Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dogs (1976)

          One could easily program an entire film festival comprising nothing but grade-B (and grade-Z) horror movies that were made to capitalize in the success of Jaws (1975). Yet amid the predictable foll0w-ups about aquatic menaces were a handful of pictures about animals gone bad on dry land, including not one but two features in which domesticated dogs become killers. The better of these pictures is most certainly The Pack (1977), with the inimitable Joe Don Baker, but Dogs has its pleasures, as well. To be clear, Dogs is quite horrid, thanks to repetitive attack scenes, stiff acting, and trite plotting. The movie even suffers a unique problem because costar George Wyner later became a familiar face in comedy films, notably Spaceballs (1987), so it’s nearly impossible to take any of his scenes seriously. Yet for many horror fans, sometimes a consistently silly movie can be just as enjoyable as a consistently scary one.
          Set on the campus of a university in the American Southwest, Dogs depicts the problems that emerge once household pets slip out of homes to run wild on suburban streets, forming a murderous pack. There’s some lip service given to the notion that the dogs are driven wild by creepy experiments at a government facility near the campus, but the explanation is so perfunctory it barely merits inclusion. Absent genuine logic and/or suspense, the “appeal” of Dogs stems from its campy approach to fright. David McCallum, formerly of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., hides behind a beard and a bowl cut to play Harlan Thompson, a sullen scientist at the university. As per the norm of such movies, he’s the one who figures out that canines are the culprits behind a series of mysterious deaths. Later, Harlan leads the inevitable race against time as citizens seek shelter during a savage rampage by the dogs. Meanwhile, stupid characters take reckless risks, ensuring a plentiful body count.
          The first half of Dogs is very slow going, because the film’s character development leaves much to be desired, but things pick up once critters start prowling. (The filmmakers wisely focus on shots of a German Shepherd pouncing on people, since the beagle and the sheepdog aren’t especially threatening.) The best scenes in the second half of Dogs are fun in an undemanding sort of way, and special mention should be made of the absurd scene in which dogs lay siege to future Dallas star Linda Gray while she’s in the shower. Yes, there is indeed a Psycho homage in a movie about killer dogs.


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