t quite a comedy, but it isn’t totally a horror movie either. Sometimes things just seem a little bit off, or rather left of center. Whether it’s Weller’s performance or Cosmatos’ direction, things seem almost hyper real at times, as if we’re seeing a totally embellished version of a story by someone with a flair for exaggeration. Yet it also feels totally believable at the same time. It’s an odd duck all around, but an entertaining one. I also can’t help myself but compare the film to the more family-friendly but no less enjoyable Mouse Hunt, which was released nearly two decades later. And I’m sure that sounds like blasphemy to some, but there you go.
Thanks to the reverse artwork on the inside of this new Blu-ray package, we know that “this new 2018 high definition transfer was created in 2K resolution at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner from an archival interpositive”. It even opens with the vintage Warner Bros. logo, for good measure. The transfer itself is an amazing improvement over its DVD counterpart. It features solid grain levels with an enormous amount of fine detail. Everything is much sharper and better defined. Even the lettering of the main titles no longer has haloing around it. It’s natural and film-like in appearance with deep blacks and abundant shadow detail. There’s also an excellent color palette on display with natural skin tones, despite not being an overtly colorful film. Overall brightness, contrast, stability, and cleanliness are also improved. The film has never looked better. The sole audio option is an English mono DTS-HD track (which registers as 2.0 on my receiver) with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a narrow track lacking any major spatial activity, but it’s well-mixed nonetheless. The scurrying of the rat through pipes or the sounds of it chewing on electrical wiring are precise and clear. Other random sound effects sound a tad thin, but there’s still plenty of depth to be had elsewhere. Dialogue is well-prioritized with excellent clarity and the score has life to it. Some mild hiss is evident from time to time, but only during extremely quiet moments on the soundtrack.
This release also features a nice extras package. It incorporates the vintage DVD audio commentary with George P. Cosmatos and Peter Weller, which apparently were recorded separately from each other, meaning that there’s no interaction between them and they tend to talk less about the making of the movie and more about what’s actually happening on-screen. New supplements include That Rat Movie, an 18-minute interview with writer Brian Taggert in which he covers how he got involved with the project and what he got out of it, including his favorite line in the movie: “House sounds”; The Origins Of Unknown Origin, a 14-minute interview with executive producer Pierre David who mentions that the film almost got made at Universal; Hey, Weren’t You in Scanners?, a 14-minute interview with actor Louis Del Grande who is quite eccentric but offers up stories about his work on stage, as well as his experiences with Weller; the film’s 2 theatrical trailers; and an animated still gallery with 38 images. Not included are the film’s TV spots, which can be found elsewhere if you’re so inclined.
Scream Factory managing to plunder the Warner Bros. vaults for titles after many fan requests is proving to yield some very tasty fruit. Of Unknown Origin is a film that is likely to receive more praise on Blu-ray than it ever did on VHS or DVD. In the age of movies like it getting renewed interest, it’s bound to have a resurgence. Scream Factory’s treatment of the title is top of the line and is one of their more surprisingly entertaining catalogue titles in recent memory. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons