Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Pack (1977)

          Nature-strikes-back pictures were all the rage after the success of Jaws (1975), but most rip-off projects stretched credibility too far (killer bees, killer rabbits, killer octopi, and so on.). Therefore it’s great fun to find a Jaws-influenced thriller with a story that actually works. In The Pack, based on a novel by David Fisher, a tiny resort island gets overrun by stray dogs when summer people abandon their pets; the animals turn vicious after several days of exposure and starvation, and when their leader gets infected with rabies, the pack becomes a nightmare for the handful of locals left on the island. As written for the screen and directed by B-movie stalwart Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon), The Pack is a no-nonsense shocker in the classic mode, keeping nettlesome details like characterization and nuance to a bare minimum while focusing on gruesome dog attacks.
          To the picture’s great credit, many genre clichés are avoided, so instead of a callous local official trying to keep a lid on the danger lurking in the woods, the townies do everything they can to protect people. Furthermore, there’s only one instance of characters stupidly wandering into a part of the island where they might be attacked, but even that scene is defensible because at the time the characters venture off, they’re not yet aware of how bad the puppy problem has gotten. (A bigger hiccup is the battle sequence during which the heroes miss obvious opportunities to take out their attackers with close-quarters gunplay.)
          The movie’s hero is fish-and-game guy Jerry (Joe Don Baker), a recent transplant to the island who is building a family with his girlfriend Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and her two kids. Jerry’s local compatriots are sardonic innkeeper Hardiman (Richard B. Shull) and crusty seaman Cobb (R.G. Armstrong). Enduring the ordeal along with the locals is a late-season tour group headed by a bank president (Richard O’Brien) who hopes his sad-sack adult son (Paul Wilson) will get laid with the good-time gal (Sherry Miles) brought along expressly for that purpose.
          The Pack follows the standard creature-feature playbook, beginning with isolated attacks and escalating toward greater intensity as the animals become more brazen and their potential victims become more desperate, so there aren’t many narrative surprises. That said, The Pack delivers the goods with effectively staged scare scenes, and there’s a bittersweet undercurrent to the movie since the dogs are themselves victims. The movie is aided tremendously by the work of composer Lee Holdrige, an industry veteran with hundreds of credits for features and TV; his Jerry Goldsmith-style score uses taught strings and percussive rhythms to jack up suspense in a highly entertaining fashion. And while acting doesn’t matter a whole lot in a project like The Pack, everyone does just what he or she is supposed to do, and Baker cuts a reassuring figure with his easygoing demeanor and ever-present shotgun. (Available at

The Pack: GROOVY

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