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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1977) review


Michael Pataki (Michael Drake; Count Dracula), Jose Ferrer (Inspector Branco), Reggie Nalder (Veidt Smit)

Directed by Albert Band; Makeup Designer & Special Effects: Stan Winston

Michael Drake: "That's pretty wild, Inspector. If what you say is true, I'm gonna make a lot of money."

Inspector Branco: "Oh?"

Michael Drake: Yeah, I'm gonna sue all those people who have been making 'Dracula' pictures without my permission."

After a Russian excavation in the Romanian countryside unearths the tomb of the Dracula family, the undead canine servant of Dracula is revived by a foolish soldier. The bloodthirsty doberman then resuscitates his master, the quasi-vampire, Veidt Schmidt and both embark on a journey to find the last descendant of the Dracula clan. In order to survive, they must find another Dracula to serve. Residing in America, Michael Drake is the man they seek. Learning of this information after being alerted to the newly discovered tomb, Inspector Branco, learned in vampire lore, attempts to find Drake before the vampiric duo reaches him. On a camping trip, Drake and his family are beset upon by Dracula's dog and an increasing amount of undead mongrels.

Unintentionally hilarious, Albert Band's movie about vampire dogs is serviceable at times and downright creepy in places, but several ridiculous moments plant the film firmly in the realm of bad cinema. The whole exercise is played dead straight which only adds to the momentum of mirth one will get from some of the sillier and utterly stupid scenes in the film. It's not all bad, though, yet the preposterousness lends the picture an enjoyable edge that makes it a fun time waster for bad movie lovers.

What exactly prompts the soldier left to guard the tomb to remove the stake from the enshrouded corpse within the open casket? It's never made clear, nor mentioned. I guess one could argue that the soldier was beckoned by the spirit of the dead dog much as in some of Hammer's Dracula films the undead count still holds limited, but fearful sway over the surrounding villagers. Even still, the scene is handled with little verve as the soldier simply pulls out the stake just prior to the rejuvenated hell hound placing a massive bite on the hapless man.

Another curious question is that if both Zoltan and his master, Veidt Smit needed a master to serve, why could they not simply remove a stake from any of the other caskets within the tomb? Again, I guess one could argue that the subsequent cave in prevents this from taking place. At any rate, there would simply be no movie if it was that easy.

Another moment that's one of the most goofy and amazingly bizarre in the film is an exposition scene with Michael Drake. He's going through a chest filled with old family photos and other paraphernalia. He finds a picture of his descendant, Count Dracula(!) with Zoltan poised alongside him(!!) And yet again, it's never explained just why the visage of Dracula and his vampirized dog are able to be captured on film when one of the most common of vampire lore is that these creatures cast no reflection in mirrors.

Also, despite the eerie look of the vampire dogs, there's a shot of a recently revived puppy which no doubt was intended to instill chills in the audience. Instead it brings about snickers. And there's also a scene where Zoltan has a flashback(!) This predates a similar scene from Wes Craven's ill fated and terrible 1984 sequel to his own HILLS HAVE EYES (1977).

As already stated, it isn't all grade A cheese, the sequences involving the dog attacks are very well done and the makeup for them is also of a high standard even if the bulk of the film strives for mediocrity. The doberman "essaying the role" of Zoltan is intimidating and performs numerous stunts. The shots of the dog with his long, thick fangs dripping with blood and his glowing eyes are a disturbing shot. The sound effects used for the canines after they've been turned are also effective. The other undead dogs are given similar makeup appliances.

There are also some memorable shots in the picture. One in particular is an assault on a tiny shed housing both Drake and Branco having fled the pursuing animals. There's a shot of Zoltan atop the shed attempting to tear into the roof with a large full moon in the background. The ending is also exciting and handled very well with the group of vampire mongrels launching a final attack on Drake who is trapped within his car. Two hunters come to his aid as does Branco having just done away with Smit. The other dogs staked, Zoltan runs away with Drake in pursuit. The two have a faceoff at the edge of a precipice with a spiked fence below and you can probably guess the rest.

Reggie Nalder, who played Albino in the infamous exploitation flick, MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970), was a natural at portraying villainous characters needing very little makeup to look menacing. He doesn't get to do a whole lot here except skulk around and speak telepathically to Zoltan, or drive around in a black hearse while the undead mascot sleeps in his own personal coffin. Nalder also was featured in what I think is simply the scariest vampire movie (or mini series) ever made; SALEM'S LOT (1979). Nalder played the memorably terrifying role of the NOSFERATU inspired head of the undead, Mr. Barlow.

Future award winning special effects wizard, Stan Winston, did the makeup effects for this film. He also did effects for other exploitation pictures such as PARASITE, another Band production. It was also a 3-D monster movie that was Demi Moore's first acting gig. Winston also handled the gore for MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976), a gruesome re-telling of Le Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE starring Richard Baseheart, Lance Henricksen and Vic Tayback. An interesting note about that film is that it's directed by the star of ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA (1977), Michael Pataki.

Michael Pataki was a regular character actor in many television programs and numerous drive in exploitation movies throughout the 1970's and into the 1980's. For ZOLTAN, he does double duties playing Count Igor (?) Dracula in a flashback sequence and the lead protagonist. He had the lead villain role in the strange vampire movie, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1974) and a bit part in RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1972). The blaxploitation movie SWEET JESUS, PREACHER MAN (1973), the quirky THE BABY (1973), THE BAT PEOPLE (1974), LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979), THE GLOVE (1979), DEAD & BURIED (1981) and ROCKY 4 (1985) were some of the bit parts or supporting roles Pataki partook in during his long career.

For fans of the original STAR TREK, Arlene Martel, who was T'pring on the 'Amok Time' classic episode, plays the role of Major Hessle during the beginning. She is onscreen for the first 15 minutes.

Jose Ferrer was an Oscar winning actor who appeared in a lot of prestigious films, but also did his fair share of exploitation and trash cinema. He appeared in movies like the horror action flick, CRASH! (1977), the big budget bad movie, THE SWARM (1978), the monster in the sea flick, BLOOD TIDE (1982), Jackie Kong's no budget star studded trash non-classic, THE BEING (1982), the violence laden Bronson vehicle, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (1984) and the big budget, but trashy as hell David Lynch epic, DUNE (1984).

Albert Band (whose son Charles, would torture audiences to no end with numerous movies featuring various pint sized monsters) handled the direction and shows little of the flair he displayed on some of his earlier productions. Band also directed an interesting Italian western entitled THE TRAMPLERS from 1966 which starred Gordon Scott, Joseph Cotten, James Mitchum and Franco Nero. Band also had a hand at directing some of MASSACRE AT GRAND CANYON (1965) which was credited to Sergio Corbucci. Band also directed the pilot episode of the aborted HERCULES tv show. Entitled HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY aka HERCULES VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1965), the action packed 50 minute film starred Gordon Scott amidst treachery and a gigantic lobster like monster devouring female sacrificial victims by the seaside.

ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA (1977) is a mercilessly silly movie, but one that possesses some worthy moments. Few and far between as they may be, aficionados of bad movies will no doubt have a howling good time with this, the only vampire dog movie in existence that I'm aware of. Occasionally hilarious and fun, there's enough spooky bits spread out, but even these are swallowed up by the inherent goofiness of the whole thing. Nonetheless, it has a charm all its own that will most probably only be appreciated by those with eccentric taste in movies.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay region 1 DVD.

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