Friday, March 5, 2010

Dogs (1976) review


David McCallum (Harlan Thompson), Sandra McCabe (Caroline Donoghue), George Wyner (Michael Fitzgerald), Linda Gray (Miss Engle)

Directed by Bruce Brinckerhoff

In a small California town, mutilated cows baffle the local authorities. When some of the towns citizens turn up dead, it's soon discovered that groups of dogs are packing together and inexplicably attacking their owners. A scientist and a college professor attempt to learn what is turning the towns pets into bloodthirsty killers.

Prolific television director, Brinckerhoff helms one of the more obscure entries in the 'Animals Gone Wild' genre. A bit more talky than most, DOGS (1976) nonetheless has a decent script, but one filled with either uninteresting, or egocentric characters. David McCallum is good as the bitter biologist who moonlights as an alcoholic. Reconnecting with his wife, he is suddenly faced with a growing problem with the animal population. As with most movies in this genre, the horror builds gradually starting with animal carcasses being found just prior to the first human casualty. By the end, the entire town has been assaulted by the raging canines.

The budget didn't allow for an army of dogs, but around 20 hounds are seen. Much has been made about the dogs not seeming very threatening (a problem levied at other killer canine movies) because of some of the breeds used. I would assume this was the intention of the filmmakers to use such breeds of dogs as no one would perceive a collie or similar dog to turn into a savage killer. This aspect is never really explored at all leaving a lot of cute breeds mixed with the more intimidating animals.

There are the required mean looking barkers like the Dobermans, Boxers and the German Shepherds. There's a great scene where an old woman opens her door hearing dogs tearing a man apart in the street. Her little dog takes off to join in on the attack. The dogs then leave the man alone and jump on her. The scene ends as the Doberman drags the old woman off into the darkness.

DOGS comes from the "Close the Beaches" school of killer animal movies, but in this case, it's "Close the Dog Show". McCallum and Wyner plead with the Mayor to force people to keep their animals locked up at night. Of course, he ignores the protagonists and a group of people including children are attacked by their pets. This leads to one of the best sequences in the movie. The sheriff and a posse of hunters take off for the hills to kill off the pack of dogs. They quickly find out they got more than they bargained for in a truly nail biting suspense laden sequence.

The sound effects creators really outdid themselves here with the disturbing and ominous howling of the dogs heard in the background. It gets louder and louder as the pack gets closer. Aside from the film getting overly gory at times, these sound effects are probably the most effective aspect of the production. When first hearing the bloodcurdling howling, George Wyner states, "That's the most frightening thing I've ever heard."

The reason for the violent dog attacks is vague. Two different reasons are hinted at. A secret government experiment called a "Linear Accelerator", which drains the electricity of the town, is never explained as to what its purpose is. Another reason is "pheromone induced behavior", which would account for the additional and presumably harmless domestic dogs joining in the pack. The first 15 minutes is a lot of scientific babble talk explaining various theories and ideas all the while subtly foreshadowing what is about to happen.

The acting is down the middle ranging from bad to good. MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. star, David McCallum is fine as is comedy actor, George Wyner; even though he reminds me at times of a balding Eddie Deezen. The woman playing McCallum's estranged wife is terrible. Most of the other cast are mediocre at best. Linda Gray appears just shy of her role as Sue Ellen Ewing on the long running series, DALLAS. Her exit from the movie is reminiscent of the shower scene in PSYCHO (1960). She's taking a shower and a Doberman slips in through an open sliding glass door and rips her to pieces leaving her torn body wrapped up inside her now bloody shower curtain.

I first caught DOGS really early in the morning on a local station and was surprised at how gory it was, more so that it was being shown seemingly uncut on television even at 3 am. I later caught a very good looking print of it in the late 80's on the USA Network's Saturday Nightmare's program under the title of SLAUGHTER. While it's far from being a classic of its genre, it has its moments in addition to some name stars among its cast. While THE PACK (1977) is better, DOGS (1976) has the edge in the blood department. Although not a complete howler, I would only recommend it to 'Animal Attack' movie completists and for those wishing to see what familiar small screen stars were doing in between their TV tenures.

This DVD is representative of the R2 German X Rated Kult PAL DVD.
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