As of this writing, the Wikipedia page for the 1982 giant killer rat picture Deadly Eyes notes only one piece of production trivia: "Dachshunds wearing rat suits were used in the filming of Deadly Eyes to achieve the effect of super-sized rodents". Dear reader, I would like to assure you with all my heart: you don't need Wikipedia to figure that out.

Dogs in rinky-dink costumes are merely one of the cornucopia of flaws afflicting Deadly Eyes. The movie managed to completely piss off James Herbert, author of the source novel The Rats, for being too dumb and shallow and trashy. I have not read The Rats; my impression is that it's considered to be a modestly intelligent horror-as-social-commentary piece. I don't know. But I know that any writer who's comfortable enough with shlocky genre fare to write a book about mutant rats and title it The Rats is a writer who's not going to through around criticism of that sort arbitrarily.

Deadly Eyes certainly is a piece of crap, bad enough to be a legitimately solid candidate for an alcohol-assisted Bad Movie Night party. The script is a patchwork quilt of ideas that were a half a decade or more out of date by '82 (it feels, in a great many ways, like a mid-'70s TV movie that got an infusion of gore and wandered its way into theatrical release), with a few half-assed attempts to connect it with a more contemporary vibe - read, throw some expendable teenagers at it - that just make it feel like an already dubiously clichΓ©d story still needed to have arbitrary padding tossed in to bump it up to feature length (the official running time is reported to be 87 minutes; the version I watched on YouTube for this review is only 83 minutes, but nothing seems to be missing). Thus does a script with significant structural issues explode into a script with devastating structural issues.

So let's have at it, eh? The very first scene sets the plot on a knife's edge: over still frames of rats, a professor, Dr. Louis Spenser (Cec Linder) drones on about the nature of the rat in the modern world, to a room of teenagers; he'll later declare it to have been largely a success, with only a few kids being obviously checked-out, but since those are the only ones we get to see, it's genuinely impossible to tell whether or not he's meant to be taken seriously. Film, after all, being a medium where what is shown trumps what is reported.

Now, the knife's edge is this: the way the scene is blocked, it's not entirely clear whether the focus is meant to be on the teens' teacher, Paul Harris (Sam Groom), or on the teens themselves, of whom the most important from an early stage is clearly Trudy White (Lisa Langlois). There's evidence either way: the conversation between Paul and Dr. Spenser is far too eager to get us to the reveal that Paul is recently divorced for that to be a disposable plot point, but at the same time, the kids' social network is detailed too exactly for that to be disposable. Spoiler alert: one of these ends up being, in fact, disposable.

But we don't find out which yet! Suddenly, in a different movie, zealous health inspector Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford) is busy screaming at an exporter that his supply of corn about to be sent overseas is rotten with steroids from corrupt groundwater, and it would be a crime against humanity for her to allow him to control it for even one more day. He leaves the meeting thoroughly unsatisfied, and as it if weren't enough, his cat, sneaking into the room where the corn is stored, runs afoul of a rat the size of... aye, well, there's simply no way to describe it but a rat the size of a dachshund. So finally, with three different plots all buzzing about, we have our rats in this killer rat movie. I admire efficiency, and Deadly Eyes certainly gets us to the good stuff [sic] pretty quickly, if not in a particularly linear or coherent way.

The credits play out over Kelly's triumphant bonfire of the corn, and then it seems like we finally pick a subplot and stick with it: for a good ten minutes, the movie stays locked with the teenagers as they have a party, play music too loud, gossip, make out, and generally act precisely like the first-act of a generic '80s slasher movie, culminating in the first human deaths at the paws of the newly food-deprived rats, of the party's hostess and her baby sister after everybody else has left for late night burgers (I have to say, making a toddler the very first victim, even if its done in a demure, off-screen way, was a gesture of "we are not fucking around here" that I didn't remotely expect). Having thus clearly set up the rest of the plot - the teens carouse around town, being picked off by the rats - you know what Deadly Eyes does? Probably, because I've been hinting at it, but it does this: it drops the teens' subplot entirely. Hell, I don't even think the girl who died and the baby are ever even referenced in dialogue, and the only reason any of this matters - besides taking an immensely long time to establish that Trudy has a crush on her teacher, Paul, and that Paul has a phone answering machine (it's kind of dear, in fact, how much the film obviously needs to establish that fact), the only thing that this lengthy scene sets up is that one of the kids gets bitten by a rat, not knowing what it is, and it's in investigating this strange wound that Kelly is first drawn in to the rest of the plot.

I can squint and hold this at an angle where this is truly brazen, intelligent convention-flaunting; as though, knowing that in 1982, we expect our horror movie to revolve around horny teens, writer Charles H. Eglee and director Robert Clouse (of the timeless Bad Movie Masterpiece Gymkata) tease around with us, keeping us in the dark and disoriented for more than the first fifth of their movie. But nothing in the remainder of the film indicates anything resembling that level of postmodernism, or frankly, that much creativity. Whereas a great many things indicate that Eglee's story was being assembled on cocktail napkins that were sent to the editor in the wrong order, so I think it's easier to assume that Deadly Eyes merely sucks. Particularly since by this point we've already hit the first continuity gash, where the order of scenes makes it pretty unmistakably clear either that the teen boy who gets bitten by a rat waits almost 24 hours to go to the emergency room with a still-fresh wound, or that Paul (who is also the basketball coach) likes to hold practice at 10:00 PM. And Kelly's meetings with her boss (James B. Douglas) take place outside of the normal space-time continuum altogether.

Anyway, once the monumentally chaotic first act is behind us, the script hews fairly closely to good generic stereotypes: Paul and Kelly will fall in love, Trudy will fuck it up for him in a way that suggests that none of the adults in whatever city this is meant to be (one where subways are still a brand new thing in 1982, and the government is in "Washington", and to hell with the day players' accents) mind if schoolteachers have affairs with their students, and Kelly's attempts to uncover what's going on with this rats with bites the size of a German shepherd's jaw (which is transparently untrue) will prove far less effective than Paul's, even though she's a government official, and he's a high school basketball coach who doesn't even have a reason to be investigating. Though he is the one who's best friends with the rat professor.

It's business as usual for a killer animal flick of the low-key sort practiced more in the '70s than the '80s, right down to the way that the film seems to genuinely believe that it has given us a great reason to root for Paul and Kelly ending up together, and thus it's a character piece, not just a mutant rat thriller. Typical stuff, unexceptional except for the totally unacceptable dogs-as-rats, an amount of disbelief that could not be suspended using the miraculous engineering of the Golden Gate Bridge. The real devil is in the details; the constant inability of the script to get its internal chronology right (Kelly apologises for popping up again after meeting Paul just that morning; yeah, but before that morning, they'd also met at the hospital the night before), the way that the film tosses a character introduces right at that moment to the rats, just to make sure we have any deaths in the first half of the film, and the grotesque, confused editing, which fails both at the level of stitching scenes together, and at the level of telling stories within scenes. At one point, Paul steps out of the shower in the school locker room, and a hideous jump cut pushes him ahead to the other side of the room; when Trudy accosts him, and we have every reason to believe he's naked at this point, until he steps toward her with a towel, making the scene a lot less interestingly sleazy.

Look at it from every angle you like, and it ends up the same: Deadly Eyes is shoddy, arbitrary filmmaking, that can't even work at the level of making giant killer rats a credible threat, or even pulling the trigger on the "contaminated corn made them giants" plot point, which would at least position it within the eco-terror genre that, like the adult lovers fighting monsters genre, had run its course well before Deadly Eyes opened. Its saving grace is not that is is well-acted, or has good characters, or even that it's effective horror (the kill scenes are among the most baroquely-cut parts of a film where the editing is a constant liability); it is saved solely on account of how resolutely, uncompromisingly silly it all is. We had not yet hit a silly bad movie in this Canadian horror tour of summer, 2013, but there is no denying the power of dachshunds in rat suits. Once scene, it is an image not readily forgotten.

Body Count: Well, that's a tricky thing. There are, readily counted, 6 humans and one cat that fall victim to the rats' onslaught. But, there are two moments in the last third where the rats rampage through public spaces, massacring people by the armful. And thanks to the dodgy editing, it's very difficult to get anything like a proper body count for those scenes. I would say that there are verifiably 10 deaths that happen between these two, with at least another 8 that almost certainly count. So we could say anything from 16-24, and a sufficiently passionate argument could persuade me up to 30. Plus the cat, plus a whole fuckload of rats.