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dog days

dog days

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Monster Dog


Monster Dog
1984
Claudio Fragasso

Vincent Raven (Alice Cooper) is taking has band back to his ancestral home to film a new music video. His family isn’t a popular one, since his dad was allegedly a werewolf and local suspicion runs rampant that Vincent will is one too. Vincent starts to have odd visions, and all the while local dogs are becoming aggressive pack hunters.

Monster Dog is basically a traditional werewolf film, and a traditional werewolf is film is often a mystery about the identity of the monster. Monster Dog is not different in this respect; the viewer is led to believe that Vincent Dawn will become a fanged master of all the local mutts, but is he really the one killing people? The movie does manage to string this question along for most of its running time and it even offers a solution that almost makes sense. So what went wrong?

Maybe he just needs some eye drops?
I think it comes down to a couple things, firstly this directed by Claudio Fragasso, the man who gave us the unhinged classic, Pieces (1982) and the unhinged not-so-classic Troll 2 (1990), so no need to worry about logic or story. Many Italian genre films of this period eschew logic for tone, leaving the movie one of two options, keep the story simple (Demons 1985), or jump into a convoluted twisting mystery where the solution makes no more sense than the question (i.e. most giallos). Monster Dog goes for a moody and weird tone, but also tries to create a tangled, ‘who’s really a werewolf?’ story and ends up just being confusing.

The second issue, and arguably a much larger one for some people, is the fact that Alice Cooper’s entire dialog has been dubbed over by another actor. The film was originally intended for a Spanish audience and Alice’s original vocal track was dubbed over in Spanish. They probably had no money to get Mr. Cooper back in the studio for a redub.

"Yay, it's almost over!"
The movie opens with a music video by Vincent Raven that is quite terrible. The song’s title is ‘Identity Crisis’ which I guess is clever, but perhaps too on the nose. The music aims for the epic synth horror sound of Goblin but falls very short. You can’t just throw a bass guitar, and some choir sounding synthesizers together and expect magic to happen.

Monster Dog isn’t a total loss. I think the actually monster is a unique design that leans away from the a more wolf-like appearance into something stranger. The actual prop is a little stiff, but it works on screen just fine. I also like the fact that the creature can exert control over the local dog population. It is an interesting take on the mythos. The movie also doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore, offering plenty of messy attacks. That is one place Fragasso rarely dissapoints.

Monster Dog never touches the off-the-wall heights of Pieces or the sub-basement lows of Troll 2, (I'll just throw in a random plug for my favorite Fragasso related film right here: Terminator II: Shocking Dark), but it does manage to entertain the viewer with the barest competence. I will promise you that will never see another werewolf movie like it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Moonwolf


Moonwolf
1959
George Friedland

Wolf is a dog who has been sent into space as part of a rocket test. He was rescued as a pup by one Dr. Peter Holmes (Carl Möhner). Dr. Holmes keeps losing and being reconnected with his dog, and now finds himself once again venturing out to be reunited. Only this time he’s about to run in to someone from his past who is not happy to see him.

There’s a certain joy to be found in getting oversold on a b-movie. Posters and trailers announce that you will witness the most horrifying monster of all time, you will be so sacred that you will need to sign a waiver before you enter the theater, or HEROIC ASTRO-DOG IN OUTER SPACE. It might burn you a little the first few times, but eventually you come to adore the bravado with which these films put forth their usually cheap wares. The flip-side to this is a poster or trailer that deliberately misrepresents itself. Occasionally, this can be an artful way to catch an audience off guard; more often than not, it’s just a means to get some butts in the seats before they know what’s gone wrong.

"Look, it's a completely legitimate choice for a hat..."
I’m not sure what Moonwolf was trying to accomplish by positioning itself as a ‘dog in space’ movie. Technically, yes, there is a dog, and yes, it does go to space, but all of that happens off screen. The dog never lands on the moon. It never has a moon adventure in its little doggy space suit. Nothing. This film is only science fiction in the sense that the U.S. had not put any dogs into space in 1959 (the Russians had launched plenty at this point).

Moonwolf is actually a tepid romance story that is preceded by a tepid nature documentary of sorts. The whole thing starts out promisingly enough with Wolf being prepared for his journey into space. Once all of that is out of the way (with prerequisite stock footage of a rocket launch), we turn to Wolf’s owner, Dr. Peter Holmes reminiscing about finding Wolf as a lost puppy in the forest. He rescues the dog, loses it, and finds it again. 1950s space exploration movies aren’t without their filler (strangely enough it often comes in the form of dance sequences),  and at this point in the film I figured this was just the story killing time until we get to see what Wolf is up to in space.

Nope.

"Wolf just ate all the pieces out of the Operation game."
Instead, we jump in time to Wolf having already landed somewhere in Finland, and Dr. Homes heading out to rescue him. Is it wilderness adventure time at least? Sorry, no. Rather we are backed into an uninteresting love triangle that resolves itself just in time for about a minute of Wolf being released from his space capsule.

 Even going in with the full knowledge that Moonwolf isn’t really about a moon, or a wolf, much less both at the same time, it’s a dull disappointment.  When I first heard of the title I wondered why it wasn’t more well known, but after sitting through all 83 minutes, I know exactly why.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Devil Dog: Hound of Hell

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell
1978
Curtis Harrington

The Barry family replace their formerly living pet with a new dog. They make the worse possible choice when they pick up a German Shepard puppy from some people who aren’t Satanic cultists, and totally didn’t just sell them an evil possessed dog. Once the dog is brought in the house, strange accidents began to happen, and soon enough, Mike Barry (Richard Crenna) suspects his new pet is a force of evil. While he flies off to Ecuador to confirm his suspicions, his family is slowly being transformed into a coven of devil worshipers.

What makes Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell interesting is that it isn’t just a collection of supernatural dog attacks, but instead, the title monster exists to undermine the family from  within. I’m sure this choice came about due to the budgetary and content restrictions imposed on the production as a television movie. It elevates the devil dog from just being another hungry
monster to something truly evil, and it helps alleviate some of the inherent silliness of a Satanic cult of puppy sellers. You can also attribute some of this more intelligent approach to the popularity of The Exorcist (1973), and a rise of interest in the occult in popular culture.

"Aww ma, we want to go do evil..."
Devil Dog still has it’s share of pulpy pleasures, especially during the finale, when Mike Barry faces off against his pet in it’s true form: a giant horned Rottweiler complete with a lizard frill. The closest the film ever comes to outright visceral horror is a scene of the devil dog trying to influence Mike to put his hand into the spinning blade of a lawn mower. Even with the knowledge that this a TV movie and it probably isn’t going to go as far as it could, it still adds a little excitement to the proceedings.

Iit isn’t the most dynamic looking film, but Shriek Show’s Blu-ray shows off a crisp image. There aren’t a vast number of special effects, aside from a few moments of glowing eyes, and the devil dog’s monstrous form which isn’t wholly successful, but it works better than you would expect. The lo-fi quality of the effects give those last few moments a surreal edge that work in its favor.

Ok, who mentioned going for a walk?
Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux are reliable actors and they sell their plight well. Its always dicey when younger actors are in the mix, but Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards are fine in their roles, if never especially engaging, this might be due to the fact that they are supposed to be acting strangely thanks to the influence of the dog, but it’s difficult to say.

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell is a clever little film that tackles a pretty silly premise and manages to extract something decent despite some (or maybe due to its) limitations. A lot of it seems very quaint now, but I could imagine this being a good nightmare inducing ninety minutes (plus commercials) for someone sitting down in 1978 to find out exactly what the heck a devil dog is supposed to be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dracula's Dog


Dracula’s Dog (aka Zoltan… Hound of Dracula)
1978
Albert Band

In Russia, a labor crew is blowing stuff up for a new road when they discover a crypt. Worried that someone will loot the newfound treasures, they post a guard. Sadly, the guard is someone dumb enough to pull a wooden stake out of a dog he finds inside a coffin. Zoltan, the hound of Dracula, rises, bites the guy's neck and resurrects Dracula’s servant, Igor. The two head off to the U.S.A. to track down Dracula’s descendant with the goal of turning him into a vampire and bringing the bloodline back to unlife.

Igor finds out that Zoltan left him a little surprise in his coffin.
For such a silly concept, Dracula’s Dog tries to deliver on some of its promise. The combination of Zoltan’s lean almost skeletal body, the unusual lighting of his eyes, and his performance on screen go a long way to selling him as an actual threat to the other characters. When everything is working, he’s a silent, seemingly intelligent monster.  However, whether it was matter of budget or time, there isn’t much for him to do.  He skulks around biting the occasional person, and raises an army of three whole other vampire dogs. It feels underwhelming.

Zoltan’s target is one, Michael Drake (Michael Pataki), a boring psychiatrist with a boring family who go out on a boring camping trip. If we were not told he was a descendant of Dracula, then there would be nothing remarkable or engaging about him. This also brings up a plot hole: Zoltan needs to bite Drake in hopes of bringing the vampiric bloodline of Dracula back from the grave. His children, technically also descendants of Dracula, seem like they are much easier targets, but Zoltan never bothers with them. So either, they aren’t blood related to Drake (which is never brought up), or Zoltan is just a dumb dog.

"Ooh, here come's Dracula's Mailman!"
Aside from a little blood sucking, Dracula’s Dog has little to offer in the special effects department. Kudos to the film for going so far as having Zoltan bite a puppy, but the end payoff is either the least scary idea ever put on film, or Dracula’s Dog finally acknowledging the goofiness of its entire concept. It may tip its hand a little earlier when we learn Zoltan’s origin, in which he is vindictively bitten by Dracula after foiling one of his kills. The image of a tiny adorable vampire bat biting a dog is hardly the kind of thing that instills fear in an audience.

Could Dracula’s Dog actually have worked as a film? I suppose if the creative team had chosen to either embrace the inherent comedy or really pushed the horror of pets turned killers, it might have been at least interesting. What we are given though, is too middle of the road to inspire much beyond mild curiosity. Dracula’s Dog has very little bark or bite.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dogs



Dogs
1976
Burt Brinckerhoff

A small California college town is seeing a rise in animal attacks. The aggressors are common domesticated dogs. When Dr. Harlan Thompson (David McCallum) isn’t hitting on his colleagues or getting in arguments with them, he’s trying to convince them that something is going desperately wrong with the local dog population. Of course, no one is listening and it’s up to Harlan to try and find some answers before the roving packs of dogs eat everyone in town.

The wild success of Jaws (1975) created a flood of ‘nature runs amok’ films in the 1970s. Thanks to an ever-widening awareness of pollution in the U.S., films depicting humankind getting its comeuppance for meddling with the natural order of things was also perfect fodder for horror films. One of the best decisions (both financially and within the narrative) in Dogs is to make killers out of common everyday animals. The animals featured in the film aren’t monstrous sharks, or mutant bears, they are just a motley pack of various dog breeds. Good horror can take the commonplace and make it threatening.

"I don't know how to tell you this, but,
you have the haircut of a seven year old."
Going hand-in-hand with 1970s eco-horror is a very dim view of humanity. Dogs is no exception here, offering a toxic community of academics who are more interested in looking good and keeping the research money flowing in. Our lead, Harlan, is presented as a challenging faculty member unafraid to criticize his peers when he finds them wanting. He’s presented as the last ‘real’ intellectual in town, but more off than not, he just comes across as a big jerk. The rest of the cast is filled with characters either too dense or too blinded by hubris to take notice of the growing waves of dog attacks.

One of the things I did appreciate about Dogs, was that the motivating force behind everything was left largely unexplained. The story offers us two explanations: a linear accelerator leaking radiation into the area, or something to do with pheromones. Professors explain both in some detail, but neither is singled out as the obvious culprit by the end of the movie. Just that small amount of ambiguity makes the story feel bigger than just watching twenty dogs chewing their way through a small college.

"Just leave the treats and we can all walk away from this..."
Unfortunately, Dogs takes too long getting the horror underway, and even when it is finally indulging in its premise, there is a distinct lack of energy. It does manage to present one or two tense moments, a shower attack, and a pack swarming the college library. Before these scenes, the viewer subjected to a significant amount of talking and arguing among less than interesting characters. At least the dogs in the movie get down to business.

Dogs is a middle-of-the-road eco-horror film. It has decent production value, an interesting (if thin) premise, and acting that is solid if unassuming. If you’re in the mood for an animal attack movie to pass some time, this is a good, if never great, entry in that subgenre.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Twice Upon a Time



Twice Upon a Time
1983
John Korty, Charles Swenson

In a black and white city lives a race of beings called the Rushers of Din (more commonly known as human beings). The Cosmic Clock is a device that stops the Rushers at night so they may sleep. During this time, the Figmen of Imagination deliver good dreams sent from Frivoli, while vultures deliver nightmares manufactured in the Murkworks. The head of the Murkworks, Synonamess Botch (Marshall Efron) looks to capture a spring from the Cosmic Clock and plunge the world into eternal nightmares. To do that, he needs to trick Ralph, the All-Purpose Animal (Lorezno Music) and Mumford, the non-Purpose Nothing into doing his bidding.

Twice Upon a Time could be looked at as the end of a cycle of counter culture animation on the big screen. Throughout the 1970s with the rise of underground comix from a decade prior, several animated films were released in the US and marketed at college age adults. They contained psychedelic sequences, and often featured drugs and violence in their narratives. This was something that was shocking to see in a ‘cartoon’ in the US. Later these films would fall by the wayside as Japanese anime grew more accessible, and the drug culture turned away from psychoactive substances and towards stimulants in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, at the White House...
Twice Upon a Time exists in two versions, one with some mild cursing and the other without. There are also rumors of slightly different edits that may or may not exist, mostly fueled by the film being difficult to find for a couple decades after its release. These versions highlight the inner struggle for this movie as it tries to decide what it wants to be. It is a whimsical kid’s movie or is it a subversive comedy? A story doesn’t necessarily need to conform itself to expectations of an audience, but often it feels like Twice Upon a Time can’t quite make up its mind on a direction.

The animation is composed of a mix of traditional drawing and paper-cut outs, often mixing in some live action sequences and stills. There is a wonderful jumbled aesthetic to the film, but it also retains a distinct feeling whether in Frivoli, the Murkworks, or Din. The standout sequence in the film centers around a nightmare bomb detonating inside an office building, turning commonplace objects like desk lamps and staple removers into monsters. The whole moment is animated against images in negative; it is weird and scary in best way possible.

Meanwhile, at the Vatican...
The voice acting through the entire cast. The dialog is largely improvised. There are a number of clever asides and moments. Synonamess Botch gets all the best lines, but everyone gets some amusing moments. There are also a few montages set to mid-tier rock music, the sort of thing that died out some time in late 1980s. You may or may not enjoy these interludes depending on your need for the real underbelly of 1980s nostalgia.

Twice Upon a Time is a unique piece of film, it's funny, strange, and forges its own odd aesthetic. The story shows a breadth of imagination that is impressive, and the fact it managed to exist and not be based on an established property, or a fast food tie-in promotion is even more encouraging.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Eye Creatures



The Eye Creatures (aka Attack of the Eye Creatures aka Attack of the the Eye Creatures )
1965
Larry Buchanan

After the long introduction in which the military explains that they have been tracking a UFO that will land in the central United States, we meet some local teens who have a habit of trespassing on an old man’s land to go make out in the woods. A flying saucer lands nearby, disgusting green humanoid lumps spill out of it and wander around the place. A couple of drifters looking to score some women or some money (preferably both) get caught up in the whole mess. Eye Creatures stumble around. People stumble around. There is death and eventually it ends. Thank goodness.

Like Zontar, Thing from Venus (1966), The Eye Creatures is a Larry Buchanan helmed color remake of an earlier SF film for American International Pictures. In this case, the victim is Invasion of the Saucer Men (1958). The Eye Creatures is a remake of a film that is an out and out comedy, but renders it into a tonal mess. There are moments that are supposed to resemble actual humor, but they fall flat, if they manage to make any sense at all. The military is portrayed as bungling perverts, which is fine, except that at no point does that subplot intersect or affect the main story in any fashion. It is merely the place to dump obvious jokes.

I feel like they escaped from the set of Eegah!
To be fair, a scene of soldiers accidentally blowing up the alien ship and congratulating themselves on defending the Earth is probably the best moment in the whole film. I understand that the story had to stick somewhat to the plot of Invasion of the Saucer People, but it is too bad that it couldn’t strive for a more arch satire of the military and SF films of the 1950s. There’s also a very casual Vietnam draft joke in the early section of the movie that comes across as awkward in the wake of that war.

The cast is thoroughly unappealing; from yet another bland leading man (John Ashley), a female lead who is supposed to be ditzy, but just ends up being aggravating (Cynthia Hull), to the whole remaining cast of characters who are supposed to be irreverent, but just come across of smug. Once you are into the film you will be begging to spend screen time with the blissfully silent Eye Creatures.

"Oh, eye don't know..."
How does it look? Well, it’s a low budget made for TV movie, so pretty terrible. Everything is flat and murky. There are nighttime scenes so under lit, that it is almost impossible to see what is happening. The Eye Creatures lack any of the charm of the big headed aliens of Invasion of the Saucer People, instead looking like lumpy green walking turd-men. For things called Eye Creatures, their eyes are little more than a few black glassy dots scattered around their bodies. They stumble around with no personality, no purpose, and exist only to lazily menace horny teenagers.

The Eye Creatures exists as a document to just how thoroughly a movie can fail even when set against the lowest of expectations, such as being a cheap television remake of relatively obscure low-budget science-fiction comedy made eight years prior.