Friday, June 23, 2017


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.

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