Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Days of Horror Movies 2012 (Part Seven)

DEVIL DOG: HOUND OF HELL (1978): This movie is what happens when someone wants to rip off The Omen, but decides to ditch Damian and focus on his canine protector instead. Devil Dog opens with a bunch of Satanists, led by former Bond girl Martine Beswicke (Thunderball) and R.G. Armstrong (him again, from The Beast Within) buying a German Shepherd and performing a ceremony to have it impregnated offscreen (doggy style, presumably) by Old Scratch. Later, Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux appear as a suburban couple whose ten-year old daughter (Kim Richards) is heartbroken when her beloved pooch is run over by a mysterious black station wagon. On her birthday, no less! Soon after, Armstrong shows up posing as a kindly ol’ vegetable salesman who just so happens to have a litter of adorable Shepherd pups in his truck, and he just can’t wait to give them away. At the urging of her older brother (Ike Eisenmann, a dead ringer for a young Davy Jones), the girl adopts the pup and names him Lucky. The next door neighbour’s Great Dane and the family’s lovable Latino housekeeper stereotype are the first to suspect the cute widdle puppy’s sinister nature, and they both meet unpleasant ends. Director Curtis Harrington tries his level best to make the puppy look sinister, aided by spooky music and glowing eyes, but it’s no good—the little guy’s just as cute as a button.
As Lucky grows, he exerts an evil influence over the children and their mother, turning them all into ill-tempered creeps who may themselves now be mixed up in Satanic goings-on. Crenna suspects something weird is happening, and as the bodies of concerned guidance counselors and nosy neighbours start piling up, he begins to realize that the titular hellhound is behind it all. At one point, when Crenna is beginning to question his sanity, a news item on TV makes mention of a Son of Sam-style psycho who goes on a rampage at the bidding of his neighbour’s dog. This seems to tantalizingly hint at a pretty dark, and potentially more interesting, ending—I imagined that Crenna was going to murder his Satan-seduced family and say the dog made him do it—but no, that throwaway bit was probably mostly just inspired by current events than anything else (Devil Dog was released in 1978, which means it was most likely being made while the Son of Sam killings were taking place in New York). Instead, Crenna takes off to Ecuador to confer with a holy man, returning with a mystical symbol on his hand to confront the beast and, hopefully, win his family back from its mind-control mojo. There’s a wacky showdown in a factory, with Lucky transforming into a giant hellbeast (AKA, a regular dog with a bunch of horns and other crap stuck to it, made to look enormous by shaky special effects), and Crenna sporting a glowing hand to ward it off with.
I’m a fan of the strange little subgenre of ‘70s animal-attack horror films; Devil Dog came in a box set called Evil Animals, which also featured two nostalgic favourites of mine, Day Of The Animals and Grizzly. I’ve watched those two several times, but I had never cracked Devil Dog open until now. I had a good time with it despite the silly script and TV-movie level of filmmaking quality, but I don’t know that most people would get past the first twenty minutes. Stick with The Omen instead, or at the very least, Cujo.

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