I will never get enough of When Animals Attack films; I’ve covered quite a few and I see no need to stop my quest for creative critter murder, be they big, small, land based, or aquatic. So it’s about time I turned my attention towards man’s best friend taking a bite (or twelve) of revenge with the imaginatively titled Dogs (1976), a fun and bloody romp through a southwestern state.
Released right in time for the Fourth of July, Dogs (AKA Slaughter) did not do for canines what Jaws did for sharks, even though it has its own Ignorant Authority Figure character on deck; it seems that audiences that year still wanted behemoths like Brucie, which William Girdler’s Grizzly offered with a big old bear hug at the box office. No, our feature offers a more insular suburban nightmare – one in which the domesticated turn deadly.
We open with a literal dog’s eye view of a cocktail party for the local college faculty; soon we’re introduced to the professors and their mates and/or dates, including renegade Canadian Tuxedo wearing biologist Harlan Thompson (David McCallum – Screaming Skull), his estranged wife Caroline (Sandra McCabe – The Rose), faculty free spirit Miss Engle (Linda Gray – Dallas), and the new biologist in town, Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner – Spaceballs). Before the two bios can even start to measure dicks, there’s a power outage due to the nearby nuclear power plant’s “linear accelerator” (your guess is as good as mine), and Harlan is asked to check out a farmer’s field as one of his cows has been slaughtered by…something.
Well, before long it’s not only cattle being taken down; townsfolk start horizontally lining up at the morgue, and the two scientists come to the conclusion that dogs are responsible – all the Fido’s, Muffy’s, Spot’s, and Sassy’s are packing up and smacking up their owners at a ferocious rate. But why? Harlan and Michael think it’s pheromones; after an experiment proves fruitless, they’re left to their own wits and rolled up newspapers to save the college town from going to the dogs (I’M NOT SORRY).
Okay, I may not be taking Dogs seriously, but the filmmakers clearly are; there is no winking to the crowd or tongue in cheek shenanigans – the film is played for thrills, not laughs. The film’s antagonists are larger breeds – Shepherds, Dobermans, Dalmatians, and I think a St. Bernhard among others – except for a poor old lady who gets mauled by her Yorkie; ensuring that fear (or attempts at it) are forefront in the proceedings.
Whether Dogs works will be left up to the individual; Kingdom of the Spiders (’77) works for me because I’m terrified of arachnids, and there are people who are genuinely scared of dogs. Which is understandable – some breeds are more ferocious or unpredictable than others – and Dogs capitalizes on this fact somewhat, although it could go further than it does. They really could have broken some taboos at the kindergarten dog show, when the pups decide to turn on their little masters; but no, everyone makes it out safely. (Which is fine I guess, but I’m really not opposed to wee ones taking a nip or two, because, you know, it’s pretend.)
But what director Burt Brinkerhoff (Lou Grant and countless other TV shows) and writer O’Brian Tomalin (Acapulco Gold) do to reasonable effect is highlight how the mundane can turn insidious without any rhyme or reason (the pheromones and linear accelerator threads are completely dropped for the last reel, so forget any explanation). Who could possibly expect that the mailman’s enemy would become one to all? Coupling that with one of the more effective sound designs I’ve heard for a film of this ilk gives Dogs a needed lift over some rather pedestrian direction.
Each attack sounds positively menacing, and when the pack gathers their baying is like a sinister siren piercing the air; just a welcome reminder that the visual component isn’t everything for horror – what we hear can often induce chills and amplify fear. This is good, because as I’ve stated Brinkerhoff doesn’t seem interested in using a cinematic palette to get his vision across.
He is good with actors, though - at least with the good ones; McCallum plays hung over very well, and brings a sense of sloppy sarcasm that works with his downtrodden character. The big surprise is Wyner in a heroic role; usually he’s sidekick comic relief (and one of the best at it) but here he’s front and center, and it’s nice to see a truly average guy kick ass. As for the rest, they range from passable to forgettable, but that may be because the script tries to cram a lot of folks into 90 minutes. (Okay, some just aren’t very good.)
There is no real message, environmental or otherwise, wagging the tail here – at least none that’s followed through on. To be honest, I found the end result refreshing; sometimes shit just happens, and I was content to let Dogs happily hump my leg for an hour and a half. Stick around for the ending, too; the hilarious final shot promises a sequel that never came, but would have been…purrrfect.
Dogs is available on Blu-ray from Scorpion Entertainment.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)