A lot of times when I watch these movies, I think I know what I’m getting from the start, and most of the time it’s close to what I imagine. However, sometimes, those magical times, the sheer ridiculousness of a movie stands up and announces itself and gives me reason to sit up and take notice. Oh, friends, a movie such as this has entered my life, thanks to a new Scream Factory Blu-ray. It’s a movie with the least interesting of premises and yet the most insane of executions featuring things you never would believe you’ve seen and can’t believe you’ve never heard about. That this movie is a cult classic is news to me, but I’m almost glad I was ignorant to it so I could go in as blind as possible. What movie has done this to me? Why, the 1982 Canadian killer-rat movie Deadly Eyes, of course.
Holy cow, you guys. Loosely based on a book by James Herbert, who later disowned the movie, Deadly Eyes (alternately known as The Rats and credited onscreen as Night Eyes, even though that is a series of Showtime softcore movies I found out) has everything I could want in a schlocky creature feature: over-the-top deaths, easily escapable situations, and a main storyline out of an After School Special. Honestly, it’s like the giant, man-eating rats are constantly intruding into a teen/family drama. It’s a home run of absurdity all around, not least-wise because it features Scatman Crothers doing pretty much nothing but grin like an idiot for a half hour before being devoured by puppets. Half puppets, actually; the main effect used for the giant rats was — GET THIS — dressing up dachshunds in costumes and putting food in the actors’ pockets. It’s… it’s just too good.
The story of Deadly Eyes is weirdly complex: We open with a lecture on rats in modern society by Dr. Spenser (Cec Linder) to a group of high schoolers in Toronto. The class’ teacher, Mr. Harris (Sam Grooms) was on of Spenser’s students back in the day. One of Mr. Harris’ students meanwhile, Trudy (Lisa Langlois) has developed a massive crush on him and wants to act on it, despite having a perfectly fine age-appropriate boyfriend herself. Across town, a grain seller’s crop is burned by the board of health due to the apparent use of illegal growth chemical used in the fertilizer. The burning doesn’t stop it from already having produced tons and tons of giant bloodthirsty rats. Funny there was a lecture on rats going on the same time giant ones are created, huh?
Somehow, these completely unrelated storylines start to interact when the rats promptly move from the dockyards to the city along the subway route, which is just about to reopen. The two main health inspectors (Sara Botsford and Scatman Crothers) aren’t getting much support from their boss who’s more worried about not pissing off wealthy business owners. As if the rats know there’s a movie being made, they begin attacking people who are friends with or live around our main characters.
The very first people to die set the bar of “Oh No Way Are They Going to Do– Okay They Just Did” incredibly high… the school kids are having a get-together at the home of a girl whose parents are gone for a week. Amid all the drunken debauchery, the girl’s baby sister is also there. Rare these days for a family to have a teenager and an infant, but not in Canada in the 80’s I guess. So, after all the other people leave and Trudy again talks about how much she wants to bone Mr. Harris, the girl and her sister are left alone. Except the rats get in and make directly for the child’s high chair. What follows is… well, it is.
That’s right… the FIRST PERSON dead in a horror movie is a BABY! They killed a baby in a movie. What the hell?!?! And for no reason besides to shock. The big sister gets killed immediately thereafter and is never asked about, looked for, or least of all found for the entire rest of the film. For the rest of the film, nobody even knows a baby just got eaten by rats. The first time our main characters actually know about something going on is when one doofy teen gets bitten on the hand and goes to the hospital. Mr. Harris goes to visit him and meets Kelly (Botsford) and the two make googily eyes at each other immediately and begin spending time together, even engaging in coitus like there isn’t an outbreak of murderous rodent-dogs.
Eventually, even special guest star Scatman “I Literally Just Worked with Stanley Kubrick and Now I’m In This Movie” Crothers eventually meets a sticky end, in one of my favorite sequences. The rat costumed dogs actually don’t look awful. It’s a pretty effective and decidedly low-budget way to depict something like that happening. However, once you KNOW the rats are all just dogs, it’s way, way more hilarious, and kind of adorable.
But, for a movie with giant rats eating people, the tensest scene actually has nothing at all to do with them. Mr. Harris comes home to get him and his 8-year-old son ready to go to the subway opening with Kelly. He gets a towel on and goes into his bedroom only to find Trudy has somehow gotten in there, is in her underwear, and is lying on his bed. Let me remind everyone that she is his student, is maybe 18 but probably not (age of consent IS lower in Canada, so I guess it’s okay), and has already been rebuffed by Mr. Harris when she walked in on him in the locker room. She’s a stalker, ladies and gentlemen. But, if this weren’t enough, Kelly is coming over and the son lets her in while the towel-clad Harris and the almost-dressed Trudy are talking in his bedroom. Oh man, the awkwardness. The complete and utter awkwardness.
The film was directed by Robert Clouse, who directed a lot of really good movies including Enter the Dragon and the after-Bruce-Lee’s-death scenes in Game of Death. As a result of this, there’s a whole scene of people getting killed by the rats in a movie theater (including Trudy, her boyfriend, and their friend) while Game of Death is playing on the big screen. Granted, it’s all the scenes that were shot by Lee and not by Clouse, but it’s still pretty funny to reference some of the good work a director did within some pretty silly work.
There’s a lot more rat-carnage but I think this is all I really want to share. This movie is such a joy of out-of-control goofiness and B-movie mayhem that I don’t want to spoil it for you. Hell, I’ve already spoiled more than I should have. As a person who is actually quite terrified of rats and small rodents in general, I thought this movie, for all its low-budget effects, was going to creep me out something fierce. Instead, especially knowing they’re just little wiener dogs in Halloween costumes, it’s a movie I’ll probably watch again soon, with friends and LaBatt’s Blue in ready supply. Cuz, you know, Canada.