Have you ever watched a movie about a psychotic, genetically modified dog and found yourself wondering if it was in fact made by a psychotic, genetically modified dog? Such was the case for me while watching the new Scream Factory release of John Lafia’s 1993 killer canine flick Man’s Best Friend. Now, recently I’ve developed an affinity for the bonkers horror that came out of the early to mid ’90s. I can appreciate a movie that takes a crazy premise and commits to it. The problem with Man’s Best Friend is that it doesn’t quite know what it’s committing to.
Lori Tanner (Ally Sheedy) is a journalist complete with an oversized pants suit, a smoking habit, and a rather weaselly boyfriend named Perry (Fredric Lehne). In an attempt to break away from doing fluff pieces on the local news station, she follows a lead to EMAX Laboratories, a shady establishment run by a shadier doctor named Jarrett (Lance Henriksen), who is rumored to be performing all kinds of evil experiments on a variety of animals.
One such animal is a big, snuggly Tibetan Mastiff named Max, whose name may be an acronym or Dr. Jarrett was just looking at the laboratory sign when he was picking a moniker for him. Anyway, Max takes a liking to Lori and not only helps her escape when Jarrett finds her sneaking around, but also stows away in her car and saves her from a would-be mugger.
If you’re expecting Marley and Me-style shenanigans to ensue, I should mention that Max is the product of an experiment to splice dog DNA with that of other animals, thereby breeding the ultimate guard dog that can run as fast as a car, swallow other animals whole, and urinate acid. Now, before you ask, I risked seeing something awful with a quick Google search, but found that no, there do not appear to be any animals that can urinate acid. So we’ll chalk up that particular genetic upgrade to creative license.
As if turning Max into some kind of super soldier pooch weren’t bad enough, it turns out the experiments Jenner has been performing on him have left the poor old boy psychologically imbalanced. And I’m not talking about things like chewing your favorite shoes or barking at odd hours. I’m talking about things like peeping on Lori mid coitus through a keyhole (I’m not kidding) and bursting in to break things up in a fit of... I don’t know? Jealousy? Protection?
The thing with movies like this is that sometimes you can pull off a crazy premise if the cast is willing to commit. The problem is that while the cast certainly has the chops and the enthusiasm, it seems like Lafia had them all committing to different movies. Sheedy is basically doing an unofficial sequel to Short Circuit, except instead of befriending a naive robot, she’s brought home Cujo on steroids. Fredric Lane, meanwhile, has something of a Beethoven scenario going. He makes Max spend the night outside, Max chews through the brake lines on his car. He tries to kill Max with poisoned meat, and Max gives him a faceful of the aforementioned acid pee.
The only person who seems to be approaching this movie with the right sense of urgency is Lance Henriksen, who admittedly is the only one who knows what Max is capable of (after all, he’s responsible for it). In fact, Jenner seems so laser focused on trying to capture his creation that over the course of several days he’s wearing the same outfit composed primarily of oversized denim. Dammit, man, there’s no time for a wardrobe change!
Now, I get that this mishmash of wacky dog comedy and horror film is exactly what Lafia was going for. In fact, if you listen to Lafia’s commentary, he talks about looking to play the goofy elements early while foreshadowing the darker stuff to come. But he also doesn’t seem to grasp when to go goofy versus when to go dark, as exemplified when he acknowledges that a scene between Max and a collie essentially amounts to sexual assault without any awareness that maybe that wasn’t the best-conceived idea, particularly when played for laughs to the tune of “Puppy Love.”
Lafia’s commentary does provide an entertaining perspective on his approach for the movie, and while there may not be much else on the disc by way of special features, given that this wasn’t a collector’s edition release, I’m willing to cut it some slack. I will say that Kevin Yagher’s effects come through nicely on the new 2K transfer (in case you’re wondering, the cat swallowing scene still plays pretty seamlessly).
Overall, there’s certainly some stuff to like about Man’s Best Friend. You can give it a watch for Sheedy’s charm, Henriksen’s scene chewing, and Yagher’s effects work. And like I said, I’m a sucker for a movie that’s willing to go weird and play with genre tropes, but the ingredients didn’t quite come together the way I wanted them to in this particular bowl of kibble.
Movie Score: 2/5, Disc Score: 2.5/5