Izbavitelj – also known as The Rat Saviour – is a 1976 Croatian horror Sci-Fi film directed by Krsto Papić. The film was selected as the Yugoslav entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 49th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee. In 1999, a poll of Croatian film critics found it to be one of the best Croatian films ever made.
Based on the Russian Alexander Grin’s 1920’s novel Pacolovac (“The Ratcatcher”), Izbavitelj (literally ‘saviour’ or ‘redeemer’) sees down and out writer, Ivan Gajski (Ivica Vidovic) not only struggling to have his novels published but also being turfed out of his lodgings. Left to sleep on benches in cold Zagreb, he meets pretty local Sonja Boskovic (Mirjana Majurec) selling books on the street. Forming a bond, he takes her number, little realising the circumstances he will use it. Taking to park benches for the night, he bumps into an acquaintance who suggests a boarded-up bank as a better and safer place to bed down. Taking a use a phone to find out where Sonja lives, he explores the cavernous rat-infested building, stumbling across a huge banquet attended by a strange cabal, whom he overhears plotting to kill Sonja’s father, a Professor.
Accidentally alerting the group to his presence, he escapes and is later rescued by the professor himself who reveals that the group he discovered is a half human/half rat collective who are plotting to take over society. Ivan agrees to help the professor by obtaining the chemicals needed for him to make the formula he believes will rid the world of this vermin. Though the police don’t believe his story when he alerts them (and indeed no sign of the rat people can be found), the pair continue to develop their serum but the professor is mysteriously killed before the experiment can be completed. Led by the looming, shadowy Rat Saviour, the group silently stalk Ivan and Sonja and all looks lost until an unlikely ally, the town mayor, steps forward to help the pair avoid being gnawed to death…but is everything truly as it seems?
Directed by Croatian Krsto Papić, the film was, of course, actually made in the former Yugoslavia, the backdrop of Zagred being both romantically beautiful and exotically strange, the scuttling around the tiny streets evoking the ageless streets of Kinski’s Nosferatu. An intelligent mix of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live and Society, the film is a masterclass of how genuine creepiness and dread can be achieved with a meager budget and some excellent casting. Some enthusiastic zoom lens may give away the 1970’s production but otherwise the film is as fresh as a daisy.
Played completely straight, a clumsier production would have made the toothy foes laughable whereas there is something curiously believable about the subtle make-up and underplayed score. Whilst ‘old heads’ may spot where the plot is leading at an early stage, it still does not dilute the spooky atmosphere and thought-provoking social commentary, the latter being a pre-requisite for Euro horror of this ilk. The ragged clothes of the protagonist and the grime of the economically-addled town are a perfect match for the many rats who naturally make an appearance in the film – at least one of whom dies a rather too realistic death. Highly recommended.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia