Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

[Musophobia] Deadly Eyes (1982)

Deadly Eyes - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
Health inspector Kelly Leonard orders a massive quantity of steroid-infused grain to be destroyed after she discovers that it is infested with rats. Perhaps her investigation should have dug a little deeper, because the rats that have been living in and feeding on this grain have grown substantially, and when it is set aflame, they are forced to find a new home in the city.

Apparently city food doesn't offer all the vitamins and nutrients that they require, because they quickly turn their sights on humans, cutting a bloody swathe through the population...or at least a very distinct subsection of the population. It seems that nearly everybody who is being attacked is, in some way, connected to college professor and basketball coach Paul Harris. (No, there's not any sort of reason behind the rats targeting only the professor, his students, and his associates—it is merely a convenience of plot.)

There are two truly shocking moments in this movie, and the very first rat attack is one of them. They begin their assault against the human race in a manner that is not seen very often in these films: that is, the murder of a child—the baby sister of one of the professor's students. Although the actual attack is kept off-camera, we do see the prelude (the rats surrounding the toddler's high chair and working together to tip it over) and the aftermath (a puddle of blood and a crimson trail left behind as they dragged the child away). Killing children has long been the ultimate taboo in horror flicks so it is always rather shocking to see, but it is made more so here by the sheer casualness with which it was thrown out, never to be mentioned again.

After a later attack, in which another of his students is bitten (but survives), Paul and Kelly meet for the first
Deadly Eyes - These Rats Are Hungry
These Rats Are Hungry
time at the hospital. Being either a progressive woman or a promiscuous one, she gets his number, calls him for a date, goes out to dinner with him, and then promptly has sex with him. Not that anybody can blame her. Paul is painted in quite the flattering light: he's a professor, so he's intelligent; he's a basketball coach, so he's manly; he's a single father, so he's sensitive; and when a very attractive young student throws herself at him, he resists, so he's morally upstanding. All in all, he's quite the catch, and besides, rushing them into a serious relationship makes the chemistry of their team-up to stop the rat infestation better serve the plot and increases the stakes without having to worry about any of that pesky story development.

The pair of would-be exterminators meet up with one of Paul's friends who, as luck would have it, just so happens to be an expert on the subject of rats. After hearing what few facts they have on the subject, he quickly declares them a new breed of Super-Rat, sight unseen, and offers up some advice on how to properly eradicate them—but before they do, the rats command one more massive siege against humanity, this time in a movie theater scene full of panic and sheer grimy goodness that is one of the highlights of the film.

The final confrontation between man and rodent takes place beneath the city during the dedication to a new subway tunnel that Paul's son is attending with Kelly. The fight involves improvised flamethrowers, conjuring up memories of the finale in BEN (1972), and Paul declares that all of the rats are dead, as there is no way that any of them could have survived the fire. Paul, Kelly and the boy hop aboard an empty subway train and ride off into the distance, victorious.

Except…remember when I said that there were two shocking moments in this movie? The second one comes at the true ending of the film, as the train pulls into the next stop and the boarding passengers are met with the grisly remains of Kelly, Paul and his young son.

It seems a few rats may have survived the firestorm after all.

This movie gets a bad rap, but in truth, it's enjoyable in a chaotic sort of way. There are very few genuine masterpieces in the Nature Strikes Back category, but this fits nicely alongside the goofy also-rans, like SLUGS (1987), FROGS (1972), and SQUIRM (1976). They can't all have the benefit of being directed by Hitchcock or Spielberg, but at least this one offers up a few surprises along the way, even if the rest of it is rather formulaic and far too reliant on coincidence. You can't come into it expecting any sort of subtext, or you will be sorely disappointed. This is Rats Eating People 101, which, coincidentally, is probably the name of the professor's course.

Deadly Eyes - Ratdogs
I knew that I had to see this film as soon as I learned that they used dachshunds in costumes to play the giant rats. This was a variation on a not-so-special effect used in the Ray Kellogg cheeser THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), so I was expecting visuals along the same lines. While not perfect, the effect is much better than I would have imagined, and likely wouldn't earn as much ridicule as it does if the fact that they were dogs in disguise wasn't so well known. The dogs couldn't see through the masks they wore, and had to maneuver with their sense of smell and hearing—meaning a lot of doggy treats and noisemakers were used to make them hit their marks successfully. Reports around the Internet state that the dogs were treated very well on the set, but these are refuted by rumors that one of them died during filming, likely having suffocated under the weight of the rat suit.

DEADLY EYES was scripted by Charles H. Eglee who had gotten his start as co-writer of PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING the previous year. He went on to write for such seminal TV shows as MOONLIGHTING, THE SHIELD, DEXTER, and THE WALKING DEAD.

Director Robert Clouse is best known for having directed Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and having cobbled together the film GAME OF DEATH (1978) following Lee's death, utilizing unused footage and lookalikes (this is the film playing in the theater during the epic rat attack). He also directed the blaxploitation film BLACK BELT JONES (1974) starring Jim Kelly, former athlete and first African American martial arts film star; the action film GOLDEN NEEDLES (also 1974) with Joe Don Baker; the post-apocalyptic Yul Brynner flick THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975); the Robert Mitchum vehicle THE AMSTERDAM KILL (1977); and Jackie Chan’s American debut, THE BIG BRAWL (1980). DEADLY EYES was not his first killer animal flick, as he had cut his teeth on the deadly dog movie THE PACK (1977), itself based on a novel by David Fisher.

Lisa Langlois played the seductive cheerleader Trudy, who had set her sights on Paul Harris. After coming in second in the 1974 Miss Teen Canada pageant, Langlois turned to acting, appearing in the mystery thriller BLOOD RELATIVES (1978) alongside Donald Sutherland; the John Huston-directed PHOBIA (1980); and cult classics HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and CLASS OF 1984 (1982). After dealing with the rats, you would think that she would be done with nature, but she returned to face off against killer cockroaches in THE NEST (1988).

Sara Botsford filled the role of health inspector heroine Kelly Leonard, and had appeared in the lethal telephone thriller MURDER BY PHONE (1982) and the crime drama STILL OF THE NIGHT the same year. In 1989, she appeared with Kevin Costner in THE GUNRUNNER, and with historical graboids in the prequel TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS in 2004. She has had a number of guest appearances on television shows but is most well-known for the Canadian series E.N.G. (1989-1994), where she portrayed news program producer Anne Hildebrandt.

Our professor Paul Harris was portrayed by Sam Groom, who had brief stints on the series THE TIME TUNNEL (1966) and the interdimensional OTHERWORLD (1985), and appeared in the intriguing TV movies BEYOND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (1975) with Fred MacMurray and Dana Plato, and the time travel/outbreak/Chicago fire mashup TIME TRAVELERS (1976).

And last but not least, Scatman Cruthers had a small role as George Foskins, the health inspector field agent who was destined to be rat chow. Most people know Cruthers as the equally-doomed caretaker in THE SHINING (1980), but he appeared in a plethora of other films including: a small part in LADY IN A CAGE (1964) with Ann Sothern, who was also devoured by rats in the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode WATER'S EDGE; Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA (1970); the Warren Oates detective drama CHANDLER (1971); the campy comedy LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT (1975); the famous ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975); the epic miniseries ROOTS (1977); a lengthy run on sitcom CHICO AND THE MAN (1974-1978); and the Scott Baio and Willie Aames sci-fi sex comedy ZAPPED (1982). He appeared in a number of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, like DETROIT 9000 (1973), SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF (1973), TRUCK TURNER (1974), and FRIDAY FOSTER (1975), and he teamed up with director Clouse again for the previously mentioned 1974 flick BLACK BELT JONES. He lent his voice to multiple animated projects, including THE TRANSFORMERS (1984-1986), where he portrayed the Autobot Jazz. Despite his impressive filmography, he had started out in music—hence his moniker Scatman—and used to play drums with the legendary Slim Gaillard.

Deadly Eyes - The Rats by James Herbert
The Rats, by James Herbert
DEADLY EYES was loosely based on the 1974 James Herbert novel The Rats. It was Herbert's first novel, and although it was thrashed by the critics for its graphic depictions of death and dismemberment, it sold quite well. Herbert followed it up with two sequels, Lair and Domain, neither of which have been adapted to the screen. He was said to be quite displeased with what the filmmakers had done to his story. I am unsure how he felt about the 1985 video game adaptation of his novel that was available on the Commodore 64, but I like to think that he was suitably impressed.

To be fair, it’s not that DEADLY EYES was all that unfaithful to its source material. It’s just that Herbert’s novel had so many different layers to it that the movie was basically an adaptation of only the outermost layer. There was no Kelly Leonard character, and our hero’s romantic interest was his already-existing girlfriend, but there was a George Foskins. In fact, Foskins was a much more important, though much less sympathetic, character in the book. The attack on the baby was present, as was the brutal theater scene, and the subway attack—though it appeared only halfway through the novel and was so epic in scope of violence and terror that it blew away anything that was shown on screen. Missing from the movie, though, is an utterly insane attack at a zoo, which probably would have blown far too much of the film’s budget.

So, yes, both book and movie are about a legion of killer rats, but what the movie left out was the fact that the rats carried a virus, so that even if you were to survive the rat attack, you were still as good as dead because you had been infected. The infestation wasn’t wiped out with a little fire, but rather a different virus was introduced into the rat population by sacrificing infected puppies to their hungry hordes. It worked temporarily, but the rats soon grew impervious to the virus, and the entire city had to be evacuated. It is a much, much bigger story on the written page, and one that is recommended to those who weren’t turned off by the sillier aspects of the film.


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