“The son-of-a-bitch was THIS BIG!”
Deadly Eyes, 1982 (Sara Botsford), Warner Bros.
Divorced, destitute teacher Sam Groom (great name, like something out of a Mickey Spillane story) takes his class to a museum to hear a lecture about rats. While an interesting study, the kids are obviously bored, so they begin passing around notes. What are they? Like five? No, this is supposed to be high school, and the kids, while well-dressed and reasonably intelligent, are all about getting laid. This was the early ’80s, for crying out loud. Ever since the revelations of Animal House, higher education took a back-seat to sex. No-nonsense Health Inspector Sara Botsford is issuing summons and taking names, while hapless truck driver Scatman Crothers (who gets a special appearance by credit here) laughs at big balls of fire. Wait. What? There’s something wacky about the editing here.
I’m not a fan of rats. They can hide and get into places we can’t. I don’t think I’m much of a fan of movies about rats, either, but my job here at Vintage Cable Box is to remember those movies I watched as a kid on cable television (which unfortunately means I’ll be watching Of Unknown Origin as well). An idiot is playing electric broom air guitar while dreamy cheerleader Lisa Langlois looks bored. Lisa has a thing for Groom (she’s almost psychotically obsessed with bagging him), which can’t end well. If I’m understanding the story correctly, Botsford orders grain to be destroyed (the fire I mentioned) because it contains harmful amounts of steroids. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m going with it. A rat infestation grows to humongous size. They flee the fire and take to the streets.
I remember a few years back, when I was a kid living in Philly, there was a garbage strike which went on for weeks. Despite the fact we were living in a luxury apartment at the time, we could hear the rats scuttling around inside those walls as the garbage piled up. There’s a terrible scene early in the movie with a child in a high-chair and a cluster of enormous rats (actually dachsunds wrapped in fur) that tip the chair over for a late snack. Did I mention I hate rats? In this movie, they tend to be way more predatory than in any given realistic set of circumstances. Most rats I’ve seen in real life scurry away when discovered. I did see an enormous rat one time walking across a train platform in Williamsburg. Imagine that! Just walking around like it had a Metrocard!
Back to the movie, Lisa tells Groom she’s in love with him. Seriously, they’re going to get into a lot of trouble. She honestly doesn’t understand his rejection of her. I don’t either, but that’s me. I love me some Lisa Langlois! Apparently, they were gonna make him God, but he was too good-looking! The movie turns into a little bit of Jaws when one of Groom’s students receives a nasty bite from a mysterious source. Seems like it could be a rodent, but we can’t be sure, damnit! At the hospital, he meets Botsford (whom you may remember as the killer in Still of the Night) and they hit it off fairly quickly. Botsford orders the Scatman to inspect the tunnels before the grand opening of a new subway line. He does so, under protest, but he bites it. Rather, they bite him! Scatman is always dying in horror movies. Why?
This is an incredibly silly movie. The “visual” effects (that of dressing those poor dogs to look like rats) fail, especially in close-up shots of rodent-like faces chewing, gnawing, and screeching accompanied by Henry Manfredini-like violin stings. In wider shots, they run in packs but their strides don’t resemble those of rats, but … well … dogs. It reminds me of a call-back to the movies of Bert I. Gordon. Gordon was known for movies about giant spiders, giant tarantulas, giant ants, giant teenagers (yes, giant teenagers), and made with just as much care for reason and believability. In the middle of a serious movie about a lonely high school teacher, forbidden lust, and health inspections, we have giant rats.
Legendary director Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon, Game of Death) directs a screenplay based on the book, The Rats, by James Herbert. Herbert was a writer I enjoyed immensely. He was known for writing disaster/horror novels with characters that ran the gamut from insane to altruistic, who would then turn, behaviorally, into polar opposites. Among the books I enjoyed from him were The Survivor, Sepulchre, Lair, Domain, Haunted, ’48 (a stand-out for me), and his bizarre, libidinous fairy epic, Once. He passed away in 2013.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.
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