When it came to collecting the short films that make up this VHS-themed anthology series, Bloody Disgusting took its name a little too literally, because they are some of the most horrific things we have ever seen. And they are definitely keen on effectively utilizing every popular genre trope available to them, regardless of economic limits, progressively hurtling down the depravity tunnel like a bullet train speeding towards its next station.
It has allowed them to create beings that can only be described as “nightmare-inducing.” The scale-legged succubus from the first V/H/S film was just a taste; over the next three films, the franchise’s creators introduced us to 1. ghost-like aliens who use teenagers as incubators, 2. alt-dimension humans whose genitalia have become monstrous because they “worship the opposite side,” and 3. Baphomet, literally.
But even these pale in contrast to the “Raatma,” which is a terrifying creature. Is it an extraterrestrial? A mutation, perhaps? A deity? Are they all? Or is it something quite different? We are here to provide answers to those questions. Raatma, the monstrous, half-human “Rat King,” is explored in V/H/S/94. Spoilers Ahead, as always; you have been warned.
Confusion & Carnage: A Deathly Occult Ritual
V/H/S/94 opens, as most films in this franchise do, with a home invasion; only this time, the stakes are much higher than anyone could’ve anticipated. A S.W.A.T team is on its way to a location that is purportedly a massive drug den of some sort. The runners of this operation are selling an illicit substance that looks like white goo and emits a vapor that they think is intoxicating. Well, it is, but not the hallucinatory kind.
No, this white goo is the source of evil so malevolent that it makes you give both your eyes the Odin treatment. The team arrives at the compound and is baffled by what they are witnessing; it looks like their handler had misread the situation because they’ve arrived at the site of a ritualistic mass cult suicide. As they split off into teams and investigate this bizarre crime scene, the camera pans towards a TV where a VHS tape starts playing a news report from the isolated town of Westerville.
“Rat-Man” – Is it a hoax, an escaped felon, or something else entirely?
Channel 6 anchors Mark & Camille inform us of a bizarre story that is currently unfolding in Westerville, involving a seemingly monstrous person called “Rat Man”. Mark jokes that these superheroes’ names are “getting out of hand”, but Camille isn’t amused; she throws the story to her field reporter Holly Marciano. Accompanied by her cameraman Jeff, Holly is on the mean streets of Westerville, holding public interviews with its residents who have some interesting notions as to what the “Rat Man” is.
The 1st guy she interviews compare it to Pennywise the Clown, saying it stares out of the sewers & screams like a demon at night. So she moves on to a skateboard park for a more informed opinion. A delinquent couple speculates that the Rat Man is actually an escapee from a criminal asylum called “Athens” and that he’s hiding out in the sewers to evade the cops; the girl takes a break from her smoke to add that her cousin “went there” so they come off as authentic.
But Holly knows better. She does the customary news bit with the local pastor, who compares Rat Man to some Biblical Justice BS as most local pastors do. Her last interview is at the mouth of the Westerville sewers, and it is with a rather nervous-looking man who’s holding on tight to his trucker hat; and his Assault Rifle. Holly asks him where he last saw the Rat Man and he points directly towards the sewers with his AR.
Something about the man’s nervousness bugs the Channel 6 crew and they cut the interview short. They are further unsettled by his presence when he keeps staring at them while Holly records her sign-off for the piece. They’re saved from his foreboding aura by a loud noise coming from inside the sewer. Being journalists, and having nowhere better to go at the moment really, they delve deeper into the drainage system of Westerville. Little do they know their lives are about to change forever.
Hail Raatma: The True Story of the Sewers of Westerville
When Holly & Jeff enter the sewers, they find…a mattress. Stuffed with belongings, and warm. Someone was living here, and recently at that. Jeff is spooked about the whole ordeal, but Holly wants to pursue this story further. Jeff reminds her of her alcohol problem and that she might not be thinking straight at the moment, but all she can think about is her Pulitzer.
They dig deeper into the cavernous tunnels and come across the jackpot; a tent, which was being used by a homeless person as their permanent dwelling. This was it; this was going to be Holly Marciano’s biggest break. She could already see the title: “Hail Rat Man: The True Story of the Sewers of Westerville”. She asked Jeff to grab as much footage as he could of the tent and everything around it but something inside it stirred with killer intent and scared the bejesus out of both of them.
They turned around to find a man standing behind them, covered in black grease, and looking rather ratty thanks to his time living there. Holly thought this was it; this guy had to be Rat Man. She asks him his name, and he tells her he’s Bill, but every subsequent answer he gives is incoherent at best until Holly comes out and asks him directly; is he the Rat Man?
At the very mention of Rat-Man, Bill’s eyes light up with malice, he proclaims “Hail Raatma”, and spits out a black vomit-like substance from his mouth, grinning at the pair like a madman. Holly & Jeff realize they’re in grave danger, but it was too little too late. Bill’s homeless friends capture the Channel 6 news crew & commandeer their camera. They were going to make an example of them tonight for their leader; they were going to make them face the judgment of God. After a brief glitch, the camera comes back to life and focuses on Jeff, who is bound.
He is approached by the same pastor Holly had interviewed earlier; the one who’d said the arrival of the Rat Man was a sign of God; that sinners & elites needed to be wary of His Judgement. Now, he forced these headline-hungry fiends to see what he really meant. He asked his cult to divert the focus on an altar-like tunnel; and when the light seemed to hurt the creature inside, he asked them to cut it out. Did we say, creature? That’s right; it turns out, Rat-Man wasn’t a man at all.
It was a thing at best; a cryptid, an abomination. It had the body structure of a regular human being, but that was it. Its limbs were furry, it had a long tail, but the worst thing about it was its head; think Xenomorph, but with whiskers, hideous brown fur & 2 very disturbingly-placed eyes. And its scream; my god, is its scream an exercise in horror; Part-dragon, part-human, but completely unnatural regardless of its physiology.
Turns out, instead of trying to kill this abomination, the pastor made it his new God and called it Raatma. Now, he “baptizes” Jeff with Raatma’s “Holy Water”; aka the black goo he throws up which, when it comes into contact with human flesh, makes it look-and-feel- like a melting candle. He tells Holly she might be spared if Raatma “approves” of her, and she is brought closer to the New God for inspection. Her fate is sealed when it starts shrieking like a laboring succubus, and the screen fades to black.
A few days later, Channel 6 is on the air with its biggest story of the year; the sewer rescue of Holly Marciano. Holly joins Mark in the studio and is asked about her “daring adventure”. She starts explaining, but for some reason, her words aren’t clear; she keeps adding the word Raatma to her sentences in random places.
Mark calls her out on this, but she ends up regurgitating black vomit onto his face; which erupts into a melt-job that puts Raiders of the Lost Ark to shame. As Holly continues to deliver the news story, Mark dies a torturous death, acting as a symbol of what humanity can expect from his new divine order. The last scene sees her stare directly into the camera and say “Hail Raatma” with a catatonic smile stuck on her face.
The Rat Kings: Mythological Creatures From European Folklore that Inspired “Raatma”
Director Chloe Okuno has already stated that her grotesquely fascinating creation was inspired by European folklore. Her primary inspiration behind Raatma was the Scottish urban legend of the Catman; an actual person who lived on the streets of Greenock was covered in black grime, and led the lifestyle of an actual feline, carrying rats clenched in his jaw around town.
There were multiple theories about who he was and why he lived the way he did; maybe he was a wayward sailor, an escaped mental asylum resident (something Okuno worked into the film), or just a plain creep who loved living life like a cat. The thing is though, the Catman of Greenock was identified as a homeless person in 2007 via a series of images that finally put the decades-long urban legend to rest.
The other mythological creature that inspired Raatma is far more inexplicable, and that has nothing to do with the fact that it’s German. Well, not entirely, anyway. Around the 1500s, creatures of a rather unsettling nature began emerging across Europe. In France, Poland, the Netherlands & Germany, tales spread far and wide of a malevolent “Rat King” who, if spotted, would bring sickness & doom into your lives.
And what might a Rat King look like, you ask? You might not be glad you did. A “Rat King” is basically what you imagine when you think “rodent hive-mind”, except it’s a lot worse, and the rodent in question is also possibly psychic. It’s technically a collection of “lesser rats”, who have found themselves in servitude to their overlord by tying up their tails in tight knots. But doing so, they become the “throne” upon which their king reclines, and plots to curse mankind with plagues.
Because that is the evil a Rat King represented; pestilence, plague, sickness & eventual death. To see a Rat King is to seal your own sickening death, it was believed; and Chloe Okuno’s Raatma truly embodies this aspect of the Rat King mythology. Though it doesn’t have a throne made out of tail-tied rats, it has an army of human “rats” who bow at his alter like he’s some kind of God.
The way the pastor speaks of it, you’d think he’s preaching about Armageddon and a New World Order, which is the kind of fervent paranoia that a Rat King sighting invoked in days long past. And the fact that his black vomit is literally making people blow up is enough of plague homage for us; all the evidence points towards the fact that Raatma is a combination of the Scottish urban legend and the mythic German evil. But is the latter of those two things actually real?
Are Rat Kings A Myth?
It’s conflicting information at best because while evidence of their “thrones” exists, the Rat King himself remains elusive. But nonetheless, it is true that throughout history, there have been several notable instances of a Rat King emerging from the dark to terrorize neighborhoods with its singularly unnatural appearance.
The number of rats that make up his throne can vary from 3 to 30; one of the largest mummified “Rat King” displays is in the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg, Germany. Dating back to 1828, it has 32 individual rats stuck together and is alleged to have been found in Buchheim, Germany. Imagine; 32 rats stuck together by the tail! Their king must be one big, beefy boy.
Right? Here’s the thing; while Rat King Specimens have been found, the cause for their existence itself is still speculative at best. Scientists argue that if rats got stuck the way they do in these models, they’d try to free themselves no matter the cost; including, but not limited to, gnawing their own tails off. Moreover, most of these Rat Kings were held together by secretions like blood & feces as well as external dirt & grime.
And almost all of them have been found in extremely cold climates, where it would make sense for rats to huddle up for warmth. So technically, while Rat Kings do exist, they aren’t exactly the kind of malevolent omen we are thinking of; it’s a survival strategy gone wrong at its very best. But at the same time, we cannot deny that rats are the biggest carriers of disease in the world; and that neatly aligns with the Rat King symbolism.
Rat Kings are, after all, looked at as omens of plague & diseases. And 32 rats huddled in one big ball is just a cornucopia of infections waiting to be released in our opinion. So, no; there is no “rat king” who is directing traffic using hive-mind tactics on its “slave mice” and riding upon their backs like a twisted, furry little Pharaoh. But, everything else associated with the mythology of the Rat King does hold facets of truth in them; enough for it to be something taken seriously enough, anyway.
Why the Raatma from V/H/S/94 is such a terrifying creature
If you ever decide to actually watch V/H/S/94, you’ll notice that for all the hype we’ve given it here, Raatma isn’t even in the movie for too long. But it is in there for long enough to keep you up at night for the next several weeks. And if you really want to traumatize yourself, just watch some of the exceptional yet borderline-hideous concept art that creature designer Patrick Magee came up with; you’ll be glad you didn’t see the *another half* of Raatma, believe us.
But more than just its appearance, it’s what Raatma represents in the context of the story that is so terrifying. Chloe Okuno described her creature as an “alien creature, stuck here, from a different dimension”. And what’s the first thing that comes to the minds of the disenfranchised of Westerville? God! They saw this monster from a different world and thought it was an aspect of the Lord Above! Raatma is a representation of not just our gross imagination, but also human vulnerability; and the fact that it will make you believe in anything if you are broken enough.
As an alien creature, Raatma has a really cool character design and an iconic screaming sound effect that is commendable for such a low-budget production. But as an omniscient being, if he is a representation of the world that the sewer-dwellers of Westerville think of as a utopia, then maybe 16th century Germans weren’t wrong to be scared of a bunch of hog-tied rats. Maybe we’re the fools for believing all of this isn’t real. And maybe, just maybe, Raatma is still watching over us with His beady eyes. Hail Raatma.