Thanks to The Omen (1976) and little Damien’s watchdog, Hollywood figured they could mine some horror from our canine friends, on the assumption that there’s something inherently evil to exploit. Except…they’re not. Are they sometimes vicious? Definitely. But I would hardly call dogs evil, especially ones allegedly in favor with Satan. Which brings us to todays’ Tube, as TV naturally had to take a shot at demonizing our four legged friends, a task at which Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) fails spectacularly. It is however, a blast and more fun than a bowl full of kibble.
Originally airing on Halloween night of 1978 on CBS, Devil Dog was up against Linda Blair and her demonic cousin in Summer of Fear over on NBC, a true dilemma for horror fans as both satisfy in different ways. But since I’ve already covered that Wes Craven helmed YA adaptation (you can read about it here), it’s time to scratch this particular itch.
Let’s see what our rolled up TV GUIDE has to say:
DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL (Tuesday, 9pm, CBS)
A family adopts a puppy spawned from a satanic cult. Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimeux star.
Our telefilm begins with a group of people all dressed in black (led by Martine Beswick – Trancers II), who head to a dog shelter and pick out a beautiful German Shepard, Lady, for breeding. Next thing you know, the poor thing is stuck inside a pentagram as Martine and her friends (including R.G. Armstrong – Race with the Devil) conjure up the devil to inhabit and breed with the dog. (The Behooved One’s purpose for returning through a pooch? Send me a S.A.S.E. with your response. I’d love to know myself.) Enter the Barry family; dad Mike (Crenna – The Evil), mom Betty (Mimieux – The Time Machine), and kids Charlie and Bonnie (Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards – Escape to Witch Mountain). And exit their beloved dog, mysteriously killed in a hit and run.
But on Bonnie’s 10th birthday, a vegetable vendor (Armstrong) gives the kids a puppy from Lady’s litter (who they name Lucky), and all is well – at first. Before long, Lucky has the kids and mom under his spell; his eyes glowing green when he’s in manipulation mode, whether setting the maid on fire or trying to get dad to put his hand in a whirring lawnmower. But no matter how many people dad tries to convince of Lucky’s evil, no one will believe him. (Well they might, if they didn’t end up dead right after he tells them.) Naturally a visit to a shaman in another land provides him with the power to end Lucky’s rampage against…well, whatever it is he’s trying to do.
Devil Dog is nothing but ridiculous, from the title on down. But it’s played with a straight face that adds a lot of charm to the proceedings. This cast sells the material as best they can; I find it absolutely amazing that Crenna didn’t keel over with laughter while fighting a projection of Lucky in full on demon mode, eyes glowing, surrounded by fog and extra fur that makes him look like Paul Stanley from the Unmasked tour. (Lucky that is, not Crenna. Now THAT would be something.) And it’s always a gas to see Richards and Eisenmann together, with Witch Mountain in their recent past on their way to an uneven future. (Excluding Meatballs Part II, of course. I’m not a savage.) Throw in Cliff Barnes himself (Ken Kercheval) and you have an engaging group to play with.
It’s the subject matter itself under scrutiny here, and happily director Curtis Harrington (Night Tide) knows how to make the most out of Steven & Elinor Karpf (Gargoyles)’s teleplay. Devil Dog moves at an unusually good pace for a TV film; this is probably due to a lack of exposition until the final 15 minutes, instead adopting a “show, don’t tell” style that gives you little reason (or chance) to change the channel before you come to your senses. And while the TV format doesn’t allow for any carnage, it also doesn’t put a limit on how many folks can be offed; with Lucky laying waste to anyone who stands in his way of total…I still have no idea. The telefilm is as entertaining as it is due to Harrington; an old pro on screens big and small, his sense of conviction is never called into play, or his empathy with actors. (Although I think it was a wasted opportunity not to have the kids levitate, and make this the Witch Mountain threequel.)
The bottom line is this: Do you like to be entertained? Does the idea of Richard Crenna with a glowing hand standing off against a piss poor green screen enlarged dog (with horns!) tickle your fancy? Chances are if you’ve read this far, it does. Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell may not be as fondly remembered as Benji, but I’ll always pick the show that has R.G. Armstrong working a vegetable cart, every time.Next: It Came From The Tube: BLACKOUT (1985)