The eighties were a great time to be a lover of horror movies and when I was a kid going down to the local video store was a weekly treat that more often than not resulted in at least one horror film, and as I was not old enough to see them in the theatre this was really my only option. So the only important thing was deciding which one to take home that night. The key decision making elements were as follows:
1) How awesome looking was the box art?
2) Is there a chance of nudity?
3) Does it look to contain a good amount of gore?
4) Seriously, is there nudity?
Director Robert Clouse, mostly known for his Golden Harvest produced Bruce Lee Films, seems an odd choice to helm a giant rat movie but somehow it works and in a most cheesily charming way. Based on the novel The Rats by James Herbert this film is most notable for the use of dachshunds in little rat suits, and in most cases it is quite effective and certainly better than the poor dogs used in 1959s The Killer Shrews. Excellent rat puppets were also used to augment the rat kills for close ups.
And what exactly has caused this film’s rat problem? Well City health inspector Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford) orders a shipment of infected grain destroyed and in so doing sends a large population of rats fleeing into the city.
The rats sneak into the suburbs and start hunting down food and of course man is on the top of their menu. There is a house full of teen-agers, who you know are doomed to die at some point in this type of film, but it’s not their time yet so the rats go for some more tender meat and take out a toddler left alone in her highchair. The little tyke’s sister discovers the turned over highchair, a smeared blood trail leading into the basement and the poor kids bloody clothes, and before she can escape a dog sized rat jumps her.
They also take out an old man walking through the park just to show they don’t have any age discrimination issues.
The film’s other main lead is high school teacher Paul Harris (Sam Groom) who is divorced and has to make due with weekends with his young son. He also has to deal with amorous student Trudy White (Lisa Langlois) who has a crush on the good teacher and this ends up complicating his budding relationship with Kelly the health inspector. Trudy also has a high school sweet heart that she dumps so she can devout her time to chasing older more sophisticated men. All the romantic entanglements in this film go nowhere and serve no real purpose other than to throw our characters together for the rat smorgasbord.
When one of Paul’s students is bitten, and more and more reports of attacks pour into the Department of Health, Kelly sends her field officer George Foskins (Scatman Crothers) into the sewers to check things out. He doesn’t want to go because he’s seen some huge rats down there lately. She pooh poohs his fears and sends him off to get eaten.
Paul has a professor friend and they get together to discuss the possibility of a super-rat caused by the steroids in the grain. The professor at first scoffs at the idea saying that giant rats have been a common myth for ages but there is no scientific evidence to support such claims. He is shortly proven wrong and eaten.
Throughout the film Kelly has been getting flak from the Mayor’s Office for burning the grain, pumping rat poison into the sewers after her man was killed, and claiming they may have a nasty rat problem. She is told to meet with the Mayor at the gala opening of a new subway line. Do cities actually hold subway galas? She takes Paul’s son along because he likes trains. When Paul finally figures out that the killer rat problem is heading right into the city he races into action to save his boy but more importantly his love life.
The rats wreak havoc at local theatre showing a Bruce Lee retrospective. In attendance are Trudy and her high school friends who we are all surprised lasted this long.
The rats manage to chew through the transit power lines leaving the Mayor and his party trapped on a subway car. Not knowing how long the power we’ll be out the subway car driver urges his passengers into the tunnel where of course the rats are waiting and the feast kicks into high gear.
Paul punches out a transit cop who tries to prevent him from crashing the gala and he races to the rescue. He manages to get Kelly and his son out of the main tunnel and away from the ravenous rats but of course ends up leading his group right into the rats nest. Nice one Paul. But with some quick thinking he uses a small butane tank as a flamethrower and manages to back them away from the rats, he then rolls a drum of gasoline towards the nest and explodes it.
The power is restored and for some reason they return to the subway car despite the fact there is no reason to believe that there aren’t still more rats running around the tunnels. With the help of Paul’s train knowledgeable son they get the subway car to the main station and the waiting gala. The party people are a bit put out when it pulls into the station and reveals that one of the cars is full of giant rats munching on some hapless dude. One of the bloody rats lunges at the window of the car. Freeze Frame.
Nature run amok stories are a staple of horror films and Deadly Eyes is easily one of the more fun entries from that category. It’s a bit campy and the stock characters are barely two dimensional, but the film moves along at brisk pace and at an 87 minute running time it never outstays it’s welcome. Worth checking out just to see the adorable dachshunds in little rat costumes.