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I remember Devil Dog playing on TBS almost 20 years ago, and my older
sister and her friends watching it and laughing all the next day. It's
not that bad for a made-for-TV horror movie, but it is derivative
(mostly of The Exorcist) and businesslike, for lack of a better word.
It won't blow you away with artful cinematography or great acting, but
it's not a waste of time, either. It's the kind of movie you watch to
kill a couple of hours when you aren't in the mood to think too hard.
However, if you go into the movie looking for some laughs, you won't be disappointed. The early scenes, with Lucky the Devil Dog as a cute little puppy with Children of the Damned eyes are hilariously non-threatening, and the climactic blue-screen effects of a giant black dog (with horns!) are pretty side-splitting. And keep an eye out for the cloaked Satanist in Maverick shades toward the beginning.
Not a great horror film by any stretch of the imagination, but I wish they still made stuff like this for TV.
This film is a hoot, or a bark. I don't know. Richard Crenna plays an average suburban dad who buys a cute puppy for his family. Turns out the puppy is possessed by Satan! The fun really begins when the pup grows to be the Devil Dog, a beautiful German Shepard. Fellow imdb reviewer gave this a low rating. How could you dislike a movie where the family dog makes the mom become the town slut, the kids become the school bully, and make the entire family (except dad) worship Satan in the attic. The shots of doggie staring at Richard Crenna, backed by sappy 70's electronic "scary" music help makes this film such a charmer. Jimmy Carter era thrills here!
A Satanic cult procures a dog for the sole purpose of breeding it with a demon and then has a huge litter that is given away to unsuspecting people all over the country. Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell tells the story of one family caught up in this unspeakable horror. Okay, perhaps I am getting a bit too melodramatic given the material here. Yes, it is a made-for-television production. Yes, Richard Crenna is the leading "star." Journeyman director Curtis Harrington(Whoever Slew Auntie Roo, What's the Matter with Helen?, and several other genre credits)directs with his usual touch. The story obviously has holes and problems of credibility: a dog is really a demon centuries old that has a story all his own, Richard Crenna manages to keep his hand out of a lawnmower blade because he is the "chosen" one, and so many more. Despite all these problems, the average yet solid direction, the cheap feel that comes with a seventies TV production, ridiculous special effects, I found myself thoroughly engrossed from start to finish. Like another reviewer noted, movies from this decade in the horror genre are just different than any other decade. They have a certain quality hard to put your finger on. As for the cast Crenna always does a workmanlike job, Yvette Mimieux is eerily good, Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards(the Witch Mountain kids) are sickeningly sweet and evil and perfect in this concoction of unreality, and the film boasts a minor array of interesting cameos with Victor Jory, Barbara Steele, and R. G. Armstrong(soon to be Uncle Lewis Vendredi in the TV Friday the 13th: the Series).
I ran across this several years ago while channel surfing on a Sunday
afternoon. Though it was obviously a cheesy TV movie from the 70s, the
direction and score were well done enough that it grabbed my attention,
and indeed I was hooked and had to watch it through to the end. I
recently got the opportunity to buy a foreign DVD of this film (oops,
didn't notice a domestic one had finally come out a couple months
prior), and was very pleased to be able to watch it again (and in its
I don't wholly understand the phenomenon, but somehow the 70s seem to have a lock on horror movies that are actually scary. The decades prior to the 70s produced some beautifully shot films and the bulk of our enduring horror icons, but are they actually scary? No, not very. Likewise in the years since the 70s we've gotten horror movies that are cooler, more exciting, have much better production values and sophisticated special effects, are more fun, funnier, have effective "jump" moments, and some very creative uses of gore, but again... they aren't really scary! There's just something about the atmosphere of the 70s horror films. The grainy film quality. The spookily dark scenes unilluminated by vast high-tech lighting rigs. The "edge of dreamland" muted quality of the dialogue and the weird and stridently EQ'd scores. The odd sense of unease and ugliness permeating everything. Everything that works to undermine most movies of the 70s, in the case of horror, works in its favor.
Specifically, in this film, the quiet, intense shots of the devil dog staring people down is fairly unnerving. So much more effective than if they had gone the more obvious route of having the dog be growling, slavering, and overtly hostile ("Cujo"?). The filmmakers wisely save that for when the dog appears in its full-on supernatural form. The effects when that occurs, while unsophisticated by today's standards, literally gave me chills. The bizarre, vaguely-defined, "I'm not quite sure what I'm looking at" look intuitively strikes me as more like how a real supernatural vision would be, rather than the hyper-real, crystal clear optical printer / digital compositor confections of latter-day horror films.
While the human characters in this film are not as satisfyingly rendered as their nemesis or the world they inhabit, the actors all do a decent job. The pairing of the brother and sister from the "Witch Mountain" movies as, yes, brother and sister, is a rather cheesy bit of stunt casting, but they do fine. Yvette Mimieux always manages to be entertaining if unspectacular. Richard Crenna earns more and more empathy from the audience as the film progresses. His self-doubt as he wonders whether his family's alienness is truly due to a supernatural plot or whether he's merely succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia is pretty well handled, though his thought that getting a routine physical may provide an explanation for what he's been experiencing is absurd in its naïveté.
The movie's The-End-Question-Mark type ending is one of the only ones I've seen that doesn't feel like a cheap gimmick, and actually made me think about the choices these characters would be faced with next and what they'd be likely to do and how they'd feel about it.
Detractors of this film may say it's merely a feature-length vehicle for some neato glowing retina shots, but hey, you could say the same thing about "Blade Runner". :-)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having been a fan of the delightfully decadent Martine Beswicke (née
Beswick) for many years (ever since I first caught her in "Dr. Jekyll &
Sister Hyde*), I've always wanted to see "Devil Dog" -- and it's odd
that I would have missed it when it was first aired, because I would
have been a hardcore TV-movie junkie at that young age. but miss it I
did (must've been out trick- or-treating that night). I'm glad I
waited-out the DVD (great print!) and finally got to see this TV-movie
in pristine glory.
Other Martine fans out there (you know who you are) will delight in the opening seven minutes or so. First, La Beswicke (in a spectacular set of high-heeled, ankle-strapped, f*ck-me pumps) along with a couple of her diabolical disciples stroll through a dog breeder's complex shopping for the right "Rosemary" to give birth to Satan's canine offspring. They're all dressed in black suits and drive a sinister, black station wagon (how cool is THAT!?!). There's a brief, but droll exchange with the breeder who wonders aloud what these big-ticket, officious types want with "Lady", a highly prized German Shepard puppy-machine he's used to pop out blue-ribbon winning litters in the past (only the best for the Prince of Darkness, you know...). Martine sets him straight in her characteristically exotic line delivery, "we're NOT adopting a CHILD, you know!..." Could this be a public service announcement for a PETA ad campaign? But I digress...
Cut to a close up of what has to be one of the neatest Satanic portraits I've ever seen. The horned Master is rendered in shades of pea-soup green with a snake coiled around him. Could this be an episode of "Night Gallery"???
Pull back to find the enormous painting (which I wish I HAD!) hanging above an altar in a barn where Ms. Beswicke, in red robes, is conducting a black mass. Pull back further to reveal a pentagram in a circle drawn in the ground, where "Lady" the pooch is leashed to a stake. Martine makes some invocations and tosses some "thing" into the space between her and the dog which explodes on contact with the ground (ooh! ahh! Special Effects!). The sparkler spooks the dog, naturally, and all you can feel is compassion for the canine (oh, poor doggy!). We get some great close-ups of Martine, who looks fabulous, btw, and deserves much credit for managing to recite all the dialog with a straight face. Nobody quite does "evil" like Ms. Beswicke; she really gets into the part and seems to relish it (atta girl!).
Mention must be made of Martine's purple-clad coven, who manage to recite back all the mumbo-jumbo she's been saying (which indeed must have taken some bit of rehearsal). A windstorm begins, heralding the appearance of The Black Prince (or his dog, anyhow). We get another giggle-inducing moment when the camera cuts to one of Martine's minions who has chosen to attend the function in his sunglasses. The tension mounts.
As credits announce the production, Martine swoops down from her altar and escorts her denizens outside the barn, leaving "Lady" tied to a stake in the middle of the pentagram (presumably to await impregnation). Soon a huge shadow of a dog passes over them all, and into the barn. Martine shuts the doors and throws a captivating smile (as her credit appears). What goes on inside is merely hinted at, but WE KNOW, don't we...!?!?!?!
Later we learn it is the big, black station wagon that kills the Barry family dog which means they'll be in the market for a replacement (hasn't anyone heard of having more than one dog at a time? Oh well...).
A terrific actor (Victor Jory?) portrays the devil-worshiper/grocer-on-wheels who just "happens" to show up outside the door of the Barry family and bestow on them the prize puppy of "Lady"s litter. He leers malevolently at Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann (the Barry family children) like a gleeful child molester turned loose in an orphanage, offering them first ripe, red apples (shades of Snow White!) and then a puppy from the litter of a rather worn-out looking "Lady" which he just happens to be carting around in the back of his awning-draped caravan.
There are so many "warning" messages in this film! Don't sell dogs to satanists! Don't let your children near leering mobile grocers! Don't adopt puppies from leering mobile grocers who may be satanists!, etc. But it's the innocent, gullible Carter-era of the 1970s and none of these folks have a clue about what's going to happen to them...
Other reviewers have focused on what comes next, so I'll spare you my interpretation, except to point out that the wallpaper in the Barry household (look at the dining room and the kitchen, for example) is far scarier than anything that "Lucky" the adopted spawn of Satan can conjure up.
Rent (or purchase) at once for a night of fun with friends. Pair this up with Susan Lucci's dreadful demonic health-spa film, "Invitation To Hell" or possibly another canine car-wreck like "Won Ton Ton: The Dog That Saved Hollywood" (if you can even find a copy!). Keep the popcorn flowing!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The concept of this made-for-TV horror movie is ludicrous beyond words, but hey, it was the late 1970's and literally all stupid horror formats were pretty damn profitable, so why not exploit the idea of a satanically possessed dog? The plot of "Devil Dog" is easy to describe to fans of the horror genre: simply think of "The Omen" and replace the newborn baby boy with a nest of German Shepard pups! Seriously, I'm not kidding, that's what the movie is about! During the opening sequence, members of some kind of satanic cult buy a female dog in heat only to have it impregnated by Satan himself. You'd think that the Lord of Darkness has other things on His mind than to fornicate with a German Shepard and take over the world one evil puppy at the time, but apparently not. Exactly like little Damien in "The Omen", one of the puppies is taken in by model family and grows up to become a beautiful and charismatic animal. But Lucky that's the dog's name is pure evil and liquidates annoying neighbors and nosy school teachers in derivative and tamely executed ways. He also inflicts his malignant character on the family wife and children, but he cannot force the father (Richard Crenna) to stick his arm into a lawnmower because he's a "chosen one". The whole thing becomes too moronic for words when Crenna eventually travels to Ecuador to search for an ancient wall painting and gets advice from an old witchdoctor who speaks perfect English. I guess he learned that living in isolation atop of a mountain his entire life. Director Curtis Harrington ("What's the matter with Helen", "Ruby") and lead actor Richard Crenna ("Wait until Dark", "The Evil") desperately try to create a suspenseful and mysterious atmosphere, but all is in vain. Scenes like cute puppy eyes spontaneously setting fire to a Spanish maid or a dog dodging bullets without even moving evoke chuckles instead of frights, and not even spooky musical tunes can chance that. The "special" effects are pathetic, especially near the end when the Satan-dog mutates into an utterly cheesy shadow on the wall. "Devil Dog" is a truly dumb movie, but it's definitely hilarious to watch late at night with some friends and loads of liquor. There are entertaining brief cameos of Martine Beswick ("Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde") as the terrifying cult queen and R.G. Armstrong ("The Car", "The Pack") as the evil fruit, vegetable and puppy salesman. And, yes, that annoying daughter is the same kid who gets blown away complaining about her ice-cream in Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13".
There was no shortage of movies dealing with Satan in the 1970s. It was
his decade, no doubt about that. Of course the films vary in quality,
the highest being classics like 'The Exorcist' and 'The Omen.' Towards
the end of the decade the trend was starting to dry up and one of the
last examples of this is this film, a TV movie released on Halloween
night that has since enjoyed a small cult following. Being the lover of
B horror movies that I am of course I had to give it a look and even
though I've seen far better I'm glad I did.
Pros: The cast is game. A decent, at times chilling musical score. Plenty for lovers of camp to enjoy. Moves at a good pace. Some really creepy imagery. Nicely photographed. A couple excellent moments of tension.
Cons: Has aged badly. Pretty predictable. Needed some extra oomph because the film rarely rises above cheap thrills. Had they played up the Satanic cult angle more it may have helped.
Final thoughts: Whether or not you believe in the devil, you have to admit he's a great subject for a horror movie. Many times this has been successful, many times not. 'Devil Dog: Hound of Hell' works as a fun B movie and is ideal viewing with some friends or on Halloween night as a double feature with another enjoyable B movie of your choice.
My rating: 3/5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen this movie more than once. It was on par with a lot of the
spooky stuff that was being shown in television movies back then. The
only problem I had was with the title for the obvious reasons... One
immediately thinks of the famous snack cake by Drake's! Leaving off the
first part, 'Hound of Hell' would have sufficed.
Richard Crenna always manages to bring a sense of seriousness to anything he does, anyway - whether the plot is good or bad. But this was an enjoyable Halloween fare offered by the CBS network. I loved the part where Crenna takes a flight to some obscure country to find the mystic who would help him conquer the evil beast. He asks the cab driver how to find this guy. Great dialogue between the native cab driver and Crenna in terms of the cabby dissing his own people's ethnic beliefs. 'Aw, Mr. Barry, I left that stuff behind when I came down from the mountains...' - referring to the mystic who rarely sees or advises people, and nobody knows how to really contact him.
As far as supernatural fare goes, this movie is still enjoyable.
I remember watching this movie on TV back on Halloween night, 1978, after finishing Trick-or-Treating. A long time ago. "Devil Dog" has an excellent cast, and a fun, yet spooky tale of a normal middle-class family falling under demonic possession. The best part is when the father hears his children chanting bizarre hymns in the attic at 3am. He goes to investigate, and is shocked at what he finds.
Not only does this film have one of the great movie titles, it sports the third teaming of 70s child actors Ike Eissenman and Kim Richards. I seem to remember this film being broadcast Halloween week back in '78 going against Linda Blair in Stranger in our House. I missed it on the first run choosing to see the other film. Later, on repeat, I saw I made the right choice. The movie is not really bad, but, really lacks any chills or surprises. Although, I did like the scene where Richard Crenna shoots the family dog to no avail.
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