Sunday, October 9, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 4: Deadly Eyes (1983)

If you're at all familiar with bad movies, you've probably heard of The Killer Shrews. If not, well, the film is infamous for its decision on how to realize its giant killer mutant shrews: it put threadbare shrew costumes on dogs.

Now, when you think about it, one of the best ways to make a monster look real in a movie is to use a real creature. After all, an animatronic or stop-motion creature is never going to 100% replicate how an animal moves, particularly on a low budget. However, there's no question that dogs dressed up in awful costumes are never going to be anything but silly.

Surely even in 1983 that reputation of The Killer Shrews had to be well-known enough to be a laughingstock. Yet, when it came time to ostensibly film an adaptation of James Herbert's novel The Rats, about giant killer rats, someone in the production decided that they were going to realize the giant rats by putting dachshunds in costumes.

I suppose it's a testament to how much better the rat costumes in this film are that it doesn't hold the same laughable reputation as The Killer Shrews. Of course, some of that is that this film is rather on the obscure side. And if you ask me, that is a tragedy because this film is a hoot.

We open with a slideshow about rats presented by Dr. Louis Spenser (Cec Linder) at an unnamed museum. I have my doubts about Spenser's qualifications because one of the first slides we see is plainly a possum. Naturally, Spenser is talking up how horrible a scourge rats are--for the benefit of Paul Harris (Sam Groom) and his high school class. However, not all of his class isn't paying the best of attention because Trudy White (Lisa Langlois) is paying attention to Paul. She is lusting after him something hard and her friend, Martha (Lesluh Donaldson), lightly teases her about it. Trudy's age-appropriate boyfriend, Matt (Joseph Kelly), is not entirely oblivious to his girlfriend's interest in the teacher, either.

Meanwhile, at the city* docks, Health Department inspector Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford) is informing the owner of a huge pile of unsecured grain that it will all have to be destroyed. The man tries to object, since the grain is intended to be shipped out--but Kelly informs him that the grain is plainly infused with steroids and infested with rats, and she has no intention of letting it go out. Her companion, George Foskins (Scatman Crothers!), a field inspector basically gives the guy a "sucks to be you" shrug before dropping the cat he was holding to let it go hunt rats.

[* This was filmed in Toronto, but I never did get a clear feel for where it's actually supposed to be set. I assume New York, however]

Unfortunately, the cat definitely finds rats. Rats that are bigger than it is. Rats that think cats are delicious. That night the grain is torched, resulting in giant fireballs that drive the rats away--unnoticed by Kelly or Foskins.

Well, it turns out that one of the first places the rats go is to the basement of the suburban home where Trudy, Martha, and their friend Hoserman (Kevin Foxx) are having a pretty sad house party. A neighbor complains about the noise of the stereo, but it's honestly not that loud. The party highlight seems to be Trudy prank calling Paul (why does she have his home number?!) in order to leave a message composed of kissing noises. Martha tries to understand why Trudy is so interested in their teacher and, hilariously, one of the reasons Trudy gives is that Paul has been married so he must know a lot about women.

Speaking as a divorced man, that isn't something you usually put on the romantic resume in order to prove you know what you're doing.

Upstairs, their friend who lives there is making out with her boyfriend, when her toddler sister interrupts by crying to be fed. So she takes the toddler downstairs and puts her in her high chair with some baby food while she goes to tell her friends to turn down the damn stereo. Matt shows up and Trudy gives him a cold shoulder, and then everyone decides to go for burgers while their hostess demurs since she needs to watch her sister. Unfortunately, the couple of minutes she is away on the porch is enough time for the rats to come up out of the basement and attack the toddler.

So big sis comes back into the kitchen to find a blood trail leading into the basement. She frantically goes to try and find her sister, and instead finds a rat that leaps onto her.

"Hey, this is pretty nice linoleum! We should get some for our lair."
Yep, this is a movie about dachshunds in rat costumes that has the guts to kill off a toddler as its first human victim.

The next day, Kelly is called into her boss's office. He's heading off for a vacation and wanted to make sure he gave her a good talking to first. It seems that the Mayor expects her department to play nice with the local big businesses and torching their grain supplies is not the way to do that. He expects that he will hear no more such behavior from her while he's off fishing while wearing a hat that makes him look like a jackass. He also reminds her that she had better plan to kiss the Mayor's ass at the new subway line dedication in a few days.

That night, however, sets in motion something that will naturally cause her to ignore that advice. Hoserman drops his bike after leaving the burger place and when he goes to pick it up, he gets bitten on the hand by a hidden rat. He was already late for basketball practice, where we see that Paul is the coach, Trudy is a cheerleader, and Matt is one of the players. After Hoserman interrupts practice with his bloody hand, Paul sends him to go to the hospital and promises to follow after he takes a shower.

Well, Paul decides to put a towel around his waist and weigh himself--at which point Trudy appears in the locker room and declares her love for him. Paul tries to explain that her obsession with him is just a crush, but then he proceeds to hilariously fail to communicate his lack of interest in two ways. First, when Trudy forces a kiss on him, he does not immediately push her away but lets her for a few seconds before disengaging. I'll be generous and assume he was shocked and also hasn't kissed anyone in a while, so he felt conflicted--plus I don't want to blame the victim. His second screw-up is less forgivable, because he ends his speech to her about having her whole life ahead of her and she shouldn't pursue him by saying, "Give me a call in ten years."

No, nein, nyet! You don't leave the obsessed, impulsive teenager trying to seduce you with a ray of hope that she might eventually succeed!

Well, after leaving the locker room, Trudy runs into Matt who tries to get her to talk to him. When she tries to brush him off, they argue and break up. Probably for the best, though I don't particularly like either of them so I don't care if they're stuck in a miserable relationship. Paul, meanwhile, goes to see Hoserman in the hospital with a basketball signed by all of his teammates. And look who's already there speaking with Hoserman: why, it's Kelly!

The doctors are unsure what bit Hoserman, since the bite looks like a rodent but would require the rodent in question to be gigantic. Kelly was obviously called in to investigate any possible health risk, though she's now more interested in investigating Paul based on the way she bids the teacher and his injured student adieu. Speaking of romance, an old man bids good night to his date--who will later turn out to be Kelly's neighbor--and walks home through the park. Unfortunately, this means he finds himself quickly swarmed by dachshunds in rat costumes who are just so excited to see the bloodied man that they knock him over a railing and down some stairs before swarming him.

"No! Get down! Bad rats! I don't have any treats!"
Well, the next morning Kelly orders Foskins to go investigate some rodent damage in a section of the city's sewer system. Foskins objects that, "When the cat is away, the mice are supposed to play," meaning with the boss gone he should get out of having to do field work for a little while. Kelly disagrees, and isn't swayed by his repeated objections that the last time he was in the sewer he saw a rat "this big." So into the sewer he goes to investigate the damage.

Meanwhile, Paul is running around in the snowy park with his son, Tim (Lee-Max Walton), with his son on his shoulders as he makes "choo choo" sounds. Kelly bumps into them since she's jogging in the park, and we learn that Tim loves trains and wants to be an engineer. (The engineer cap Tim's wearing is not only a nice clue to that, but I had one just like it as a kid) Paul lets Tim run and off and play hide-and-seek with some other kids while he and Kelly chat. I can't help but be distracted by the fact that the kid doing the counting is going "Mississippi-One, Mississippi-Two.." instead of the correct way of saying it, "One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi..."

Hmmph! Canadians.

While Paul explains that he gets his son on the weekends and the two end up exchanging numbers, Tim goes and hides in a storm drain. The kid then starts to go deeper into the drain to investigate a noise, but luckily for him his dad finds him before any killer rats do. Foskins, on the other hand, is not so lucky.

When Foskins goes to pick something up a rat leaps out of the shadows and bites him on the hand, Foskins is forced to flee from a horde of rats, but he is able to lock himself into a supply closet. However, the fact that the closet door is wood and chicken wire combined with the fact he is bleeding profusely from his wounded hand all adds up to it merely postponing his inevitable fate. To make matters worse, it turns out that the closet already had some rats in it, and Foskins reacts to their appearance by just sort of...lying down and letting them swarm him.

Well, I suppose that's about all he could do--but I still like to think it was done to encourage the dachshunds to crawl on him.

Coming this Fall on SyFy: CobRat! Half rat, half cobra, all out of mashup ideas!
Kelly comes home and sees her elderly neighbor on her way out the door for her date, preening that she even "got a permanent." Too bad her date is permanently unavailable, eh? This inspires Kelly to apparently fret about her age and being single, based on how she goes to her mirror and tugs at the skin of her cheeks and jaw. Also, it must be mentioned that Kelly's apartment is decorated with an alarming amount of marionettes on the walls. Cut to Paul arriving home, presumably after having dropped his son off with his ex-wife but the timeline doesn't make a lot of sense here. We watch, in real time, as he attempts to work out how to cook a Hungry Man TV dinner in his oven (my favorite part being him tossing it into the oven that he just turned on, meaning it hasn't even pre-heated yet), only for Kelly to call and ask him out to dinner. So the foil goes back on the TV dinner and back in the freezer it goes.

Naturally, we next see Kelly and Paul going for a romantic stroll before they go back to her place, have some drinks, and then get it on in front of her roaring fireplace. Their morning is rather rudely interrupted however, because Kelly gets a call about Foskins's body being found and she needs to come and identify it. Of course, if his body has been as chewed by rats as the person on the phone implies, I'm not sure how much Kelly can do and shouldn't the identification be the responsibility of his next of kin?

Well, after seeing the body, Kelly becomes convinced that Foskins was right and that there must be a strain of mutated rats living in the city, after having eaten the steroid-filled grain. Paul is skeptical, thinking that the suggestion that Foskins probably died of a heart attack and was eaten by rats after death is more likely. However, he figures it would help her to speak to Dr. Spenser to set the record straight. While Spenser is just as skeptical of the "super rat" idea, since claims of those have existed for ages, he does offer some assistance to Kelly in suggesting a method for dealing with the rats. After all, rats are creatures of habit and they stick to a "runway" between their main source of food and their nest. Destroying the grain disrupted this runway, but now that she knows where the new runway is she should be able to seal the rats in and kill them with poison gas.

And so the capper on a truly surreal first date is Paul standing next to Kelly as she oversees men in hazmat suits spraying clouds of noxious chemicals around in the sewer. To make it up to him, she invites Paul and Tim along to the subway opening--since Tim loves trains and all. Paul gratefully accepts. Of course, it puts rather a pall over the fun of the opening when Kelly is visited at her office by her boss. He's been called back from vacation because her decision to gas the hell out of the sewers has pissed off the big brass, particularly since it somehow makes bad press for the subway opening, and now the Mayor really expects her to grovel at the ceremony that evening.

Paul is having his own problems, however. He comes home to his apartment with Tim and lets the lad watch a B.C. cartoon on TV (Yuck!) as he goes to take a shower. However, after his shower he finds that Trudy is waiting in his bed in her underwear. Apparently she told the super that she was his niece in order to get in and, understandably, Paul is furious at her breaking into his home. He has to lock Tim out of the bedroom when the boy comes to ask a question of his dad, and Trudy seems entirely unbothered by the fact that the object of her lust has his young son in the next room. However, Paul calms down and decides to give her a helpful lecture instead of immediately throwing her out.

Meanwhile, Dr. Spenser has discovered evidence in the museum basement that the giant rats are real and have chewed their way into the subway system through a vent. However, Paul misses the frantic call from Spenser about this because Kelly arrives to pick him up, just in time to be hanging out in the living room with Tim when Paul appears in the hallway with Trudy. Given Paul is dressed only in a towel and Trudy's fly is open, it doesn't look good. However, Paul doesn't just explain what happened, but rather puts the emphasis on the fact that there is an explanation.

To be fair, however, Kelly and Paul have been on one date so far and as far as we know they haven't declared the relationship exclusive. Kelly essentially says as much to him, but it's in the service of showing she's mad at him for apparently sleeping with someone else--rather than, you know, being skeeved out by the fact that he's sleeping with a teenager.

Oddly, when Paul goes to get dressed so they won't be late, Tim asks her if they're still going to the ceremony and she declares that they sure will--and proceeds to leave with Tim! Paul, hearing them leave, goes onto his balcony and tries to call down to her that he can explain. He oddly doesn't seem at all bothered by the fact the angry woman that he met around two days ago is taking his son somewhere without him, he's just focused on her being angry at him and leaving him behind.

Well, as Paul hurriedly gets dressed in order to at least catch up to the woman who basically just took his son without permission, Spenser decides to go back down into the basement to look for more evidence of the rats. As you would imagine, he finds his evidence, all right. He almost escapes the horde after making it to a service elevator, but he chose "alley way blocked by a tall wrought-iron fence" as his escape route and thus ends up rat chow. However, Paul hears the message Spenser left and realizes he really needs to get to that subway opening.

Killer rats can't resist the taste of bourgeoisie.
Well, naturally Paul's going to be too late to stop the rats from crashing the party by waiting until the train is between stations to chew through its power supply. When Paul arrives at the wrong station and finds out the train is stalled, he is forced to punch out a subway cop played by Michael Hogan (Colonel Saul Tigh himself) and steal the cop's gun before running onto the tracks. He does, at least, use the gun to keep the cop from being ambushed by a giant rat.

While the Mayor and his party are forced to march out onto the train tracks to sound the buffet bell, the rats have also headed to the bowling alley to take care of Hoserman when he is sent to check on a jammed pin before he can leave for the night. They've also decided to crash the Bruce Lee retrospective that Trudy, Matt, and Martha are attending. Matt is attacked when he sets down his popcorn and then the rats pour in to take out the other theater patrons. This leads to much carnage and the delightful image of multiple actors catching rat props hurled at them before tumbling over theater seats.

Trudy and Martha escape being mauled by rats only because they are fatally trampled by the panicked crowd. Paul, meanwhile, arrives at the train and warns the partygoers to go back since they aren't safe and tells Kelly she was right. She rushes to his side along with Tim, just in time for the rats to descend on the others. Paul doesn't have enough bullets to take on all the rats so the three are forced to flee down a side tunnel, as the rats gleefully tear the others apart.

Meanwhile, at the latest Trump rally...
Either the Mayor or Kelly's boss, I honestly can't tell, takes the craven route by locking the train door behind himself after he makes it safely inside. Paul, Kelly, and Tim find that the tunnel they went down actually leads right to the rats' nest and after Paul uses up all his bullets on the rats, they are forced to seek shelter inside a chain link storage closet. (Side note, some of the rats were played by terriers instead of dachshunds and most of those were clearly use in the shots where Paul shoots the rats, because they obviously have longer legs and then do a patented terrier leap when they have supposedly been shot)

No amount of shovels and sharp sticks in the storage area is enough to sufficiently hold off the rats, however. Luckily, Kelly notices a propane torch and they light it. For some reason, this torch doesn't emit a focused flame but looks more like a flamethrower. The flame parts the rats so they can escape, and then Paul notices the huge barrels of gasoline in the tunnel. Acting quickly he opens one and rolls it down towards the nest and then lights the gasoline trail with the torch. He does this by droppig the torch, though, which I wouldn't advise.

So the three just barely outrun the fireball that results, wiping out the rat nest. We cut back to the station where the train was supposed to arrive at, and hilariously the shot of the crowd reacting to the explosion is plainly the same footage as them reacting to the news that the train was delayed. Oddly confident that all the rats are gone, Paul, Kelly, and Tim enter the train which somehow has power again. "I guess we'll find out just how god an engineer your old man is," Paul jokes as he tries to start the train up. Um, what do you teach at your school, exactly? Naturally, Tim has to remind old dad to let off the brakes.

So they pull into the station and the excited partygoers rush up to see--a train full of giant rats and the Mayor's gnawed corpse. Whoops! Freeze frame on a rat lunging at the train window and roll credits.

"Are you guys sure this is our stop?"
I have had a fondness for this ridiculous film ever since I saw it on VHS, fresh out of high school when I discovered that the selection at a video store near me was awesome. However, getting it on Blu-ray recently from Scream Factory made me love it even more because of the delightful behind the scenes features that were included. My personal favorite being the screenwriter putting the entire film into perspective when he admitted he had not read The Rats, so he just simply ripped off Piranha.

Boy does it ever show! Sure, every Jaws rip-off had the "we can't close the beaches" set up, but none built up to the consequences of that decision like Piranha did. The climax of that film features a massive body count and all-out mayhem when the killer fish finally make it to the resort that refused to close. Deadly Eyes follows that same structure, even though it also has the killer rats expand the focus of their attack. Hell, this film even makes sure that it also kills its menace with a method that is almost certain to leave some alive, and then ends with the implication that that is precisely what happened.

The fact that we are witnessing people be torn apart by dachshunds in costumes and rather sorry puppets instead of rubber fish, well, that's just a bonus if you ask me.

It's true, we're not given a lot of human characters to give a crap about. Paul and Kelly are non-entities, Trudy is pretty dull for an obsessed temptress, and Scatman Crothers basically gets munched before the halfway mark.

However, this isn't the kind of movie you go into for the rich characters. You go into a movie like this for the carnage and it delivers that in spades. There's hardly a human character we're introduced to that doesn't end up eaten by the rats.

This definitely isn't a movie for everyone, since it's not exactly a good movie. However, if you enjoy a rollicking horror movie with a high body count, this one is for you. Also, its production allowed this image to exist:

And really, isn't that reason enough to love it?

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