These teenage schoolkids have been taken by their teacher, Paul Harris (Sam Groom) to a lecture about rats, but some members of the class are not interested and one, Trudy (Lisa Langlois), is more captivated by Harris himself as she cultivates a crush on him. Meanwhile, across town public health inspector Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford) is dismayed at the state of a batch of grain that has been left at the docks, and orders it all destroyed as it is infested with rats and contaminated with steroids. Little does she know that those munching rats are about to have a terrible effect on the city's population...
James Herbert's novel The Rats was possibly the most important British horror novel of the nineteen-seventies, with its unflinching mix of sex and violence as it detailed London overrun with the rodents of the title and giving the authorities and inhabitants a headache, not to mention a few nasty bites. If nothing else, it provided a generation of schoolboys with some forbidden-seeming material to pass around the playground courtesy of a number of well-thumbed paperbacks, but as a read, it bulleted along with savage style and would have appeared to have been tailor made for the screen. That is until you watch Deadly Eyes, the Canadian attempt to adapt the novel.
Not that they kept much of Herbert's novel in their film, but the rats were there, only here instead of coming across as something brutally new and electrifying, this was more like a fifties sci-fi flick right down to the makeshift special effects. It was no wonder that the filmmakers kept the lights off for much of the sequences featuring their furry villains, as if we had got a good look at them it would have been plain to see that these were no giant rats, but actually little Daschunds all made up to look like vermin. As they scurry into frame there are usually sound effects of the squeaking variety to add to the authenticity, but once you notice their canine countenance you can't help but expect them to start barking.
That's when we are offered any attack scenes, that is, as most of the running time is made up of the uninteresting Harris and his domestic troubles; he's a divorcée, he's trying to romance Kelly, one of his students has just admitted her love for him and expects it to be returned in kind, that sort of thing. It all brightens when special guest star Scatman Crothers shows up as a grumbling sewer worker, but he gets a couple of big scenes near the beginning before being devoured on an excursion into a pipe, and the only character with much personality to speak of exits pretty swiftly. This leaves Harris to muddle through the plot as the script tries to make him appear relevant to the rat threat.
Herbert's novel, as many of his works would, took the form of fitting in chapters featuring minor characters who would encounter the monsters and usually come off the worst amidst his main plotline, but here director Robert Clouse ditched that format to make a more straightforward narrative that does the suspense no favours. Set during a chilly spell, with snow on the ground and a positively icy look to the imagery, you might hope for at least some distinction in the atmosphere, but you would be let down by a TV movie look to much of the film: this is no David Cronenberg shocker (it was produced by Golden Harvest). You do get the rat attack in the cinema, one of the most celebrated passages from the original, but those little pooches are fooling no one, and the manner in which they scamper about is not obscured by the puppet rat head that Clouse employs courtesy of the special effects department. The dogs aside, Deadly Eyes isn't bad enough to be funny, it's simply limp. Music by Anthony Guefen.