Starring Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux, Kim Edwards, Ike Eisenmann, Lou Frizzell
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Distributed by Media-Blasters
Few things in life are scarier than the thought of a beloved pet, especially man’s best friend, turning against you. In the 1978 TV-movie Devil Dog: Hound of Hell, the Barry family’s German Shepherd Lucky doesn’t just bark and snap at George, the complaining neighbor; he kills the poor fellow when he tries to get the police to remove Lucky from the premises. You see, Lucky is up to all sorts of evil. He is the product of a union between a regular female dog and a demon from hell summoned by a cult of Satan worshipers. But he was such a cute puppy that Bonnie Barry, celebrating her birthday under the cloud of having just lost the family dog in a tragic accident, couldn’t resist taking him home. The Barrys’ maid realizes immediately that there is something not quite right about the pup and tries to warn Bonnie’s father, Mike, but he brushes aside her apprehension. Lucky quickly takes steps to ensure that the maid doesn’t try again.
Cut to a year later and time for Lucky to make his move. He already controls Bonnie and her brother Charlie through some sort of psychic brainwashing, and soon Mama Betty falls in line behind them. The only thing standing in the way of his obtaining world domination is Mike, who for some unknown reason has remained immune to Lucky’s wiles. It is at this point that the film becomes a cat and mouse game between Lucky and Mike as Mike turns first to his doctor to determine whether he is suffering from some sort of illness that has made him delusional and second to a New Age bookstore owner who helps him track down and understand the few clues he has as to Lucky’s real identity. I especially enjoyed the scenes in the bookstore and later, in South America, when Mike learns his destiny and how to battle Lucky. Director Harrington does an outstanding job of keeping what could be a seriously bad, cheesy B-movie on track, and the cast sports two of this reviewer’s personal favorite TV-movie regulars from the era: Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux. They play their roles to the hilt, not once “winking” at the audience or acting in any way embarrassed by the situations their characters find themselves in thanks to Lucky’s mind control.
Devil Dog plays it straight despite the fact that the monster of the piece, the actual Hound from Hell, is in no way particularly scary or threatening. But a quick skim through the extras on Disc 2 reveals that certainly everyone knew the effects were inadequate; it’s just that there was no extra money in the budget to improve on them, a fact that Harrington still seems rather bitter about almost 30 years later. From the audio interview provided with the DVD, it’s apparent Harrington holds no great love for Devil Dog; however, that’s not the case with the other cast and crew members interviewed in the To the Devil a Dog featurette. They all seem to regard the film much as I do: a fun throwback that manages to provide its fair share of creepy, claustrophobic moments for as long as the audience can put aside the overt silliness of the concept.
An added bonus of Disc 2 is a photo gallery of the lovely Martine Beswick of Hammer fame along with a text interview with her focusing primarily on the degree to which she is dressed – or more often, undressed – in her most famous films. Rounding out the package are a trailer and Curtis Harrington’s filmography. My only complaint is that the interviews are a bit on the dull side, and everyone ends up talking about other things much more than Devil Dog. I’m not sure why Media-Blasters felt it necessary to split the movie and the extras between two discs, but it is a nice tribute and show of respect to everyone involved.
So, is Devil Dog worth a purchase? I say unhesitatingly yes. Sure, the effects are atrocious, but this movie isn’t about how the monster looks when it’s being a monster. No, Devil Dog is about the hidden monster that ingratiates itself into the family — a family that could be yours or mine — via the one thing we all love and trust to protect us: our pet pooch. And the lengths to which one man will go to save his family — and the rest of the world while he’s at it. The script’s ambition may have overreached the filmmakers’ execution of its ideas, but the themes of paranoia and the breakdown of communication certainly resonate within our society just as loudly today as they did 30 years ago.
Horror-based TV-movies from the 70’s were a staple of my upbringing in the genre, and Devil Dog is just the tip of the iceberg. Truth be told, a lot of them are ripe for a remake and/or sequel. They had great ideas and good casts, but the effects just weren’t up to snuff and the sex always had to be toned down for broadcast standards. The ending of Devil Dog: Hound of Hell lends itself perfectly to a current-day sequel, and if Producer Zeitman is to be believed, talks are currently underway exploring the concept. It’s an idea that I’d definitely be interested in seeing.
Audio interview with Curtis Harrington
To the Devil a Dog featurette
Martine Beswick photo gallery
Martine Beswick text interview
Curtis Harrington filmography
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