Monday, June 9, 2008

These Rats Deserve A Better Reputation

Some say there are few things more heart-warming than the pitter-patter of little feet. And I happen to agree with that. As proof, let me tell you about my enduring love for 1982’s rats on 'roids classic, Deadly Eyes.

Based (reportedly very loosely) on James Herbert’s 1974 novel The Rats, Deadly Eyes sics an army of jacked up rodents (realized through a combination of dachshunds in rat costumes and rat puppets for close-up shots) who've ingested steroid-laced grain on the unsuspecting populace of Toronto. Sam Groom stars as Paul Harris, a high school teacher and single parent (recently divorced) who strikes up a romantic relationship with a no-nonsense city health inspector Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford). To their mutual horror, the two – along with the majority of Paul’s students as well as the odious city officials who Kelly butts heads with – discover that their position on the food chain is now up for negotiation. That’s bad news no matter how you hear about it but when you learn it by way of a stampede of super-sized rats, it’s really tough.

As scripted by Charles Eglee from Herbert's novel and a screenplay by Lonon Smith, Deadly Eyes is oddly structured in that until the climactic half hour or so, the main characters have little-to-no clue that something is wrong in their community (besides health code violations and promiscuous teens, that is). The rats are responsible for a handful of slayings but these deaths go undiscovered by the protagonists. Up until the rats stop going after all the easy pickings – such as unattended infants and Scatman Crothers – and start gathering en masse at local hot spots like bowling alleys and movie theaters, Deadly Eyes’ main storyline revolves around Paul’s romantic escapades. Besides his quick-moving relationship with Kelly, he’s also being hotly pursued by Trudy, the school's head cheerleader (natch!) and Paul has to deflect Trudy’s school girl advances (actress Lisa Langlois plays Trudy as what passed for a manipulative tramp in 1982 but the character seems downright chaste by today's standards) as gentlemanly as he can – but not before at least one obligatory awkward moment can happen with Kelly catching Paul in a compromising position with Trudy.

But director Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon) knows just when to stop dwelling on Paul’s love life and Deadly Eyes proves itself to be exceptionally generous where its vermin is concerned. After feeding the appropriate number of secondary characters to the ever-growing rat army at proper intervals, Clouse pulls out all the stops for the finale. In Deadly Eyes’ last half hour, the rats manage to strike simultaneously everywhere that the film’s characters happen to be (in depicting all this mayhem, Close’s editing strategy seems to have been “when in doubt, cut to a rat”). These characters are in separate locations across the city but yet each of these areas is hit equally hard at once. Impressively, the rampage at the Bruce Lee film festival (!) results in every last teen character in Deadly Eyes being annihilated. While it would’ve been just as easy to spare at least one of Paul's students, Eglee and Clouse decided that it’d just be better if these kids all died. That’s how Deadly Eyes rolls.

By the end of Deadly Eyes’ trim 87 minutes (a running time padded by at least ten minutes of gratuitous shots of rat puppets slurping up blood), men are separated from mice and rats meet fat cats (seldom have arrogant politicians gotten the satisfying comeuppance that they do here). Over the years, fans and critics have treated this earnest effort as if it were trash but I’m happy to argue otherwise.

Deadly Eyes might be infested with rats, but it’s not garbage.


kindertrauma said...

Love when the rats snatch the baby from the high chair! Those dachshunds can act!

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, that still disturbs me! Even though it isn't explicit, when I first saw that scene, it freaked me out so bad I had to question whether I should keep watching the movie!