Tuesday, July 15, 2014

DEADLY EYES (1982) Blu-ray Review

Deadly Eyes (aka Night Eyes) (1982) d. Robert Clouse (Canada)

Based on James Herbert’s classic novel Rats (and an earlier script from Lonon Smith), this hilariously earnest yet surprisingly bloody “B” ratfestation flick falls somewhere between the real-life rodent hordes of Willard and the costumed creepers of The Killer Shrews. Enter the Dragon director Clouse keeps the action moving along at a lively pace, perhaps to distract from the not-quite-convincing dachshunds-in-rats-clothing (no kidding) and the close-ups of snarling hand puppets.

After health department rep Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsworth) orders warehouses of contaminated, steroid-boosted corn destroyed, the vicious vermin head for the city to make a meal out of senior citizens and (gasp!) infants alike. Single father Paul Harris (TV staple Sam Groom, resembling a low-rent Richard Chamberlain) is the hunky high school basketball coach who stumbles into a romance with Leonard, ultimately leading to a toothy climax in the unnamed metropolis’ subway system.

In homage to, well, himself, Clouse also stages several scenes of ravaging mayhem within a theater playing Bruce Lee’s last flick, Game of Death...which Clouse also directed.

Sporting bloodshed and likeable performances in equal measure, this is without a doubt one of the best killer rat movies ever made. Plus, with the lovely Lisa Langlois (The Nest), her Happy Birthday To Me co-star Lesleh Donaldson, her Class of 1984 chum Joseph Kelly, and the incomparable Scatman Crothers filling out the supporting roles, and special makeup/prosthetic effects courtesy of legends-in-the-making Allan Apone and Douglas J. White, how bad could it really be?

Shout! Factory’s recent DVD/BR combo release’s supplements kick off with the 24-minute behind-the-scenes doc, “Dogs in Rats Clothing,” featuring production designer Ninkey Dalton, screenwriter/co-producer Charles Eglee, and makeup man Alec Gillis. All have gone on to bigger and better things (Eglee being a multiple Emmy nominee for his work on NYPD Blue, Murder One, The Shield, and Dexter, while Gillis’ efforts span from his early days with Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror to Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter to the Aliens and Tremors franchises), but all express warm sentiments toward this ambitious and energetic hoser horror that helped further their careers.

For Dalton and Eglee, it also symbolizes a more personal significance: the two met on the Deadly Eyes set and have been happily married ever since. Eglee also confesses to following John Sayles' Piranha playbook pretty closely, which had itself shamelessly echoed Jaws.

For her solo featurette, Langlois takes a pretty lofty tone for someone sporting such an abundance of genre credits, unabashedly name-dropping her more “significant” roles under Claude Chabrol, John Huston, and Hal Ashby. (The fact that these titles represent some of the cinematic giants least successful efforts, however, goes unmentioned.) She goes on to declare Terence Winkless’ The Nest the worst experience of her professional life, due mostly to pressures to perform an unscripted nude scene, and reveals that she was the runner-up for Linda Hamilton’s role in The Terminator.

The 18-minute interview concludes with the still-beautiful and recently unretired actress oh-so-graciously reaching out to young filmmakers to contact her through Facebook to cast her for any upcoming gigs. Um, yeah.

In their respective pieces, Donaldson is much more down-to-earth, chatting happily about her experiences on Curtains, Happy Birthday to Me, and William Fruet’s Funeral Home while Kelly is the most laid-back of all, clearly surprised by Deadly Eyes and Class of 1984’s cult following and longevity.

It’s worth going back and watching Donaldson’s reactions to Langlois’ character’s early attempts at seducing Groom on the school bus – scene stealing at its finest. That said, it's a little disappointing, even in a pre-IMDb era, to discover that none of these young actors were aware of Clouse’s (Chinese?) connection to Bruce Lee until halfway through the shoot – as an up-and-comer, you might want to know who you’re working for, right?

The always enjoyable Apone, responsible for the "Eureka!" moment of sticking canines in rodent suits, credits much of the film’s success to animal trainer Joe Camp (not the same fellow who directed the Benji movies in the 1970s and ’80s; trust me, I checked). The effects legend reports that 35 dachshunds and five terriers were on hand – or paw – and goes on to dispel the rumor (and IMDb trivia point) that any dogs died on set, stating that one did get sick and had to leave the ranks, but that was the extent of any mishaps.

Deadly Eyes is now available from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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