Deadly Eyes (1982)

Deadly Eyes (1982)

Tonight they will rise from the darkness beneath the city… to feed!

Corn grain contaminated with steroids produces large rats the size of small dogs who begin feeding on the residents of Toronto. Paul, a college basketball coach, teams up with a local health inspector to uncover the source of the mysterious rat attacks. It is a race against time to find the rats nest before the opening of a new subway line unleashes them upon an unsuspecting city.

 

Based upon the novel by James Herbert, Deadly Eyes starts off with a great ten minutes or so which really made me wake up and take note – this film wasn’t going to take any prisoners, not least the infant who is the first one in the film to encounter the giant rats. They wouldn’t get away with that in today’s market! However the problem with Deadly Eyes is that it can’t do anything remotely as interesting as this for the rest of its running time. In fact, the handbrake is slapped on and the film comes to a grinding halt about a third of the way in as the romantic sub-plot is introduced.

The love triangle between Paul, health inspector Elly and one of his students, Trudy, is dull. Paul is hardly a catch yet these women seem to be falling over backwards for him. It’s hardly a love triangle either as Paul does the honourable thing where Trudy is concerned (though I did question his sexuality when he catches her in his bed and tells her to get out!). He is not exactly gushing with love and affection for Elly either and seems to be just going with the flow. I guess its this sub-plot which made Herbert disown the film upon release and proclaim that they had a terrible job of turning his novel into a film!  The rats are put on the back burner, given an odd random attack every ten minutes or so to remind us that they’re growing more deadly as the running time progresses. Then the stories all come together in the final third where Deadly Eyes picks up steam again.

Even though the sight of rats might get some folk screaming for the nearest high ground, they’re hardly life-threatening animals like snakes, sharks or crocodiles. But the prospect of being helpless to prevent yourself being gnawed to death by a whole pack of rats is a grim thought. Deadly Eyes does a great job of making this thought come to life. Whilst it is not overly gory, there’s enough blood to get across the message that these rats are hungry. There’s a decent body count, you don’t have to wait too long between attacks and the fact that it’s so dark really enhances the mood of some of the underground kills. Attacks get more ambitious as the film progresses, with the highlight being an effective set piece inside a cinema in the finale as the rats launch an assault on a group of people watching a Bruce Lee film.

The giant rats were actually Dachshunds dressed up in rat costumes and guided along by the smell of meat and blood to ensure that they went where they were supposed to go. The effect sounds daft in theory but the film is that dark at times that it’s really hard to see the dogs up close. So the illusion of these being giant rats is maintained throughout. The gorier moments are done with the use of rat puppets which look terrible but do what they are required to do. The fact that the filmmakers went for feasible approaches to solving the dilemma of how to portray giant rats shows just how more practical everyone was back in the 70s and 80s, instead of just putting everything through a computer like today. The cheap effects give the film a nice retro feel to things.

Sam Groom is probably one of the most actors I’ve seen given a leading role in a horror film. As I’ve already said, it’s hard to see why the females in the film are attracted to him. He rarely raises a smile, he has a monotone delivery and he parades around with his hairy chest quite a lot. Lisa Langlois is really pretty as student Trudy but is hardly in the film and is rather inconsequential to the eventual ending. Scatman Crothers, fresh off his appearance in The Shining, is given a large billing despite his glorified cameo role. Listening to him trash-talking the rats in the sewer before having the tables turned made me wish that his role had been expanded as he injects a much-needed dose of life and energy to proceedings before his untimely demise.

 

Deadly Eyes holds up fairly well despite its blatant shortcomings. Maybe it’s the old school “let’s create our monsters using any method possible” approach which helps it connect with the audience in an affectionate way or maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a decent amount of carnage, the rats are well fed and there’s some effective moments down in the sewers. It’s not perfect but a healthy dose of 80s monster movie fun is always a welcome tonic to today’s CGI saturated snooze-fests.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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