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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Pack (1977) review


This is a section devoted to rare, obscure and 'as yet to be released on legitimate DVD' movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, video tape, or the small screen at home.


Joe Don Baker (Jerry Preston), Hope Alexander Willis (Millie), Richard B. Shull (Clyde Hardiman), Sherry Miles (Lois), Bibi Besch (Marge), R.G. Armstrong (Carl Cobb), Paul Wilson (Tommy Dodge), Ned Wertimer (Harry Walker)

Screenplay & Directed by Robert Clouse

"Sometimes they get lost...sometimes tourists, they deliberately leave'em behind. They pick'em up in the pound, they bring'em over to play with for the summer then they leave'em."

On an isolated island, a group of vacationers are trapped by a bloodthirsty pack of rabid dogs. After a fierce storm destroys communication with the island, and no help coming for several days, the terrorized motley group of travelers struggle to survive the increasingly violent attacks by the ravenous canines.

Robert Clouse, whose biggest claim to fame was directing ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) starring Bruce Lee, tries his hand at a horror movie and delivers one of his best films. Considering some of the dreck he ended up helming, THE PACK (1977) is surprisingly well made and suspenseful. Clouse builds the tension brilliantly for the most part. The dog attacks are some of the best ever filmed and are incredibly staged especially the first siege on the house and the conclusion where the dogs are locked inside the cabin with Joe Don Baker fighting them off alone. The shots of the cast members beating the dogs off with weapons as well as a blind man's dog valiantly fighting the entire pack of canines are grueling and surprisingly well handled; a credit to the films editor.

Some scenes even have the dogs fighting each other as mentioned above. During the first big siege on the house, Jerry's German Shephard had already been attacked once, and when a Doberman gets inside, the Shephard attacks the raging dog to protect Walker, played by Ned Wertimer. Several other sequences appear to put the animals in some serious peril. Two scenes worth mentioning are a man driving a truck like mad through a heavy rain storm trying to run over the mongrels. Another has a man trapped on a pier by the dogs with no way out. Joe Don Baker drives his truck down the pier attempting to mow down the dogs. Still, the action involving the dogs was monitored by the ASPCA.

Another great scene predates CUJO (1983) wherein Jerry's fiance, Lois, is assaulted by the pack as they attempt to get at some chickens. When she tries to shoo away the main killer canine, the mad mongrel lunges for her followed by the rest of the dogs. Lois barely manages to get inside her volkswagon as the wild dogs cover the small car and attempt to chew their way inside. This brief sequence encapsulates the entirety of the Steve King adapted movie; whereas CUJO had one dog, THE PACK has over a dozen. I wonder if the famed horror novelist got his idea from this one scene?

The most astonishing thing about the film is that it's rated 'R' yet there really isn't any serious gore in the movie. You see a bit of blood here and there, yet when mangled bodies are discovered, you never see the remains save for a slight hint of grue. Possibly the 'R' rating came from the intensity of the attack scenes, or it could have been the expletives heard throughout. Since this is essentially a siege movie, comparisons can be drawn between THE PACK (1977) and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Although the classic argument of the 'upstairs' and the 'basement' never comes up despite there being a huge attic which does come into play during the action packed finale.

The opening scene sets the whole picture in motion. The idea for THE PACK stems from vacationers who cruelly abandon their pets before they return home. Foraken by their owners, the pets are left to starve at the mercy of mother nature. At the start, we see a family leaving their dog behind much to the dismay of the son. Tying the dog to a log, the animal is deserted and left to fend for himself. What makes the scene more heartbreaking is that the dog attempts to get free as it watches its now former owners leave it to die. This dog later chews itself free ultimately ending up with the pack of wild dogs. Yet this canine never partakes in the blood frenzy of the others. The abandoned pet also repeatedly gets his rope caught on various downed tree limbs or tangled in various fauna. You don't really see this dog much although at the end, it provides Clouse's film to end on an upbeat note.

After all the other rabid dogs have been presumably killed within the burning cabin and the leader impaled on a large pipe, the dog from the beginning is seen, his dangling rope caught once more. Jerry carefully tries to set it free, yet the dog is as just as frightened as the terrorized vacationers who have survived their horrible ordeal. Knowing that the dog attacks spurned from starvation, Jerry calms the animal by giving it some crackers. Eventually, the terrified animal relents and takes the food then the film freezes as the dog licks Jerry's outstretched hand.

THE PACK (1977) most likely wouldn't be as effective if not for the wonderful score by composer, Lee Holdridge. He packs the film with several foreboding cues that signal the dread and horror to come. There are also some amped up pieces to heighten the suspense level seen in the film. One scene though comes off a bit humorous. In it, the obese Tommy Dodge is pursued by the pack. The scene plays mostly in slow motion. What's funny is that the pack seemingly takes forever to catch up with him, but his death is one of the more gut wrenching. Making his way to a precipice high above the crashing waves below, Tommy must make a hasty decision--either fall to his death, or be eaten by the starving and rabid dogs. Among his many credits, Holdridge composed the exciting and epic score for the cult favorite, THE BEASTMASTER (1982).

The charismatic Joe Don Baker plays Jerry Preston, the marine biologist living on the island and who is in the process of building himself a house for his future wife to be and their two children. Baker never really quite comes off as a scientist, but more as just another oppressed person on the island. Baker and Hope Alexander Willis are the only two of the cast that get the most attention paid to their characters in terms of who they are and why they are on the island.

Aside from those two, that's the one spot the script sort of fumbles the ball; in the character development. However, the film does so many things right it's easy to overlook this and the dog attacks are so well staged, the audience doesn't really pay much attention to the lack of characterization unless you're looking for it.

Baker appeared in GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) as a one armed gunfighter and also in WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1972) as one of a trio of Vietnam vets that descend a staircase into madness upon returning home culminating in the destruction of an entire town. Baker will no doubt be best remembered for his provocative role as real life Tennessee lawman, Buford Pusser in the ultra violent blockbuster, WALKING TALL (1973). Baker commands audience attention as the sheriff of a crime riddled town and the vigilante justice implemented to quell the sleazy denizens of the community. Baker also played a villain in the Bond film, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987).

The cast also contains many television personalities. Two of the more prominent are Paul Wilson and Ned Wertimer. Wilson will be instantly recognizable to fans of a certain show about a bar in Boston. He was barstool, Paul Kraypence on CHEERS (1982-1993). Ned Wetimer was Ralph Hart, the greedy bellhop on THE JEFFERSONS (1975-1985). Without his outfit and hat, Wertimer is almost unrecognizable, but his voice will clue you in. The rest of the main cast also had long careers on the small screen.

R.G. Armstrong is a welcome addition to the cast. He has appeared in many horror pictures during his long and varied career. Here, he plays a former 'salt of the sea' who attempts to bring help back to the island (by rowing over 18 miles of open sea!) after communication has been cut off from a massive storm. Armstrong also gets the best lines in the movie especially when Tommy Dodge (Wilson) goes missing-- "Well if he's got any sense, he'll climb a tree...if he can get his fat ass off the ground." MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973), RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975), BOSS NIGGER (1975; also reviewed on this site), EVILSPEAK (1982), THE BEAST WITHIN (1982), CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) and PREDATOR (1987) are just some of his various action and horror appearances.

A surprisingly gripping 'Nature Gone Amuck' movie, director Robert Clouse would return to the killer animal arena with DEADLY EYES (1982), another movie based on a novel and co-production between Warner Bros. and Golden Harvest of Hong Kong. This film dealt with huge killer rats terrorizing citizens in Toronto. It's not as well made as THE PACK (1977), but Clouse includes the gore missing from his killer dog outing. THE PACK (1977) comes recommended and is one of the better killer animal movies to come out of the 1970's and one of the more watchable movies from its director, Robert Clouse.


TheReverendDoom said...

This sounds like a solid one that needs a DVD release - surprised Shriek Show has not picked it up for release.

venoms5 said...

Maybe WB has intentions of releasing it somewhere down the road? Since they've begun doing DVD-R's of many of their archive movies they don't have faith in being strong DVD sellers, maybe it will get released in this way sometime soon.

I remember seeing THE PACK on the old USA Network show, Saturday Nightmares back in the late 80's. I only saw bits and pieces of it then. At the time, I wasn't all that interested in it for whatever reason.

Steve Jaros said...

Saw this film in the theater when it came out in 1977. Was 13 and it scared the bejeebus out of me. Remember a friend's mom drove us home from the theater at night and hustled home to avoid any dogs, lol. Good memory.

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