Before I move into the main notable feature of 1982’s DEADLY EYES, the killer rat pic new to Blu-ray this week courtesy of those good folk at Scream Factory, I want to mention one point about the film that’s rarely brought up in discussions about it. I really appreciate the female characters in the film. I don’t know if it’s the result of James Herbert’s original book or the work of writer Lonon Smith or Charles H. Eglee (were I a wagering man, I’d place a bet on Eglee due to his later having written episodes of “Dark Angel” and “Karen Sisco”), but the lead female characters manage to be something relatively rare in an horror film – woman that have sexuality and power but don’t come off like dominatrixes or archetypical “slut” characters that exist as grist for the nudity mill.
Sara Botsford’s Kelly is a responsible health department inspector who takes the initiative to ask hunky divorced high school teacher Paul (Sam Groom) out on a date, rather than waiting for him to make the move. (It’s for the best, as Paul’s evenings consist of heating up Hungry Man TV dinners, reading the instructions out loud to himself. Hunky, but sad.) She also doesn’t see any issue with jumping into the sack with him fairly quickly, a product of mutual attraction. Lisa Langlois’s Trudy is a high school kid obsessed with her hunky teacher, to the point of stalking him in the locker room and showing up in his apartment. Heck, even Kelly’s elderly widowed neighbor is dating, but she makes it clear that it’s more for something to do rather than because she needs a man. Okay, Trudy may not be the healthiest character, but all of the women in DEADLY EYES are fairly well-developed characters with an empowering sense of sexuality. It’s pretty impressive, especially coming from a film that’s fairly dated – it’s doubtful anyone under 30 is going to get the reference to a Chiffon margarine commercial.
Now, none of that really matters too much when you’re dealing with a film in which giant rats are played by dachshunds in rat costumes.
And that’s DEADLY EYES’ most notable feature. Directed by Robert Clouse, the man most notable for directing ENTER THE DRAGON and a bunch of movies similar to ENTER THE DRAGON, DEADLY EYES takes the KILLER SHREWS tactic of utilizing scampering pooches to play a carnivorous creatures hellbent on carnage. The results are mildly more convincing than Ray Kellogg’s 1959 film, but DEADLY EYES still ends up with some of the most adorable critter slaughtering in film history.
The rabid rodents rise after their nest of steroid-laden grain is burned on Kelly’s advice. After offing sanitation worker Scatman Crothers and his cat (who seems to exist for the sole purpose of being devoured by rats), the horde of flesh-devouring vermin delightfully scampers into sewers of Toronto, making their way out to chomp down on teenagers, toddlers, wandering scientists and everything else in their path.
There’s a bit of a slow build to DEADLY EYES, as we get the prerequisite romantic love triangle bewteen Paul, Kelly and Trudy, but there are certainly enough moments of actual rat-related carnage to keep your attention. Not that you’ll be scared, mind you, even if you’ve got a pretty severe case of musophobia – in close-up, the rats resemble and move like maniacal Muppets, and while the titular eyes are a bit creepy, they match the canines in cosplay used for group shots so minimally that you can’t really reconcile the two.
It’s damn silly stuff, but it doesn’t really matter in the film’s final third, when things kick into high gear and the rodents take down a movie theater (playing Clouse’s GAME OF DEATH) and a subway car, finishing up with a freeze frame that’s so ridiculous that you really can’t help but be won over. DEADLY EYES is a bit like its creatures themselves – trying so hard to be scary, but failing so endearingly that just want to give it a big ol’ cuddle.
Scream Factory has done the usual fine job with the Blu-ray, transferred from a source using one of the film’s alternate titles, NIGHT EYES. “Dogs in Rats Clothing: The Making of Deadly Eyes” provides a solid backstory to the film, with Eglee and art director Ninkey Dalton talking about how they met on the film (and are still married today), Eglee mentioning that Scatman Crothers needed to be properly toked on the set, and Alec Gillis offering very candid commentary on the results of one of his earliest projects. Additional interviews feature Lisa Langlois, who talks about working with John Huston on PHOBIA and her bad experiences the very similar THE NEST a few years later, actress Lesleh Donaldson and actor Joseph Kelley. The U.S. trailer is also included.
DEADLY EYES is a goofy film, but one that’s never dull is certainly entertaining enough to warrant the recent occasional cult reputation it’s built. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray (which also includes a DVD, for those so inclined) is a great boon to the long out-of-print film, and those who long to see delightful doggies dressed as rodents dishing on human flesh will be greatly appreciative.
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