Before the slasher boom took hold in the early 80s and masked men wielding various kitchen utensils became the antagonist du jour, nature, itself, was mankind’s greatest fear, with seemingly every creature in the animal kingdom given reason to strike back at humanity in their own far-fetched features. From grizzly bears and spitting cobras to tarantulas and bunny rabbits, if it could bite, scratch, or sting, it was probably given its own horror movie back in the 70s/early 80s. Rats proved to be one of the genre’s favorite four-legged terrors, and featured in several movies of their own, including 1971’s classic, Willard (and its 1972 sequel, Ben), The Food of the Gods (1976), Italian flicks like Rats - Notte di terrore (1984), and, Canada’s 1982 eco-horror laugher, Deadly Eyes, which now comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory.
Deadly Eyes (based on English author James Herbert’s notoriously over-the-top novel, Rats) opens with the inspection of a steroid-loaded grain shipment bound for Africa by health inspector Elly (Sara Botsford), who, much to the chagrin of the cargo’s owner, orders the rat feces tainted grain destroyed. Elly assigns the task to her cohort, George (Scatman Cruthers), who prepares to incinerate the lot whilst a stray cat makes its way into the cargo area and becomes lunch for one of the super-sized rats who have been living in and feeding on the juiced grain. As the piles of feed burn, the rats flee their old home and seek cushy new digs in nearby downtown Toronto to munch on old people and babies!
While the ‘roided-up rats terrorize the city, “studly” high school science teacher, Paul Harris (Sam Groom) teams up with Elly, his rat-expert university pal Dr. Louis Spencer (Cec Lender), and a ragtag group of students/rat fodder (including the gorgeous Lisa Langlois as cheerleader Trudy, who is hopelessly obsessed with her “mature” teacher) in an attempt to stop the rodent menace!
Fans familiar with this cheapie from the Great White North usually refer to it as “that movie with the dogs in rat suits”. Yes, the giant “rats” in Deadly Eyes were, in fact, several Daschunds in little rat costumes. This is probably why we never see more than a few of what I like to refer to as “the wiener rats” onscreen at the same time. Well, that and the fact that, reportedly, the little suits were so stifling that at least one of the poor little guys ended up taking an early trip to wiener dog heaven. I suppose it could have been worse, of course. Italian director Bruno Matei’s Notte di terrore opted for hundreds of spray painted guinea pigs with glued on tails, and there are moments when you can clearly see dozens of them scurrying around ON FUCKING FIRE!
Gives one a whole new appreciation for CGI now, doesn’t it?
Questionable treatment of animals aside, Deadly Eyes is a pretty bad movie. It’s not scary, it’s not particularly well-made, and the cinematography is so murky at times that it’s almost impossible to make out what’s going on (although that could also be a positive). What makes it worth watching, however, is the fact that director Robert Clouse (the man who gave us Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, and Black Belt Jones) delivers this story without a hint of irony or self-. Hell, even Jaws had a few wink/nudge moments! Deadly Eyes, however, is as serious as a heart attack, and it’s all the better for it so long as, like me, you’re a card-carrying member of the so-bad-it’s-good society.
Scream Factory brings Deadly Eyes to Blu-ray in a surprisingly attractive 1.78:1 transfer that, despite the aforementioned murky cinematography, actually manages to balance out the contrast levels enough to make even the darkest scenes in the flick somewhat manageable. It’s not their best offering, of course, and there are a few scratches and flickers to be found, but for an obscure b-movie like this, the image quality is pretty damned superb (and, honestly, better than it deserves). The DTS-HD stereo mix is perfectly adequate stuff. There’s a touch of vintage hiss and some crackly highs, but, overall, it suits the film fine.
This release really shines when it comes to the extras (all in glorious HD), especially the comprehensive and quite hilarious featurette Deadly Eyes: Dogs In Rats' Clothing, which, in addition to covering the canines-in-costume, also wrangles up many of the film’s creative types who wax nostalgic about the production and its impact on their careers. Also included are a collection of lengthy interviews, the most entertaining and informative of which is a chat with the still gorgeous Langlois, who offers some sobering advice for aspiring actresses. Rounding out the extras are a TV spot as well as a DVD of the film and the above extras.
Deadly Eyes is but a footnote in the man-vs-nature genre, but one that is so terrifically terrible that it’s a more than worthy addition to any bad movie fan’s collection! Scream Factory’s A/V presentation is, as always, quality stuff, but the bonus features really make this one an extra special treat for fans.