I would like to thank Canada for asking the question: can we remake The Killer Shrews and make it less crap, despite also making it about rats?
I mean, especially if you’re a fan of MST3K it’s hard not to think of that, not because the mutated animals are shrews, but because they did the same trick of dressing up dogs (daschunds here) with special effects to make the rats, alongside some puppet props.
To be fair, of course this movie was bound to have a bigger budget and be better given how notoriusly low the budget was for The Killer Shrews, how it was pretty much a “regional” drive-in flick with actors that were hard to understand due to the accents and dialect… and it’s a better movie all around. The old trick of using dogs masquerading as rats actually works here, because they do have better budgets for the effects, instead of just putting moss and bad wigs on the poor canines, so you don’t really notice they’re dogs while watching, and the rats puppets and props are actually decent-to-good in quality, so the answer to the question posed at the beginning is already “yes”.
I think we already had enough movie about killer rats with the infamous Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso collaboration for Rats Nights Of Terror, and the 2002 “Rats”, not be confused with the 2003 film also simply called “Rats”, or “Killer Rats”.
But ironically, it’s not that overpopulated as a niche of the “killer animals” subgenre, so whatever, we can handle one more killer rats movie for sure.
In this case, it’s contaminated grain that causes the overgrowth of rats to dog size that swarm Toronto, the rest is the usual monster movie staple of a couple of unlikely heroes discovering the monster (here a college basketball coach and a health inspector) and searching for its nest before they spread and attack, especially with a new subway being inaugurated the very same day.
It’s a Golden Harvest production, which in itself really might not say much to the younger crowd of cinema “scuba dumpster divers”, because it’s a Hong-Kong based company best known for introducing martial artists and legends like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung to the western markets. And – among other things – also producing the first TMNT movie trilogy back in the 90s.
While the rats in the movie don’t know kung fu or anything like that, it make sense to have Robert Clouse involved, as he is known for directing Ultimate Warrior (definitely more than Gymkata) and the Bruce Lee films, ironically including Enter The Dragon, the film that launched Lee’s career in the west, and Game Of Death, the sacrilegious movie where they overimposed a carboard print of Lee’s face over his impersonator, and used real footage from Lee’s funeral as part of the narrative.
And they want you to remember that, since at one point characters go to the cinema to see Game Of Death, we even get to see them watch a bit of the Bruce Lee VS Karem Abdul Jabbar in the theathre. So while Deadly Eyes wasn’t exactly his forte,he directs it fine, though it could move along a bit faster, as you have to wait until the last 20 minutes to see more rats attacking people (though the first human victim is a baby, ballsy), there’s padding in form of a romantic subplot about a creepy college girl who wants to fuck her sports teacher, health inspectors who literally fish documents from a wastebin, but we do get rats eating corpses, attacking en masse and being set on fire.
It’s entertaining enough, the characters are ok (with one exception), and the performances are decent, with a mostly canadian cast of tv and movie actors, but also has Cec Linder (Lolita, Goldfinger, Quatermass And The Pit) playing the animal expert, and there’s the special appearance of Scatman Crothers (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining), who delightfully plays an old and cranky health inspector, a minor role but he’s more in the movie than i expected and i’m glad to have him crank around and taunt giant rats before getting eaten by the fuckers.
Overall, it’s alright. Middle of the road, yes, but for a killer rat movie, i think it’s “fine”.