Thursday, October 26, 2006

It Came From Netflix! Devil Dog, Hound of Hell (1978)

Devil Dog is another fondly remembered made-for-TV horror film from the genre’s golden age, although this one played on CBS, not the ABC of Movie of the Week fame. It actually premiered on Oct 31st, so it’s certainly appropriate Halloween viewing. It’s just good, campy fun.

Following closely in the pawsteps of such films as The Omen (the large demonic dog of which may have inspired this movie), DD is a pretty typical TV flick of that vintage. Except for lighting that may be a shade too light, it’s a thoroughly professional production, made back in the day when the studios had unit dedicated to churning out films for TV’s insatiable maw. Like the B-movie units of old, the films generally produced were generally derivative and budget oriented, but solidly put together.

Some Satanists go to buy a bitch—a real one—to be impregnated. They then perform a rite that rather hilariously is the analogue to when Satan impregnated Rosemary of Rosemary’s Baby. Two of the Satanists are played by familiar faces. Their leader is Martine Beswick, who starred in Hammer cavemen films like One Million Years BC and Slave Girls. Most famously, she played Ralph Bates murderous distaff alter ego in Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Popular character actor R. G. Armstrong, meanwhile, also played a Satanist in the extremely good Race with the Devil. Satanists were all over the place in the ‘70s.

Anyhoo, the Satanists arrange a quick demise for the pooch of a typical ‘70s TV family, and then substitute one of the demon-quickened puppies. (Again a rip-off of The Omen.) Wife Betty and the children, Bonnie and Charlie, quickly take to the dog.

Less thrilled is Maria, their inevitable Knowing Ethnic maid. (Minorities are closer to nature and have simpler faiths than us smug whites, and so typically more aware of the Eeevil.) As soon as she appears wearing a cross, you know she will oppose the hellacious hound and also probably act as the first victim of a (admittedly bland) series of Omen-esque deaths. And so she does, going up in a gout of flame in her bedroom. When the family returns home that evening, I was dying for someone to breathe in deeply and observe, “Hey, something smells good!” Sadly, no one does.

The father, Mike (TV movie staple Richard Crenna), soon begins to suspect something’s wrong when the now-grown and quite handsome German Shepherd stares at him and nearly makes him jam his hand into the whirring blades of his lawn mower. However, he shrugs this incident off. (!!) The lawn mower wasn’t working, by the way, so apparently the dog powered it via an infernal combustion engine.


So the dog takes over the children and Betty, the latter of whom gets all slutty and apparently actually starts sleeping with other men. The three start holding Satanic rituals, and worse, start getting all uppity with Mike. Eventually he tries to kill the dog, but bullets don’’t work. So of course he flies to Ecuador to seek out a Wise Old Man living in a cave. Because, you know, all Wise Old Men live in caves. Even on Mars. (See Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.) Luckily Mike just happens to be one of the rare people blesses with Power of Good or some convenient crap, leading to the inevitable showdown with the Doggie of Doom.

Highlights include the Marmaduke dog next door who’s freaked out (and eventually disposed of) by the then puppy-sized Satanic Shepherd; some truly hideous wallpaper that really is the scariest thing in the film; the son using his new Satanic clout to win the Student Council presidency at his elementary school; and the wife showing her new bad side by tempting Mike into sex in the neighbor’s pool. Of course the use of slo-mo and glowing eyes to make the dog look Eee-vil are just the icing on the cake.

The cast sports even more familiar actors than those listed above. Crenna, Rambo’s boss, presumably needs no intro. Wifee is played by Yvette Mimieux, once Rod Taylor’s Eloi girlfriend in George Pal’s The Time Machine. She starred in number of TV and drive-in movies (Hit Lady, Jackson County Jail), and the year previous had joined Bo Svenson as the lead of the MTV Yeti flick Snowbeast.

The young daughter is played (pretty badly) by Kim Richards, a veteran kiddie actor who most famously starred in Escape From Witch Mountain and its sequel Return to Witch Mountain. Notice that, for whatever reason, Richards is the chosen actor to get a "starring" credit on the DVD box art. Is she really more famous than Crenna?

Anyway, her telepathic brother in the Witch Mountain movies was assayed by the young but busy Ike Eisenmann, who again plays her sibling here. One of the films numerous funny parts is that despite the film skipping over a year (to allow the dog to grow up), neither kid of course looks at all taller or older. Weirdly, as adults Ike and Kim returned to their Witch Mountain roles in 2002's The Blair Witch Mountain Project.

One of the miscellanious victims is played by busy TV actor Ken Kercheval, who starred, among other shows, in Dallas. Veteran movie actor Victor Jory (over 180 IMDB credits) played the Old Man in the Cave. Meanwhile, Devil Dog was directed by genre vet Curtis Harrington, and he provides a clean, unobtrusive style to things. He sort of made a specialty of MTV horror flicks, with titles like How Awful About Allan, The Cat Creature, Killer Bees and The Dead Don’t Die.


At 5:46 PM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

"That damn dog tried to force me to stick my hand into the lawn mower!"

The real fun of DEVIL DOG is in appreciating the pure professionalism of Richard Crenna. He doesn't play as if he's slumming and does a great job selling the ridiculous premise, particularly during the ineptly directed climax with some of the worse visual effects work I've ever seen. The movie sucks, but it is fun to watch, primarily for the performances and the campy dialogue played completely straight.

Yeah, the DVD art is incompetent. Someone in Marketing needs to be fired.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I agree. Crenna was one of the few other people I could see pulling off Carl Kolchak. (Although obviously no one could have bettered McGavin.)


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