• Of Unknown Origin

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 22nd, 2018.
    Director: George P. Cosmatos
    Cast: Peter Weller, Jennifer Dale, Lawrence Dane, Kenneth Welsh, Louis Del Grande, Shannon Tweed, Maury Chaykin
    Year: 1983
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    The Movie:

    Directed by the late, great George P. Cosmatos in 1983 just a few short years before he’d strike box office gold with Rambo: First Blood Part II and then Cobra, Of Unknown Origin, written by Brian Taggert and based on the novel by Chauncy G. Parker III stars Peter Weller as business man Bart Hughes. He lives in a fancy older rebuilt Manhattan townhome with his wife Meg (Shannon Tweed) and their son Peter (Leif Anderson).

    Things are going just fine for the family until Meg and Peter leave for a vacation. Bart opts to sit this one out, preferring to stay home so that he can work on an important project at work, a project that he hopes will lead to a promotion. Once wife and child are out of the house, however, Bart soon realizes that he’s got a rat problem. At first it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, more of an inconvenience than anything else, but once wires start getting chewed through and the house starts showing visible signs of damage, he decides enough is enough and makes it his mission to catch and kill the rodent. As Bart’s efforts to get rid of the pest fail and fail again, it starts to take a serious and visible toll on his psyche…

    As much an exploration of one man’s obsession as it is a killer rat movie, Of Unknown Origin is well made and quite tense. The Montreal locations used in the shoot don’t always convincingly pass for Manhattan but that issue aside, this is good stuff. Cosmatos controls the pacing quite well, the editing is tight and the cinematography from René Verzier (who shot Rabid for Cronenberg to name only one of his many credits) does an excellent job of slowly but surely turning the Hughes’ posh home into a dark and unsettling locale. The effects work is rock solid throughout, and of course it’s all of the practical variety, and the score from Kenneth Wannberg adds to the film’s scenes of suspense quite admirably.

    Performances are strong across the board. Shannon Tweed, in her first big screen appearance after gracing the pages of Playboy a few years earlier, shows promise here. She looks great and fits the part quite well. Supporting work from Jennifer Dale, Lawrence Dane and Kenneth Welsh is all fine as well. Not surprisingly, however, Weller is the real star of the show. He gets loads more screen time than anybody else in the picture and he makes the most of it. He’s great here, playing the part with some subtle quirks of character that add to the fun, and allowing his character to unravel slowly and without unnecessary scenery chewing.


    Shout! Factory brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time in a 1.85.1 widescreen transfer taken from a ‘new 2K scan from the interpositive’ presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The old anamorphic DVD from Warner Brothers looked very good for its time, but this transfer handily beats it, showing improved detail, depth and texture even in the film’s many darker scenes. Shadow detail is pretty solid, skin tones look lifelike and natural and black levels are nice and deep. Compression isn’t quite perfect, there are some minor artifacts here and there, but there’s nothing too serious to complain about here in that regard. The image is free of obvious noise reduction, showing the expected amount of film grain, and there are no noticeable issues with any obvious edge enhancement or sharpening. All in all, a more than fine effort in the video department.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is also fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise and the levels are well balanced. There are no audible issues with hiss or distortion and both the score and effects work featured in the picture sound quite good here.

    Carried over from the old DVD release is the audio commentary with director George P. Cosmatos and actor Peter Weller – it’s a good one. Both men have quite a bit to say regarding the making of the film as they cover shooting on location in Montreal, working with animals on the set, how the cast and crew got along on set and plenty more. If you haven’t heard it before, it’s worthwhile.

    From there, we get the first of three new featurettes starting with The Origins Of Unknown Origin which is an interview with executive producer Pierre David that runs just a tad over fourteen-minutes. He speaks pretty candidly about the Canadian tax shelter program, Cosmatos’ directing style and personality type, as well as how the film eventually wound up at Warner Brothers. In hat Rat Movie writer Brian Taggert spends eighteen minutes in front of the camera talking about how his work on Visiting Hours a little prior to this film got him the job. He also talks about the use of humor in the film and his take on how Weller’s character is portrayed in the film versus how he was originally written in the script. Finally, Hey, Weren’t You in Scanners? is an interview with actor Louis Del Grande that clocks in at just over fourteen minutes and sees Del Grande quite enthusiastically talking about how he got into film acting, his work on Cronenberg’s iconic picture and then of course how he wound up in this picture and what his experiences were like on set. All three of these are quite interesting and occasionally very funny as well.

    The extra features close out with a few theatrical trailers for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Of Unknown Origin is a damn good movie, one that deserves to be better known than it really seems to be. Hopefully Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release helps to rectify that, as it presents the movie in a very nice high definition presentation with some great extras. Fans of ‘animals attack’ style films and of Peter Weller take note – you need this one.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Ian. This is a good film. I think I'll have to import this, especially considering my DVD copy of this film seems to have disappeared.