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dog days

dog days

Friday, August 4, 2017

Play Dead


Play Dead
1981
Peter Wittman

Hester (Yvonne De Carlo) arrives at the funeral of her sister, whom she blames for stealing away a lover years ago. Vowing revenge, she gives her heirs a Rottweiler named Greta. Greta seems benign, but secretly Hester is using black magic to control Greta and bump off her relatives one-by-one. Only a bumbling detective named Otis ) Glenn Kezer seems to glean what’s really happening, but he too could fall victim to Hester's wicked scheme.

Play Dead takes an otherwise interesting premise and squanders it. Operating like the half-hearted offspring of Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (1978) and The Omen (1976), we are presented with a vessel of evil through Greta, a sinister looking Rottweiler. Rather than having Greta maul her victims, she carefully finds ways to do them in and make it look accidental.  None of the murders that Greta commits are particularly clever or gruesome, and this continually robs the film of what little momentum that it possesses. I think the movie could have stolen even more obviously from The Omen and made Greta some breed that was smaller and less threatening. Everyone expects a big scary dog with a pentagram on its collar to be up to no good (except the characters in this film, they are oblivious to the point of absurdity), there’s just no surprise here.

"Did you just call me Morticia Addams?"
Yvonne De Carlo, of Munsters fame, plays Hester, the woman who is behind Greta’s evil deeds. I’m grateful the movie didn’t try and milk the fame of her former role. There is a touch of gothic evil in her, but it is very much hidden behind the veneer of a wealthy socialite who is wary of her needy relatives. She’s charming and engaging when she’s on screen, except for the closing moments of the story, the movie never finds her much to do. The real star of the movie ends up being, Detective Otis (Glenn Kezer). He’s a schluby guy who’s happy to borrow another officer’s car without asking, and seems much more interested in sandwiches than doing any detective work. In the desert of entertainment that is Play Dead, he is a tiny oasis of amusement.

"Ris rovie really rucks."
What the movie lacks in chills it more than makes up for in awkward sex scenes. Play Dead features not only two uninteresting bathing scenes, but it also manages to engage in one of longest and least sensual undressing scenes ever put to film. It’s a moment that goes nowhere, advances nothing except the running time, and only culminates in hilariously dated briefs as its punchline.

Aside from a tiny bit of blood and nudity, Play Dead is milder than most TV movies of the era. It is not energetic or interesting. It’s only useful as a way to see Yvonne De Carol in a non-Musters roll late in her career (and honestly just go watch Cellar Dweller (1988) or Mirror Mirror (1990) if that’s what you are looking for). Play Dead is very aptly titled.

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