Tonight They Will Rise From the Darkness Beneath the City… to Feed!
Health inspector Kelly Leonard orders a massive quantity of steroid-infused grain to be destroyed after she discovers that it is infested with rats. Unfortunately the rats that have been living in and feeding on this grain have grown substantially, and when it is set aflame, they are forced to find a new home in the city. They turn their sights on humans, cutting a bloody swath through the population. Kelly teams up with professor and basketball coach Paul Harris to put an end to this new breed of Super Rat before they all become rodent food.
DEADLY EYES is no great film, but it’s enjoyable in a chaotic sort of way, fitting in nicely alongside the goofy also-rans of the Nature Strikes Back genre, like FROGS (1972), SQUIRM (1976), and SLUGS (1987). At least this one offers up a few surprises along the way, even if the rest of it is rather formulaic and far too reliant on coincidence. You can’t come into it expecting any sort of subtext, or you will be sorely disappointed. But it does have dogs. In rat costumes. And it’s kind of difficult to hate that.
DEADLY EYES was scripted by Charles H. Eglee who had gotten his start as co-writer of PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING the previous year. He went on to write for such seminal TV shows as MOONLIGHTING, THE SHIELD, DEXTER, and THE WALKING DEAD.
Director Robert Clouse is best known for having directed Bruce Lee’s ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and having cobbled together the film GAME OF DEATH (1978) following Lee’s death, utilizing unused footage and lookalikes (this is the film playing in the theater during a particularly epic rat attack). He also directed the blaxploitation film BLACK BELT JONES (1974) starring Jim Kelly, former athlete and first African American martial arts film star; the action film GOLDEN NEEDLES (also 1974) with Joe Don Baker; the post-apocalyptic Yul Brynner flick THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975); the Robert Mitchum vehicle THE AMSTERDAM KILL (1977); and Jackie Chan’s American debut, THE BIG BRAWL (1980). DEADLY EYES was not his first killer animal flick, as he had cut his teeth on the deadly dog movie THE PACK (1977), based on a novel by David Fisher.
Lisa Langlois played the seductive cheerleader Trudy, who had set her sights on her teacher, Paul Harris. After coming in second in the 1974 Miss Teen Canada pageant, Langlois turned to acting, appearing in the mystery thriller BLOOD RELATIVES (1978) alongside Donald Sutherland; the John Huston-directed PHOBIA (1980); and cult classics HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and CLASS OF 1984 (1982). After dealing with the rats, you would think that she would be done with nature, but she returned to face off against killer cockroaches in THE NEST (1988).
Sara Botsford filled the role of health inspector heroine Kelly Leonard, and had appeared in the lethal telephone thriller MURDER BY PHONE (1982) and the crime drama STILL OF THE NIGHT the same year. In 1989, she appeared with Kevin Costner in THE GUNRUNNER, and with historical graboids in the prequel TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS in 2004. She has had a number of guest appearances on television shows but is most well-known for the Canadian series E.N.G. (1989-1994), where she portrayed news program producer Anne Hildebrandt.
Our protagonist professor Paul Harris was portrayed by Sam Groom, who had brief stints on the series THE TIME TUNNEL (1966) and the interdimensional OTHERWORLD (1985), and appeared in the intriguing TV movies BEYOND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (1975) with Fred MacMurray and Dana Plato, and the time travel/outbreak/Chicago fire mashup TIME TRAVELERS (1976).
And last but not least, Scatman Crothers had a small role as health inspector field agent George Foskins. Most people know Crothers as the caretaker in THE SHINING (1980), but he appeared in a plethora of other films including: a small part in LADY IN A CAGE (1964) with Ann Sothern, who was herself devoured by rats in the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR episode Water’s Edge; Roger Corman’s BLOODY MAMA (1970); the Warren Oates detective drama CHANDLER (1971); the campy comedy LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT (1975); the famous ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975); the epic miniseries ROOTS (1977); a lengthy run on sitcom CHICO AND THE MAN (1974-1978); and the Scott Baio and Willie Aames sci-fi sex comedy ZAPPED (1982). He appeared in a number of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, like DETROIT 9000 (1973), SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF (1973), TRUCK TURNER (1974), and FRIDAY FOSTER (1975), and he teamed up with director Clouse again for the previously mentioned 1974 flick BLACK BELT JONES. He lent his voice to multiple animated projects, including THE TRANSFORMERS (1984-1986), where he portrayed the Autobot Jazz. Despite his impressive filmography, he had started out in music—hence his moniker Scatman—and used to play drums with the legendary Slim Gaillard.
Personally, I knew that I had to see this film as soon as I learned that they used dachshunds in costumes to play the giant rats. This was a variation on a not-so-special effect used in the Ray Kellogg cheeser THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), so I was expecting visuals along the same lines. While not perfect, the effect is much better than I would have imagined, and likely wouldn’t earn as much ridicule as it does if the fact that they were dogs in disguise wasn’t so well known. The dogs couldn’t see through the masks they wore, and had to maneuver with their sense of smell and hearing—meaning a lot of doggy treats and noisemakers were used to make them hit their marks successfully. Reports around the Internet state that the dogs were treated very well on the set, but these are refuted by rumors that one of them died during filming, likely having suffocated under the weight of the rat suit.
The head animal trainer on this film was Joe Camp, who, along with Tammy Maples, owns and operates Jungle Exotics in San Bernardino, California. Camp and the Jungle Exotics crew have also worked on or supplied trained animals for QUEST FOR FIRE (1981), TREMORS (1990), THE EXORCIST III (1990), HUNGER GAMES (2012), and something to the tune of a thousand or so other films, television shows, commercials and the like. (And, for the record, this is a decidedly different Joe Camp than the one that directed the BENJI films).
DEADLY EYES was loosely based on the 1974 James Herbert novel The Rats. It was Herbert’s first novel, and although it was thrashed by the critics for its graphic depictions of death and dismemberment, it sold quite well—likely for the same reason. Herbert followed it up with two sequels, Lair and Domain, neither of which have been adapted to the screen. He was said to be quite displeased with what the filmmakers had done to his story. I am unsure how he felt about the 1985 computer game adaptation of his novel that was available on the Commodore 64, but I like to think that he was suitably impressed.
To be fair, it’s not that DEADLY EYES was all that unfaithful to its source material. It’s just that Herbert’s novel had so many different layers to it that the movie was basically an adaptation of only the outermost layer. There was no Kelly Leonard character, and our hero’s romantic interest was his already-existing girlfriend, but there was a George Foskins. In fact, Foskins was a much more important, though much less sympathetic, character in the book. Many of the major attack scenes, including the theater attack that has already been noted, were in the book, as well. Missing from the movie, though, is an utterly insane attack at a zoo, which probably would have blown far too much of the film’s budget.
So, yes, both book and movie are about a legion of killer rats, but what the movie left out was the fact that the rats carried a virus. Even if you were to survive a rat attack, you were still as good as dead because you had been infected. The book’s cure for the infestation wasn’t the straightforward brute force depicted in the film. Instead, a different virus was introduced into the rat population by sacrificing infected puppies to their hungry hordes. It worked…at least temporarily. It is a much, much bigger story on the written page, and one that is recommended to those who weren’t turned off by the sillier aspects of the film.
As a small bonus to fans of the film, I am including an interview with George “Stompy” Holly, an extra who was on-set during the theater scene.
How does one get the nickname of Stompy, anyway?
Stompy was a character on STAR TREK. He followed around Miles O’Brien and I tend to follow around STAR TREK actors like a puppy dog, so the name kind of stuck…There’s a fine line between geeky fanboy and stalker…
You were uncredited on the film, but the IMDB lists you as “first survivor”. Is this accurate? Can you describe to us your character’s fate?
I didn’t appear in the credits of the finished film, but I was alive after the rat attack in the cinema. The director lined us up along the wall and had the rats nibbling away at our flesh, some of us as corpses, some of us being eaten alive. I was one of the “lucky” ones who was still alive. I was twitching as the rats ate off my face…
How did you get the part?
I worked for a company called Film Extra Services in Canada at the time and was available so they brought me out and used me in various shots toward the end of the movie.
How long were you on the set of the film?
We started very early, around 6AM or so and were on set till well after midnight. They did some pick up shots the next day but I was in a play and couldn’t come back for the second day of shooting. Still, my 18 hours were a mix of getting thrown through a stained glass window, trampled down two flights of stairs, watching a 5 minute clip of a Bruce Lee movie about 100 times (the director of our movie also directed Bruce’s last movie), and being eaten by dogs in rat suits. Ah the glamorous life.
Did you have any interactions with the primary cast members? If so, what were they like?
I worked mainly with the stunt guys to make sure we were safe, but I did get to talk a lot with the star Sam Groom. Ironically, these days I run Jimmy Darren’s website and Jimmy and Sam starred together in THE TIME TUNNEL back in the 60’s for Irvin Allen. Sam was a very down to earth guy and very humble. He had been in the business a long time and was happy to be working and took the role very seriously even though we all knew the movie was pretty silly.
The rats in the film were infamously portrayed by dogs in rat suits. How did the effects look closeup?
These were the days before CGI and quite frankly the suits were amazing! They had one animatronic unit which was a close-up of a head but all the rest were just fuzzy rat suits that they put the dachshunds in and used clickers to get them to go where they wanted. For my scene at the end, they put corn syrup blood mixed with soft dog food on my face to get them to “eat my face off.” I was kind of sorry most of that footage was left on the cutting room floor. Close-up, the dogs were great, the AD kept telling us to act scared, we were all oohing and awing, especially the girls, the dogs were pretty cute.
Even more infamous than the dogs being dressed in rat suits is the rumor that one of the dogs had died during filming. Is there any truth to these rumors? How were the animals treated on set?
No, not true. The dogs were treated WAY better than the humans. Each dog was only able to work for two hours at a time. They had individual kennels all with fans. When the director yelled “Cut” the handlers would unzip the hoods and the dogs would get a drink in between takes. Meanwhile we were just stepped on or left in a heap on the stairs or whatever…As far as I know none of the dogs were ever mistreated in any way. The handlers had 20 or 30 dogs who got rotated out throughout the shoot. We had 4 or 5 in suits at a time scurrying along the floor or jumping up on us. The real dogs were never in any of the stunt scenes. Basically a guy would hold the dog and another would have a clicker at the other end and when the director said “action”, the guy would click and the dog would run to where the noise was and get a treat. The hood would come off while the DP set up the next shot.
Did your involvement in the movie awaken any latent musophobia in you? What are you truly afraid of?
No, rodents don’t bother me, they are just looking for food. During the shoot I was starring in a play and my schedule overlapped with the movie—the play was for no money and the movie was a paying gig, so it was a tough balancing act. The play’s director was retiring after the run and I hurt his feelings by doing the movie and missing so much of the rehearsals, so that’s why I bowed out of the second day of shooting and did the play. I guess I was really afraid of screwing up my career and screwing up being a decent person. In the end, I don’t know if I did either thing well, but we all do the best we can in whatever situation we are in.
In today’s world, horror films are often subject to remakes. If DEADLY EYES were to be remade, would you want to portray the first survivor again?
Oh yeah I’d love to do it again, but only if we could have the dogs back. I’m fine with CGI for some stuff but there is something visceral about in-camera SFX, on-set real stuff that just lends a credibility to horror movies that I think we lose with CGI.
Any other anecdotes or reminisces about the film that you would like to share?
There’s one hilarious story that I didn’t realize at the time was an urban legend. The film was shot in Toronto, a city that has a global reputation for its cleanliness. We were all in the theater and Sam’s character is looking for his son. He comes rushing in from the outside. We film a bunch of stuff throughout the morning and eventually the director breaks for lunch. Afterwards we hear that there’s a delay in the afternoon. Apparently during lunch, the city of Toronto sanitation workers saw all the trash in the alleyway (which was set dressing) and hauled it all away. The prop guys had to go scrounge up a bunch of trash and redress the alley for the afternoon shots to match what we had filmed that morning. Now I don’t know if any of the trash stuff actually happened, BUT we did have a delay and that was the scuttlebutt amongst the extras as to why that was going on. You can read the story on Snopes, but they say it was a year after our movie…
And finally, what does George “Stompy” Hollo do when he’s not being tormented by enormous rats?
Well after I got my big break in the restaurant business I moved to the United States. I worked in food service for about 18 years and then decided I sucked at telling 18 year old kids what to do, and got a job at IBM. I taught myself HTML and started building websites, mostly for STAR TREK people who I stalked at conventions. It has been a blast and through the sites I have received my modern day gigs like my appearance on JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE—where I beat William Shatner in a William Shatner Trivia Contest!