Vintage Cable Box: Of Unknown Origin, 1983

ofunknownclam

“Watch and weep, you furry fucker.”

Of Unknown Origin, 1983 (Peter Weller), Warner Bros.

1983 was the year of the yuppie. The unusual, one-line Google search engine description defines “yuppie” as a well-paid young middle-class professional who works in a city job and has a luxurious lifestyle. The term, being coined in 1982 by Joseph Epstein, points to the rise of baby-boomers finding employment (usually along executive, financial, and administrative lines) in the big cities; many of them living there, but others succumbing to the phenomena of white flight, the grand mass-exodus of white people to the suburbs when inner-city crime and racial tension was at an all time high. Peter Weller’s Bart Hughes is the test-case of encroaching yuppiedom in New York City (although expertly shot in Montreal).

Living with his wife, Meg (Playmate Shannon Tweed, in her first film), and their son, Peter, in a renovated brownstone, his apartment is astonishingly beautiful, tastefully decorated, with lots of space.  Bart has his sights set on a raise and promotion which will enable him to buy the apartment, and from the beginning of the film, he is depicted as straightlaced, clean-shaven, rocking suits and ties, and glad-handing everybody he comes across (but also, strangely, obsessive-compulsive as my wife observed).  His wife and child take off for a vacation and leave Daddy in the big city to make the money.  This movie is a kind-of Seven Year Itch but with a pesky rodent subbing for Marilyn Monroe.

It only takes a couple of days for Weller to lose the fragile grip he thought he possessed with regard to his controlled world.  It turns out he has a rodent problem.  Contacting exterminators proves futile, as the city is overrun.  With the help of his Super, he starts doing his own research, and in a very interesting scene (a dinner party with guests chewing on Cornish hen), he disgusts attendees with admittedly interesting factoids about rats, about the diseases they spread, about the food they consume.  The scene is revealing to me because the director, George P. Cosmatos, and screenwriter Brian Taggert, are obviously citing parallels between rats and yuppies.

Earlier this month, I chose to watch and review another horror movie about rats called Deadly Eyes.  Compared to Deadly Eyes, Of Unknown Origin is a virtual masterpiece of form.  Deadly Eyes is absolutely dreadful and silly, mainly because the visual representation of the monster in question looks so damned silly.  Little dogs, covered with “rat-like” fur but wiggling and moving like dogs.  As if the obsessive Weller at the end of his rope isn’t enough, we have more parallels; as in when he pounds on his ceiling with a thick copy of Melville’s Moby Dick.

The very beautiful Ms. Shannon Tweed.

By the final third of the film, Weller has completely lost it.  His work is suffering.  He earns the sympathy of his secretary, the ire of his rivals, and the befuddlement of his boss.  He constructs a torture and killing device out of a baseball bat, and he becomes completely obsessed with the idea of destroying the rat, even at the cost of his apartment and sanity.  He learns the logic of his enemy, and he revises his attack, eventually emerging victorious.  The movie reminds me of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) wherein our protagonist must dispense with his own logic in order to survive his ordeal.  This is such a fun popcorn movie, and Weller (as my wife noted, a child of James Woods and Jeff Goldblum in his unique mannerisms) is immensely entertaining to watch.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release (Canadian release – the paper is flimsy and oil-stained, I’ve noted this on the Canadian videos).  Also released on Beta, this movie did not have a release on Laserdisc, but it was produced for DVD.  As of this writing, the movie has not yet been released on Blu Ray,  The accompanying essay claims, “If it can’t scare them to death, it will find another way!”  The essay calls the movie, “… provocative and shocking suspense …”  Next time, we wrap up Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage with Drew Barrymore in Mark Lester’s Firestarter from 1984.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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