Never before released on DVD and rarely seen by anyone in recent years, DEADLY EYES, a Canadian-made early 1980s “nature gone berserk” entry helmed by the man responsible for Bruce Lee’s essential ENTER THE DRAGON, makes its Blu-ray/DVD debut courtesy of Shout! Factory’s ever growing Scream Factory line.
In a very cold and snowy Toronto, oversized mutant rats live and feed of the steroid-contaminated tubs of corn grain at a factory. Upon investigation, diligent health department inspector Elly (Sara Botsford, STILL OF THE NIGHT) orders that the contaminated product be destroyed by burning, setting the small army of feisty rodents to migrate and search for a new home. They soon make their way to the basement of a house full of partying teens and eventually the city’s sewer and subway systems. In the meantime, high school teacher/coach Paul Harris (popular TV actor Sam Groom), a divorced father of a five-year-old boy, becomes romantically involved with Elly while resisting the lovestruck attentions of his bombshell student Trudy (Lisa Langlois, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME), who goes far as to enter the men’s locker room and pose sexy in her underthings on his bed (after conning the janitor into letting her in the older man's apartment). With a handful of bite attacks (including the hand of one of Paul’s students) and several mutilated death scenes, it’s ordered that the sewer system be fumigated of its rodent problem, but it doesn’t do a bit of good. A rat expert professor friend of Paul (Cec Linder, SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY) believes that a new species of super rats are now on the loose, and it’s up to Paul and Elly to save the day (and the city) from these ever-hungry beings as they spoil the celebratory inauguration of a new a new subway station, including an endangered train carrying the Mayor and his entourage (which the rats have seen fit to breakdown by gnawing on electrical wiring).
Supposedly based on James Herbert’s novel The Rats, DEADLY EYES’ main fascination is the fact that the films giant rats, at least in full shots, were actually heavily disguised, well-trained Dachshunds, and if the film had a more impressive ensemble of character actors, this would be the 1980s equivalent of the 1972 killer-rabbit epic, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS. In the close-ups of the creatures and their numerous fanged outbursts, they are seen in animatronic and puppet form, sometimes resembling some really homely rejects from Jim Henson’s Muppet factory. The organic mix of this and the canines in costumes is favorable to the modern CGI way of converting killer animals to the big screen, and in this sense, DEADLY EYES holds up pretty well as trashy monster movie fun after 30 years and these critters and the style in which they devour will satisfy retro horror buffs, recalling oldies like THE KILLER SHREWS and Bert I. Gordon’s then-more-recent THE FOOD OF THE GODS. As expected, these nasty mutant rats (who get generous screen time) and their carnal rampages appear so much clearer on Blu-ray than they did on the comparatively murky VHS release of years ago, and the overhead shots of the stampeding rats chasing their victims actually work best cinematically.
The cast of DEADLY EYES is made up mostly of TV performers and Canadian actors who do an adequate job (with the padding and what not) to supplement the meatier monster scenes. Legendary character actor Scatman Crothers (who had just been in such mainstream hits as BRONCO BILLY and THE SHINING) has an amusing bit as an ill-fated field inspector who reacts to the rats with four letter words. Crothers’ opening “special appearance by” credit can be seen beneath the actor laughing uncontrollably in character (apparently, Crothers was only on the production for a brief time). Clouse, who became a steadily working action film director in the 1970s, never churned out anything that equaled ENTER THE DRAGON is terms of magnitude; before DEADLY EYES the closest he was to dabbling with horror was another animal attack film, THE PACK (1977). Clouse manages to keep things anything but stilted and boring, especially in the last half hour, and fills the screen with such sights as frantic citizens crashing through windows, a man falling down a subway staircase and such POV shots as the rats moving in on a deserted baby in a high chair. There’s a wild scene in a darkened moviehouse during a Bruce Lee retrospect (with the Clouse-directed GAME OF DEATH showing on the screen) where the seated theatergoers are ambushed by the rats and there’s a ridiculous flub when a lone man in a subway car acts cowardly (where you can clearly hear the barks of one the dachshund “actors”).
Released in Canada in 1982 and in the U.S. the following year by Warner Bros. (who quickly issued it on VHS), DEADLY EYES played regularly on HBO back in the day, no doubt the place where most first saw it. For its digital debut, Shout! Factory has now licensed the film from Fortune Star who hold the rights to numerous Golden Harvest kung-fu titles, and the off other-genre movie such as this one. The Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p High-Def in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the picture quality is a sight to behold (the on-screen title actually reads NIGHT EYES). Only seeing the old Warner VHS and the cable broadcast versions in the past, the Blu-ray is more than a revelation; not only are all those darkened underground scenes easier to see and the monster rats now distinct in appearance with the impressive detail, but colors are balanced well and nicely saturated. Skin tones also look natural, black levels are deep and textures are smooth throughout, keeping a filmic appearance that’s never excessively grainy. The audio comes in a DTS-HD 2.0 English mono mix, and sounds very good, with dialogue, music and sound effects always being clear and free of any hiss or other distortions. The DVD included here presents the same HD transfer of the film in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a Dolby Digital mono audio track. English subtitles are also included.
There are a number of interview featurettes that make up the disc’s supplements. “Deadly Eyes: Dogs in Rats’ Clothing” (24:05) features interviews with writer Charles Eglee (more recently known for “Dexter” and “The Walking Dead”), make-up effects assistant Alec Gillis and production designer Ninkey Dalton (who married Eglee after the two met on the set). Recalling shooting the film in the dead of the Canadian winter, much is said about the dogs and how they dealt with the suits and masks (and that there were several other breeds besides dachshunds), the effects, director Clouse’s dislike of the snow (and him leaving the set early one day, leaving the crew to finish a scene) and Eglee says he didn’t actually read the book The Rats, but calls DEADLY EYES a homage to PIRANHA (a picture he worked earlier on as an editor). “Interview with Actress Lisa Langlois” (18:50) has the star talking about getting the part, admitting to not knowing Clouse’s previous credits at the time of filming, working with her co-stars and some of her other credits (including THE NEST and working with Robert Lansing) and that she almost got the Linda Hamilton role in THE TERMINATOR. “Interview with Actress Lesleh Donaldson” (13:48) has the actress (who played teenage Martha in the film) recalling her experience on DEADLY EYES and being labeled a “scream queen” in Canadian exploitation films (she also did HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, FUNERAL HOME and CURTAINS) and her unforgettable scene in this film, crashing through the glass window (she refers to DEADLY EYES as “a car crash of a movie”). “Deadly Eyes: An Interview with Joseph Kelly” (13:22) has the actor talking about being one the young cast members whose character was devoured by rats, playing Langlois’ boyfriend in the film and working with the other cast members (he also touches upon CLASS OF 1984, which he also appeared in). “Interview with Special Effects Artist Alan Apone” (14:07) has Apone discussing the challenges of making dogs look like killer rats, fitting the dogs individually for their costumes (there were 35 Dachshunds and five Terriers used), that the animals were trained months before the actual shoot and how well they were treated by their trainers and all. Rounding out the extras is the original U.S. TV spot. (George R. Reis)
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