Friday, April 4, 2014


Burt Brinckerhoff

In California college town, dogs are beginning to exhibit aggressive behavior. They begin to form packs and hunting people. A biology professor, Harlan Thompson (David McCallum), realizes something is wrong but the college administrators and the local sheriff are slow to react. Soon packs of dogs are  swarming the campus killing anyone they can get their paws on.

Dogs takes is a fairly by the numbers eco-horror story: 1) A mysterious environmental factor most likely caused by humans causes 2) some animals (in this case dogs) to start acting aggressively and certain doom is on the horizon for the entire human race. Dogs offer an interesting deviation from the formula, it never pins down the exact reason for the sudden turn in canine behavior. It offers up a potential cause in the background, but this is never brought to the center of the story. Whether this is due to the deftness or absentmindedness of the script is debatable. Having an ambiguous origin to the threat can really make it feel much larger and omnipresent, yet at the same it feels strange for the film to bring up the college's linear accelerator multiple times early in the film, only to give it virtually no pay-off outside of a minor inconvenience for the survivors later on.

This is  a movie that, but its nature,  is largely centered on animal performances, and Dogs is usually up to the task. The dog show sequence is perfect example of both the successes and failures of the animal actors. The beginning of the scene has a group of show dogs growing more and more agitated before finally turning on their trainers, and there is some great tension building as the angry dogs are juxtaposed against the reserved setting. Things fall apart at the end of the sequence, which has people fleeing from dogs who are happily bounding along behind them rather than running them down in a vicious attack. The Doberman, and German Shepard are naturally intimidating dogs, but it is very difficult to portray the menace of an Irish Setter no matter how much fake blood you pour on it. Something I like to call the, "Night of the Lepus Problem". 

David McCallum plays Harlan on a narrow path between misunderstood rebel and utter jerk. Far more interesting was George Wyner as Michael, a newly hired professor. It certainly feels like the film is setting him up to be a prat or coward who cracks under pressure, but the story resists those moments and shows him as frazzled but willing to try and work toward a solution.  I feel it would have been a stronger film if it had focused more on him.  Sandra McCabe’s role as Caroline Donoghue is most relegated to screaming and running around in her pajamas, which is a shame because shows she can be capable of delivering coolness in opposition to Harlan’s more hot headed nature.

If you're into horror films of the 1970’s, or eco-horror in general, Dogs is a competent yet unspectacular work of cinema. Scorpion releasing has put out a good looking Blu-ray which really gives some life to moody sunset lit locations. Dogs isn't bad, but it's not great either.

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