Judge Patrick Bromley has Deadly Davis Eyes.
Tonight they will rise from the darkness beneath the city…to feed!
Though I had never seen it prior to this review, I have been aware of the 1982 Canadian killer rat movie Deadly Eyes for as long as I can remember. I grew up hearing all about it from my father, who was something of a lover of what he considered to be "bad" movies. Deadly Eyes was, for him, the gold standard—a film which had the nerve and lack of budget to dress up dogs as rats. For most of my life, the title has been synonymous with the lowest of the low.
Having finally seen Deadly Eyes, I'm now convinced my dad didn't see enough bad movies, because it is far from being the worst thing I've ever seen. It's actually a lot of fun and, for what it is, pretty good. Yes, it remains famous for being the movie in which dachshunds are dressed up as rats, but the effect isn't nearly as cheap or laughable as one might imagine hearing that description. I'm not generally a fan of the "killer animal" genre, but Deadly Eyes knows exactly what it is and sets out to deliver the goods. You can't ask for much more than that.
Sam Groom (Otherworld) stars as Paul, a high school coach and apparent ladies' man who finds himself at the center of a giant rat attack in Toronto. Apparently, the health department has destroyed the steroid-enhanced grain repository in which the rats were living (and growing to enormous proportions), leaving them hungry and loose in the city. Paul teams with Elly (Sara Botsford, Eulogy), a health department official and love interest who is the only other person in the city that believes what's happening with the rats.
If the plot description of Deadly Eyes sounds a lot like John Sayles' script for Piranha, that's not a mistake; screenwriter Charles Eglee admits to ripping off that structure wholesale for his killer rate movie. But whereas Piranha had Joe Dante's gleefully anarchic sense of humor behind it, Deadly Eyes plays the material straight. That's ok during the horrific moments—the movie doesn't undercut its cheap ugliness by going for laughs—but it strands Groom and Botsford in the two lead performances. Groom, in particular, is as stiff an actor as I've seen even in a genre movie, and he and Botsford fail to generate any chemistry together. They should be the human story to which we connect at the center. Instead, we're just waiting for the rats to show up again.
Then there are the rats. When you know that dogs are being used in the wide shots, it's difficult not to notice, mostly because they move like dogs and not like rodents. Without knowing, though, it's not that big a deal. They actually fare worse in close up, when it's just a series of rat head puppets gnawing on arms and legs. The movie is bloody but not really gory, though director Robert Clouse (who also directed Enter the Dragon) isn't afraid to show a whole lot of rat munching. No one is safe in Deadly Eyes—not children, not old people, not beloved character actors. The climax of the film, which features a giant rat attack on a movie theater (showing one of Clouse's Bruce Lee movies), is a terrific sequence and indicative of just how much energy and carnage Clouse is willing to throw at his movie. Most filmmakers wouldn't work so hard at making what is obviously a "B" movie this entertaining, but Deadly Eyes really tries hard.
Deadly Eyes comes to Blu-ray courtesy of the wonderful people at Scream Factory (who else?), which has become the only studio from which I will buy any title sight unseen just based on the fact that they are putting it out. The film gets a full 1080p HD transfer in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is surely the best it has ever looked; the movie looks its age and its budget, but that's part of its charm. You want something like this look a little scuzzy and dangerous. Colors are well maintained and print damage is kept to a minimum. The DTS-HD 2.0 Mono soundtrack gets the job done, but little more.
Interview-based featurettes make up all of the disc's bonus features, the first and most comprehensive being the 24-minute retrospective featurette "Dogs in Rats' Clothing." It includes comments from the film's screenwriter Charles Eglee, production designer Ninkey Dalton and Alec Gillis, who worked on the makeup effects. In addition to some cute info about how Eglee and Dalton met and fell in love on the movie, there's a good amount of production info and, as is to be expected, a chunk of time devoted to dressing up the dogs as rats. Why none of the actors have been incorporated into the featurette I can't say; instead, they're all here in separate interviews: Lesleh Donaldson, Lisa Langlois and Joseph Kelly all sit down to speak individually, as does special effects designer Alan Apone. There's a lot of material to get through (some of it could have been condensed), but very little overlap amidst the interviews. A standard definition DVD copy of the movie has also been included, containing all of the same bonus features.
Somehow, Deadly Eyes managed to meet and exceed a lifetime's worth of expectations at the same time. It offered all the giant rat action I had imagined (and, yes, dogs in rat costumes) while being better and more entertaining than I thought it would be. Scream Factory continues to release genre titles that would otherwise be forgotten completely and gets us to reconsider them with solid technical specs and good bonus features. Deadly Eyes isn't classic horror, but for a giant rodent movie it's pretty good.
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