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30 Years Ago Today…
(A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #1: Cujo)

Cujo (1983)

It should’ve been obvious, the evil dog that all other evil dogs are compared to, sometimes literally.

Cujo is the tenth novel by celebrated horror author Stephen King (counting three under his Richard Bachman pseudonym). Written during a particularly dark period in his struggle with alcoholism, the novel serves as a treatise of sorts on the links between mental illness and violence and the gray area where culpability lies.

The name “Cujo” comes from the alias “Kahjoe” of Symbionese Liberation Army founding member Willie Wolfe. At the height of their violent revolutionary activities, the press often misspelled the name. The SLA and their leader, Donald DeFreeze, served as nightmare fuel for King, with the latter directly inspiring the creation of his recurring villain Randall Flagg.

The plot of the novel and film adaptation are largely the same, though there are distinct differences in resolution that I will not go into here to avoid ruining either. The basic premise is almost too simple. A mother and her panicked son are stuck in their P.O.S. Ford Pinto while the unrelenting sun threatens to give them heatstroke and a rabid St. Bernard (the eponymous Cujo) lurks outside, waiting to rip their throats out.

Other than the ending, the other major deviation from page to screen lies in the subtext. The film deals primarily with the family drama portion of the plot, with Cujo serving merely as catalyst and antagonist, mindlessly rabid and driven almost exclusively by primal instinct. By having a portion of the novel from Cujo’s own perspective, we see firsthand his slow degeneration into rabid savagery and his desire to do what he knows to be right. Alongside subplots of domestic violence and infidelity, Cujo’s plight is a sympathetic one.

“It was a goddam fragile world, as fragile as one of those Easter eggs that were all pretty colors on the outside but hollow on the inside.” — Stephen King, Cujo

Stephen King teaches a harsh lesson. You’re never truly rid of the childhood monster lurking in your closet. That nameless dread just moves with you, from the bedroom to the boardroom, to your own child’s school, into your marriage bed instead of under it.

Admittedly, I have no earthly idea how such themes could be communicated in film. Dog narration would undoubtedly have made the entire affair laughable outside the hands of an avant-garde director like Nicolas Winding Refn or Lars von Trier. The small town suburban life segments would likely have ended up with a decidedly surreal tone, however. Maybe it’s best they kept things simple for movie audiences.

It is uncertain whether or not original director Peter Medak (The Changeling) would have been able to pull off a film with a tone so unfathomably dark. He was replaced after only a few days of shooting by Lewis Teague (Alligator). Looking at their lists of respective credits, I would have thrown my money after Medak, but hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.

Movie Poster for Cujo (1983)

Movie Poster for Cujo (1983)

Teague had some definite assistance in the form of impressive cinematography by Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister, and The Haunting). Jan de Bont deconstructed a good half dozen Ford Pintos to get the claustrophobic interior shots used throughout the latter half of the film. Luckily, they didn’t need Jaguars, so they got off cheap.

One of the team’s greatest achievements was the construction of dual sets for Tad’s bedroom, a normal sized set when lit and an elongated set for Tad’s fearful slow-motion sprint to his bed through darkness. An innovative overhead shot with the camera flipping upside-down as he dives/falls into the bed makes the brief scene rather iconic and one of my favorite depictions of irrational childhood phobias. The sequence also parallels nicely with later action when Tad’s mother, Donna, must judge the distance from the besieged car to the perceived safety of a front porch or to a possible weapon.

Cujo (1983)

Our film opens with a frolicking bunny, not exactly the paragon of menace, the Rabbit of Caerbannog notwithstanding. The score by Charles Bernstein does a good job of dancing between happy-go-lucky trilling and more sinister tones. The latter hit a crescendo as our title St. Bernard steps into frame, clearly with malicious intent toward the fuzzy bunny.

The exact number of dogs used for the film is unknown with different cast and crew members citing various numbers, ranging from five to a dozen. Thankfully, none were hurt making the film. Likewise, the nimble rabbit escapes harm.

Cujo, however, is not so lucky within the context of the story. He runs the rabbit into a hole and gets his big muzzle stuck right in. Cujo’s frustrated barks rouse a flock of bats, getting him a bite on the snout for his recklessness. Our inciting incident lies less than four minutes in. That’s wasting no time.

Just as the words “Based on the Novel by Stephen King” hit the screen, we cut to a creepy looking house covered in shadows like ivy. Within this sprawling home live the Trentons, Donna, Vic, and their young son, Tad. This trinity forms the core of Cujo.

Lobby Cards for
Cujo (1983)
(click to enlarge)

Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)
Lobby Card for "Cujo" (1983)

While working primarily a television actress in the late 1970s, Dee Wallace (Donna Trenton) was no stranger to horror, having appeared as the married daughter in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and as the lead protagonist in The Howling (1981). Before Cujo, she would be best known as the mother in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

With all due respect to author Stephen King, I do not agree with his assessment that Dee Wallace deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance. Not even close. In his novel, Donna Trenton is a complex woman coming to grips with the realization that time is not on her side, that she very well may have to shelve her personal hopes, dreams, and aspirations to adopt the role of dutiful mother and wife.

The film version of Donna is a helpless, incapable shrew, the kind of career dependent who cannot change a tire or even a light bulb without assistance. Her infidelity seems casual, not a cry for help or relevance, but a selfish indulgence at the expense of her loving family. To see her trapped in that car with a screaming Tad validates every Lifetime Network “woman in jeopardy” cliché rather than being the last stand of a desperate woman.

Daniel Hugh Kelly fares better as Vic Trenton, but perhaps benefits from diminished screen time. Kelly was also a veteran of television, the third actor to play Frank Ryan on the long-running ABC soap Ryan’s Hope. Shortly after the release of Cujo, he would play the McCormick half of Hardcastle and McCormick for three seasons on ABC.

Last, but certainly not least, Cujo introduced 7-year-old Danny Pintauro to audiences. As Tad Trenton, “The Tadder”, Pintauro primarily serves as a plot device for his parents’ conflict. Other than obvious emotional scarring, he isn’t likely to walk away from the terrifying events of the film with any kind of epiphany. He doesn’t have any ambivalence or doubt, he just predictably wants a safe environment and a loving family around him. Pintauro’s professionalism, publicly lauded by many who worked on the film, likely helped him land the role of Jonathan Bower on all 196 episodes of the ABC sitcom Who’s the Boss?

Meeting his parents, it’s easy to see how Tad would grow up to be a panicky, neurotic little boy. There are some early hints of a supernatural threat, but Director Lewis Teague would abandon these notions under the idea that there was no way to keep them from appearing “hokey”. Our first obvious threat to this domestic bliss is the arrival of furniture stripper/tennis patsy/trombone player Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone).

Vic thinks him just an element of local Maine color, but, unbeknownst to him, Steve is cuckolding him something fierce. The ironic bit about this relationship is that Stone was Dee Wallace’s husband in real life at the time, and played her character’s husband in The Howling (1981), where he would be the unfaithful one, albeit under the influence of lycanthropy.

When Vic’s Jaguar convertible starts acting up, he is directed to Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), the local shade tree mechanic. Lauter replaced William Sanderson (Blade Runner) at the same time Teague replaced Medak as director. Sanderson would get his shot at a similar role in Man’s Best Friend (1993), #11 on this list and covered almost exactly one year ago. Given the aggressive and abusive nature of Camber, Lauter was the better pick here. I just don’t see Dee Wallace being intimidated by Larry from Newhart.

It is when retrieving the fixed car that the Trenton family first encounters the Camber family dog, Cujo. There’s actually a clever bit of juxtaposition here as Donna first looks on Charity Camber’s matronly lot in life with a mix of contempt and horror then feels true terror when she sees the massive Cujo padding towards her vulnerable son.

Oblivious to the potential danger posed by the oafish pet, Tad is fascinated by Cujo. Despite musical cues and Donna’s trepidation (as well as that of the viewer), there is no evidence of anything untoward here. Cujo is still on his best behavior and doesn’t even muster up a growl at the visiting strangers.

Spoiler Alert!
This 1983 TV ad seems determined to keep Cujo’s identity as a rabid dog a secret.

The set of lobby cards and movie poster above also seem designed to keep the antagonist’s identity secret as there isn’t a single solitary image of the title pooch.

The Trenton Family troubles keep mounting as the Sharps Cereal Professor, created by ad-man Vic, is subject to a bit of a scandal. While his slogan is “Nope, nothing wrong here,” there is most certainly something wrong with thousands of people nationwide vomiting potent red cereal dye and fearing internal hemorrhaging. Stephen King does a great job of fitting in the kind of media-fed hysteria that typically ensues after these sorts of scandals, another irrational modern fear. More importantly, plot-wise, it means Vic must leave his family for ten days to deal with this crisis.

Over at the Cambers, an angle grinder does nothing for my own nerves and cuts right through Cujo’s rabies-addled brain. He eventually retreats under the front porch to get away from his noisy family and go gradually crazy in peace and quiet. There are some Camber Family subplots, but they get abbreviated for running time. The short story is that Joe’s wife and son are also conveniently heading out of town.

Despite a few teases, we’re very nearly halfway through the film, and no one has died. Test screenings that got to the car siege quicker reportedly didn’t fare well, however, as audiences just didn’t care about the characters. Admittedly, the slow build proves effective. When Cujo reluctantly retreats through the predawn mist, we know that it is the last time we will see him sane.

The weather posed a particular challenge for Director Lewis Teague. The aforementioned mist had to be manufactured with a naval fogger because the daily gloom took a day off when the scene was scheduled to be shot. The temperature was a greater issue. The car siege is supposed to be held through blistering, dehydrating heat, but, despite references to summer camp and the like, the film was shot during the dead of winter. In a clever bit of movie magic, Jan de Bont held a flame below the camera lens to create the illusion of late summer haze. Glycerine and water created false sweat. And there is, of course, the power of acting.

The end result, sadly, is a film I find to be sorely lacking, but noteworthy for a handful of achievements. Call it a near miss. In the wake of Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), and Creepshow (1982), and with The Dead Zone (1983) and Christine (1983) getting released just months apart later that year, Cujo just doesn’t rate. It is a bit of an unfair comparison, as Lewis Teague just isn’t in the same league as such directing luminaries as Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter.

Curtis Joseph with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy

Curtis Joseph with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy

The influence of King’s story and imagery have proven to be far-reaching. The nickname “CuJo” seemed a natural one for celebrated NHL goalie Curtis Joseph, being a portmanteau of his first name and surname. Despite going undrafted, Joseph was a three time NHL All-Star (in 1994 with the St. Louis Blues and in 1999 and 2000 with the Toronto Maple Leafs). In the XIX Olympic Winter Games, he played goalie for gold medal-winning Team Canada, fifty years to the day since their previous gold medal win. While his goalie mask often bore the visage of a snarling dog, a nod to his namesake, Curtis Joseph was recognized for his leadership and philanthropic endeavors by being awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000.

A good dog, indeed.

Unfortunately, the coveted Stanley Cup eluded “CuJo” for the entirety of his career. Amongst goalies who have never played on a Stanley Cup-winning team, he has posted the most career wins to date with 454. After playing for six teams in twenty years, posting 30-plus wins on a record five of them, Curtis Joseph retired in 2010. Despite his statistical achievements, Joseph has yet to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and, without a Cup or Vezina Trophy and an unfortunate number two spot on the list of most losses by an NHL goalie, there is considerable debate as to whether he ever will.

We hope you enjoyed our little countdown of “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”. Twelve dogs in thirteen months, but that was hardly my initial intention. It’ll be a while before I have the hubris to tackle another countdown of this scope, methinks. See ya ’round the kennel club!

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #2: Zoltan

"Zoltan, Hound of Dracula" (1978)

They say “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” Well, what if Dracula bites dog bites man? I’d say that’s pretty damn newsworthy. Strangely enough, that’s also the plot synopsis for this little bit of fluff from 1978.

Summoned by the living dead, they come in the night, thirsting for human blood, led by the most terrifying creature that ever walked the earth… Zoltan, Hound of Dracula.

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (also known as Dracula’s Dog) is the brainchild of Frank Ray Perilli, the genius behind another canine classic, The Doberman Gang (1972) as well as the cult films Little Cigars (1973) and Laserblast (1978).

After directing the surprisingly watchable thriller I Bury the Living (1958), Albert Band helmed a few forgettable films, including a couple of Gordon Scott actioners before taking the reins on Zoltan. Albert and his son Charles are more well-known as producers, going on to create genre stalwarts Empire Pictures and Full Moon Productions.

In this shaggy dog story, Michael Pataki stars as psychiatrist Michael Drake. Michael has an idyllic suburban life; a wife, two kids, a Winnebago. It couldn’t be more normal.

All of that changes once his own personal Van Helsing shows up to tell him that he’s the last living descendant of the old Transylvanian bloodline. Michael Drake, it seems, is more properly Michael Dracula. The role of resident Van Helsing, Inspector Branco, is phoned in by a very bored José Ferrer. He’s even brought a photograph of Count Drac from the old country to make the familial resemblance patently obvious, especially since it’s Pataki himself in the photo as Dracula. No idea when, where, or how someone took a Polaroid of the Lord of Vampires, but that won’t be the toughest bit to swallow in this plot.

Thai movie poster for "Zoltan, Hound of Dracula"

Thai movie poster for
Zoltan, Hound of Dracula

Besides the photograph, another supposed flaw in the plot concerns how Michael could be the last living descendant of Dracula when he has two children himself. Well, perhaps that’s not an oversight, but a clue. While Michael was busy attending to the emotional needs of his patients on his psychiatrist’s couch, he was ignoring the needs of his wife, Marla (Jan Shutan). She was busy getting impregnated on the couch at home by the mailman or the like. Such a randy twist seems at home in a script by Perilli, the writer of an erotic take on Cinderella (1977) just a year before that was directed by Pataki, but it remains completely undeveloped in Zoltan. A missed opportunity, really.

As Branco warns, Michael is now being pursued by vampire’s best friend, the faithful family dog named Zoltan. Zoltan has his own dutiful servant, his former master in life, Veidt Smith. Not enough is made of this bit of role-reversal, but Reggie Nalder (Mark of the Devil) and his creepy facial scars bring their best.

What follows is an extended siege against Zoltan, Veidt, and a pack of vampiric hounds that does not exactly threaten the reputations of either Night of the Living Dead or Assault on Precinct 13. The “twist” ending manages to be anticlimactic, absurd, and downright adorable. It is all things to all people and deserves to be seen.

Pataki himself is fondly remembered (by me, at least) as one half of the Mallachi Brothers (innovators of “The Mallachi Crunch”) on the television series Happy Days. Just before appearing in Zoltan, he had a recurring role as Captain Barbera in the live-not-so-much-action series The Amazing Spider-Man. His career credits include far too many exploitation and cult films to name, making it highly unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of him here on WeirdFlix.

“Now, there’s a nice doggy, but before you pet it, take a good look…
It might be a friend of Zoltan, Hound of Dracula…”

We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” one last time as we finish counting down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.
I hope you’ll join us.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #3: Mr. Blonde

Michael Madsen as Mister Blonde in "Reservoir Dogs" (1992)

Yep, it’s time for another blurring of the edges. While the eponymous gangsters in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) are never referred to as such in the film, they have the same pack mentality as their canine cousins. From the opening scenes to its bullet-riddled finale, writer-director Tarantino’s caper gone awry is a study in male bonding and vicious rivalry.

Vying for the position of alpha dog is Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) a.k.a. Mister Blonde. Vic is a career criminal whose loyalty to the Cabot Crime Family goes largely unquestioned. Fresh off a four year prison stretch in which he said not a word about the Cabots, the diamond heist would be Vega’s first “real job” back in the free world. Something must have happened to Vic in prison, however, a psychotic break perhaps, because the moment the heist goes pear-shaped, he begins executing hostages with ruthless efficiency, an act that disturbs his fellow criminals and becomes a point of no return for all.

“It’s amusing… to me… to torture a cop. You can say anything you want, ’cause I’ve heard it all before. All you can do is pray for a quick death… which… you ain’t gonna get.”
— Mr. Blonde

The most infamous Mister Blonde scene is the torture of Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), a cop taken hostage to effect Blonde’s escape from the robbery gone wrong. Baltz had a handful of screen credits prior to Dogs and appeared in the Tarantino-written Natural Born Killers in a minor role. He has done some work in DC Comics-related projects, including an appearance in The Flash television series, a recurring role on the original Human Target television series starring Rick Springfield, and the distinction of being the only person to play a live-action version of Batman villain Clayface on the sadly short-lived television series Birds of Prey.

Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) tortures Lt. Diamond (Cornel Wilde) in "The Big Combo" (1955)

Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) tortures Lt. Diamond
(Cornel Wilde) in “The Big Combo” (1955)

An ad-lib by Kirk Baltz during the torture scene reportedly stopped Michael Madsen in his cowboy booted tracks. Filmed only a year or two after the birth of his oldest son, Christian, the sputtering plea “I’ve got a little kid at home,” hit particularly close to home.

But Madsen wasn’t the only person put off by the intensity of the scene. During a screening in Barcelona, fifteen people walked out, including iconic horror director Wes Craven and special effects legend Rick Baker. Baker would later tell Tarantino that the heightened realism of the violence unnerved him and that Quentin should take it as a compliment.

“You ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies? It’s my personal favorite.” — Mr. Blonde

Michael Madsen as Mister Blonde in "Reservoir Dogs" (1992)

Michael Madsen as Mister Blonde in “Reservoir Dogs”

With Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino began his trend of using diegetic (source) music effectively and often ironically. In this specific example, Mister Blonde turns on the radio and tunes in K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies. As deadpan DJ Steven Wright explains “Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealers Wheel when they recorded this Dylanesque pop bubblegum favorite from April of 1974 that reached up to number five as K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies continues.”

Released on their self-titled debut album in 1972, “Stuck in the Middle with You” was initially intended to be a parody of Bob Dylan’s distinctive style. The “clowns to the left” and “jokers to the right” mentioned in the lyrics refer to a meeting Egan and Rafferty had with record company executives and producers at a restaurant in which they were mere bystanders to the negotations. A series of line-up changes, financial woes for their songwriter/producers, and tension between Egan and Rafferty resulted in Stealers Wheel disintegrating before the 1975 release of their third album. At least, by all reports, it didn’t end in a Mexican stand-off.

With this scene, Tarantino changed the way people would perceive the otherwise innocuous song forever. Madsen would return to the Tarantinoverse in Kill Bill (2003-2004) as Budd (Sidewinder), the sole male member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Only Michael Madsen provided his voice and likeness for the lackluster 2006 video game based on Reservoir Dogs, a dubious distinction.

If you have the stomach, check out the original infamous scene below, and let me know if this little doggie’s bite lives up to his bark. Cheers!

Totally NSFW due to language and unbridled cruelty.

“Was that as good for you as it was for me?” — Mr. Blonde

We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” two more times as we count down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”. I hope you’ll join us.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #4: Dickie

Cinzia Monreale and Dickie from "The Beyond" (1981)

Dickie is a service animal, a guide dog for Emily, the mysterious blind woman who lives in the big old mansion by the crossroads.
Or does she?

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Seven Gates Hotel
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor soul
And God I know I’m one

Director Lucio Fulci is perhaps best known for Zombi 2, his unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The Beyond (1981) superficially appears to be yet another entry into the zombie apocalypse genre, but it is actually much more supernatural and metaphysical than any mere tale of shambling undead. The premise is more akin to something like that same year’s The Evil Dead or the Silent Hill videogames.

Instead of creating his own mythology, however, Fulci draws upon the Lovecraft circle of writers and the infamous Cthulhu Mythos. The literary MacGuffin here is not the oft-abused Necronomicon of Lovecraft, but The Book of Eibon, created by his contemporary pen pal, Clark Ashton Smith. The film’s sepia-toned opening flashback sequence is set in 1927, the heyday of Lovecraftian horror. The Book of Eibon is seen here in the possession of an artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John).

“Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.” — The Book of Eibon according to Lucio Fulci…

In a scene straight out of Lovecraft’s own short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, Schweick is attacked by a torch-bearing bayou lynch mob who think him a warlock and blame him for their ill fortune. Sadly, it seems more apparent that Schweick is guarding one of the seven doors to Hell and has indeed been to the other side and back. During this period, Emily (Cinzia Monreale, billed as “Sarah Keller”) appears to serve as an apprentice of sorts, still retains her sight, and somehow escapes the wrath of the angry mob, perhaps into The Beyond itself…

The Fabio Frizzi soundtrack helps bridge the gap from past to present and might be a little 1980s synth-heavy and dated, but it has a haunting charm all its own.

Movie poster for the rerelease of Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" (1981)

Movie poster for the Rolling Thunder rerelease of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond

In 1981, we are introduced to our protagonist, Liza Merrill (Catriona “Katherine” MacColl). Liza has just inherited the Seven Gates Hotel in “The Big Easy”. The restoration efforts aren’t going well, and the accidents and bodies don’t take long to pile up, especially once “Joe the Plumber” (Tonino Pulci) starts tearing down basement walls in a city notoriously known for being under sea level.

Fulci uses the Symbol of Jupiter as a recurring Elder Sign, having it displayed prominently on the basement walls of the hotel, in the Book of Eibon, and even carved into Schweick’s own flesh. While it may serve as a charm against evil, there are other clues that actions to undermine the guardianship of Schweick and Emily are underway. Liza finds a creepy servant rummaging around her room “looking for keys”. In another bit of obvious symbolism, Liza encounters Emily and her dog Dickie on a bridge, where Emily begins to warn her about the dangers lurking under the hotel.

As the story unfolds, Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) begins his own investigations into the deaths and the mystery surrounding the hotel. There are numerous clues that Emily isn’t all that she appears, and things begin spiraling out of control, blurring the boundaries between the lands of the living and the dead.

If the end of this scene is to be believed, the human ear is a soft tortellini stuffed with blood. Tasty.

Totally NSFW due to utterly excessive gore.

Lucio Fulci may have set out to create a metaphysical chiller, but his investors saw the dollar signs attached to the zombie craze and had other plans, forcing him to shoehorn in a zombie apocalypse that doesn’t gel well with the rest of the film. It feels like the bastard offspring of John Carpenter’s The Fog, In the Mouth of Madness, and Prince of Darkness, though it’s obvious both Carpenter and Fulci were influenced by Lovecraft and similar material. The end result feels more like an ode to eye trauma than a deep philosophical discussion of the nature of life and death.

Fulci’s departure from conventional zombie tropes and his desires to pay homage to French surrealist playwright Antonin Armaud have obviously confused many gorehounds, leading to a number of strange theories and misconceptions. I’ve seen a synopsis that refers to Schweick’s attackers throwing lava at him. Where a New Orleans lynch mob would acquire lava is anyone’s guess, but it is clearly quicklime or lye, both readily available to rural working class folk of 1927. The film has plenty of clever touches to draw conclusions from, but I’ve seen some “explanations” that involve creating entire backstories and sets of rules for Schweick, Emily, and the hotel that don’t bear any resemblance to the material actually in the film.

Laura De Marchi should have minded this sign in Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" (1981)

Laura De Marchi should have minded this sign in
Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981)

There is also an annoying trend of playing apologist for the film’s obvious flaws. While The Beyond contains more than its fair share of creative imagery and does a decent job capturing the mood of doom and dread prevalent in Lovecraft and his peers, Fulci makes a couple of creative choices that don’t really lend themselves to easy explanations.

After a foreshadowing scene in which a doctor doesn’t notice that his brainwave gadget (looks like an oscilloscope) is registering brainwaves on corpses, our protagonist clearly can’t get a grasp on the fact that every time he shoots one of the living dead in the skull, it stops attacking him. He goes through a frustrating routine of headshot-body-body-body-body-headshot without taking any time to aim at the shambling horde. There’s also a glimpse of him trying to reload by dropping a shell down the barrel, but by that point, the stupid train has already left the station.

Attempts by fans to explain this behavior as “nightmarish” and “surreal” are obfuscating the issue. Nightmarish would be guns that don’t work, zombies that aren’t locked into a stumbling shamble, shifting and unreliable perceptions, or living dead that simply don’t die from headshots. Fulci’s surrealist vision isn’t the explanation for a hospital sign that reads “Do Not Entry”. Occam’s razor slices straight to laziness.

“And you will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored.” — The Book of Eibon

Okay, so some real life intrusions and a frustrating WordPress update have resulted in an unplanned one month hiatus. We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” three more times as we count down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”. I hope you’ll join us.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #5: Lucky

"Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell" (1978)

Lucky is the Barrys’ new family dog. After his predecessor Skipper is unceremoniously run down by a big black station wagon, a creepy old produce merchant rolls up and just happens to have a litter of pups in the back. All of the Barrys were predictably distraught, but none more than Bonnie (Kim Richards long before she became a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills), who has had her tenth birthday party absolutely ruined.

But once Bonnie holds lil’ Lucky in her arms, she can’t resist. He becomes a welcome addition to the family, but not everyone’s convinced. As their housekeeper Maria (Tina Menard) tries to explain, “I don’t know what it is. It’s like a cheell. He gives me a scary feeling all over. Please, Señor Barry, get another cute puppy before the kids get too much attached to heem.”

Of course, Señor Barry (a delightfully deadpan Richard Crenna) don’t cotton to Maria’s Old World superstitions. At least not until a year later, when Lucky tries to hypno-hump him into sticking his hand into a spinning lawn mower blade.

Lucky and Maria (Tina Menard) stare each other down in "Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell" (1978)

Lucky and Maria (Tina Menard) stare each other down in Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

Next thing you know, the kids are painting with blood, the dog is slowly chasing the missus (Yvette Mimieux) through the house until she turns into a skinny-dipping seductress, you’re hanging out in New Age bookstores with old ladies in Snuggies, and all hell is literally breaking loose. Before you know it, you’ll all be listening to KISS and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Such is the premise of Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) a made-for-TV supernatural chiller that aired on CBS Halloween Night some 34 years ago (damn, I feel old).

Lucky, as it turns out, is a barghest, “a creature of another world and another time according to those who believe. It’s a demon who appears in the form of a dog. It’s a monstrous thing, a goblin dog with huge teeth and claws. Monstrous. It only appears at night. The demon dog, the black dog, the dog of darkness, sometimes he runs with backward-pointed feet. Sometimes he is ablaze. Sometimes he is headless, but even a glimpse of the beast in his true form will send a man to a hell.”

Even with all of his infernal machinations, Lucky is still helpless to resist chasing a frisbee. Strangely enough, that ISN’T the weakness Mike Barry exploits to defeat this corruptor of his suburban paradise. No, instead he’s got to go to Ecuador like a true Lovecraftian protagonist and get his research on, talk to an old dude in a cave (Victory Jory), that sort of thing.

But hey, don’t let me spoiler the whole amazing odyssey for you. Check it out on your own. A little taste lies below.

R. G. Armstrong is only the second creepiest araber in television history.
Moses Gunn from Homicide: Life on the Street still takes the crown.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the creepy riff that is repeated ad nauseam in this film. You only get a taste of it in the trailer. Wee-oo wee-oo waaaah! It reminds me of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, another ’70s fave, but apparently it’s the work of Artie Kane (Eyes of Laura Mars).

Director Curtis Harrington hated this movie due to the constraints of its low budget, but I have more than a little nostalgia for it despite all its hokiness. There are plenty of instances where sound and photography make something out of nothing. The scene where housewife Betty is alone with the dog and a series of unnerving noises is a decent precursor to such frugal fare as Paranormal Activity and its ilk.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #6: Barry

Barry the Bulldog in "Meet the Feebles" (1989)

When it comes to henchmen, you can certainly do worse than an anthropomorphic bulldog.

Barry (voiced by Mark Hadlow) is the loyal minion of Bletch (Peter Vere-Jones), the owner and director of The Feebles Troupe. But what the funk is a Feeble?

Meet the Feebles (1989) is Peter Jackson’s second full-length film and his thoroughly demented tribute to Jim Henson’s beloved Muppets. The film follows the efforts of the Feebles to land a network television time slot for The Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour, but where Kermit the Frog had to deal with demanding stars, a prima donna pig, and general incompetence, the Feebles are plagued by every vice known to man and puppet.

Bletch has his flippers in a number of other business interests besides the Feebles, all of them illicit. In the scene below, he sends Barry and Trevor the Rat (Brian Sergent) to pick up an overdue shipment of drugs from Louie (Mark Wright), a courier employed by the notorious crime boss Mister Big (no relation to the “rock supergroup” of the same name). Things do not go as originally agreed, and the situation takes a decidedly violent turn. Enjoy!

Slightly NSFW due to puppets behaving VERRRRY badly
(would-be drug use, violent death, murder).

I love the sound effect for Dennis eagerly snorting a line. Clearly a voice-over.

Barry joins Bletch in an assault on Mister Big’s dockside operation, including a scene with puppets driving a Morris Minor through another gigantic puppet. No human actors appear in the film, though Abi the contortionist is a humanoid Indian mystic puppet. He spends most of the film trying to get his head extricated from his posterior. Rectum? It nearly killed him.

A couple months back, I had quite the internal debate over including this little Kiwi gem in my countdown of “Bizarre Movie Musicals You Have to See to Believe”. After all, it’s not every day you see a fox puppet wax rhapsodic about the appeal of anal intercourse.

At least I hope it isn’t.

As seen in the clip below, Sebastian (Stuart Devenie), against the express wishes of Bletch, tries to save the Feebles production with his signature song, blissfully unaware that Heidi the Hippo (also voiced by Mark Hadlow) has had a psychotic break backstage and gone on the rampage with a machine gun.

Totally NSFW. It’s a song about sodomy for the sake of Pete.
Also, a rampaging hippo with an M60.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #7: Pac-Man

"Pac-Man" and Triple H in "Blade: Trinity" (2004)

Another horror comic adaptation in our countdown, the vampire hunter Blade first appeared in Tomb of Dracula # 10 (1973) by Marvel Comics. Blade: Trinity (2004) is the third film in the franchise and the last to star Wesley Snipes as the Daywalker. Snipes was so unhappy with writer/director David S. Goyer and New Line Cinema that he filed suit in 2005, claiming he was unfairly denied $3.6 million of his salary despite being one of the film’s producers. Snipes also had a lot to say about why Blade: Trinity didn’t perform as well as previous installments, throwing blame at Goyer, New Line, Ryan Reynolds, and Jessica Biel. Pac-Man was not named in the suit nor grievances, but we’ll get to him in a moment.

Hannibal King as he first appeared in Tomb of Dracula # 25 (1974)

Hannibal King as he first appeared in Tomb of Dracula # 25 (1974)

Blade’s opposition this time around is Dracula himself, going by the less recognizable alias of “Drake” and played by Dominic Purcell (Equilibrium). Despite his misgivings, Blade is assisted in his hunt by the Nightstalkers, a team of junior vampire hunters led by Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel). Even though Abigail is the daughter of his mentor, Blade cannot take her or her partner Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) seriously, perhaps because Hannibal doesn’t shut his mouth for more than seven seconds at a time. In predictable fashion, they’ll have to earn his trust and approval by kicking vampire ass.

Before that can happen, however, Hannibal gets himself caught by Danica Talos (Parker Posey deliciously playing against type), the vampire who had previously turned him. By the time Trinity opens, Hannibal has already been cured of his vampirism by the retrovirus introduced in the first Blade film. Danica is joined in henchperson duties by her brother Asher (Callum Keith Rennie), and Jarko Grimwood (professional wrestler “Triple H” in his feature film debut).

Oh, and Pac-Man. Wait, what? Who is this Pac-Man?! Pac-Man is a vampire Pomeranian, created by “porting the vampire gene into other species”, as explained by Asher. See him in action below. I think the clip contains all of his screen time. If not, by all means let me know, and I’ll see if I can round up every last frame of this little guy’s cinematic career.

NSFW because the film version of Hannibal King swears like a
14-year-old who just discovered profanity. But hey, Parker Posey.

Okay, so in my humble opinion, a vampiric Pomeranian is somehow NOT the strangest creative choice made for this film. That honor goes to writer/director David S. Goyer’s decision to make the fictional city setting bilingual, patterning it after Montreal (English and French) or Miami (English and Spanish). His choice for second language? The constructed language of Esperanto, created in 1887.

Signs around the city are depicted as being in both English and Esperanto. Hannibal King is even seen watching the old black-and-white film Incubus (1966), starring William Shatner in one of only two movies filmed entirely in Esperanto. A similar gimmick was used in the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca where public service announcements were made in the presumed state language of Esperanto, to evoke a kind of generic Orwellian multicultural New World Order. I don’t think it was particularly effective in either case, since I discovered both uses as trivia and didn’t key into it while watching either.

C’est la vie/Such is life/Tia estas vivo.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #8: Shane

"Shane" in "Tales from the Crypt" (1972)

Major William Rogers is the new director at the Elmridge Home for the Blind. With over twenty years of military experience, he is determined to run the facility as efficiently and economically as possible, even if it means shutting off the heat at 20:00 hours (8:00 p.m. to you civilians) and cutting back on food rations.

As the officer in charge, Major Rogers (Nigel Patrick) is certainly not going to sacrifice his own comfort. Paintings adorn the walls of his office. His lunches consist of steak and wine. And when he cannot finish his steak, he feeds the scraps to his Belgian Malinois, Shane.

Shane is a good dog. Shane protects his master from the ungrateful residents. As spokesman George Carter (Patrick Magee) tries to explain, blindness makes their other senses more acute such that the subpar food is intolerable, scurrying insects can be heard all around, and the cold bites like a wolf. Major Rogers is unmoved. Shane is there to make sure such complaints do not become threats. Like Shane, the residents of Elmridge should learn not to bite the hand that feeds them.

“Blind Alleys” is the fifth and final story in the horror anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972), based on the notorious EC Comics series of the same name that thrilled children and horrified parents, teachers, shrinks, politicians, and clergy. Freddie Francis directed the film for Amicus Productions, one of several portmanteau films the studio produced, and the third for Francis. He would go on to direct a fourth, Tales That Witness Madness, for World Film Services, often mistaken for one of the Amicus series. Despite directing mostly horror flicks, Francis worked as director of photography on a wide variety of critically-acclaimed films including The Innocents, The Elephant Man, and Glory.

After one of their number dies from the director’s callous neglect, the residents begin plotting their revenge. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but Shane figures prominently into the cleverly devised scheme. Major Rogers doesn’t “see it coming”, and most likely, neither will you.

A portion of "Blind Alleys" as it appeared in Tales from the Crypt # 46

A portion of “Blind Alleys” as it appeared in Tales from the Crypt # 46

Sir Ralph Richardson (Doctor Zhivago) appears as the hooded, mysterious Crypt Keeper, issuing a dire warning to begin each of the film’s segments. His portrayal is stiff and lifeless, unlike the wisecracking punster that appeared in the comic book and subsequent HBO television series. It does fit the tone of the overall film, however, and deftly avoids the pitfall of camp.

Here is the film’s climax in all its vengeful glory, running a little over 10 minutes. Enjoy at your leisure.

Slightly NSFW due to blood and viciousness.

The story was later adapted for the television series episode “Revenge is the Nuts” with Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, The Dead Zone) playing facility director Arnie Grunwald (closer to the Gunner Grunwald character of the comic story). The sleazy sexual angle that is almost requisite in the comic series is restored here for HBO with the quirky but cute Teri Polo (Meet the Parents) playing the target of Grunwald’s unwelcome and unsubtle advances. Bruno the dog is also closer to Brutus as depicted in the panels above, but all in all, the TV adaptation doesn’t have the same pathos as the Freddie Francis film. It never conjures sympathy for Teri Polo and Isaac Hayes the way that Patrick Magee and company do with their grim determination.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #9: The Thing

Jed in "The Thing" (1982)

Is it a dog or isn’t it? Well, that’s the key question posed during the opening scenes of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). The Alaskan Malamute arrives at an American Antarctic research camp, pursued by a helicopter full of angry Norwegians from their own camp across the way. Before any of the Americans can figure out what the deuce is going on, the helicopter explodes, station commander Garry is forced to shoot the last crazed Norwegian, and the poor pooch is taken into their midst. The fools…

This version of The Thing is the second screen treatment of the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., under the pseudonym “Don A. Stuart”. Despite criticism from fans of the earlier, black-and-white film starring James Arness, the much gorier and slimier John Carpenter adaptation stays closer to the original story about a shapechanging alien battling against an isolated and increasingly paranoid research team led by helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, in his second of four starring roles for Carpenter).

Movie Poster for "The Thing" (1982)

Movie Poster for The Thing (1982)

Jed (White Fang) plays the dog for much of the film, though not the opening chase. For that scene, Carpenter used a dog with a coat dyed to look like Jed. He does get plenty of screen time, however, and was praised by Carpenter for his acting ability. Jed passed in 1995 at the ripe old age of 17. By all accounts, he was a consummate professional and leaves behind a fine legacy in film.

Special effects wizard Stan Winston was responsible for the design of the dog creature. 1982 would mark his first Academy Award nomination, for the insipid Andy Kaufman/Bernadette Peters robot romcom Heartbeeps, but his collaboration here with fellow SFX icon Rob Bottin (King Kong, The Howling) insured it would not be his last. Before his death in 2008, Stan Winston had racked up 4 Oscars (one for Aliens, a pair for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the last for Jurassic Park).

The Thing marked the first time director John Carpenter didn’t score his own film, but he found a more than adequate replacement in the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Ambient noise also adds to the film’s signature sound. The howling Antarctic wind was actually recorded in the desert outside of Palm Springs, but you can practically feel it taking hold of your bones as the weather becomes an antagonist to be feared every bit as much as the alien horror. In a final bit of sound trivia, Carpenter’s then-wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau is the only female voice in the film, as the sultry-voiced “Chess Wizard.”

Rage quit. Slightly NSFW due to some bitter profanity.

You know it’s bad when a bottle of J&B Scotch and a phone sex chess computer are what passes for intimate companionship. Now, Clark’s obsession with those yapping dogs of his don’t seem so crazy, does it? Beats watching videotaped episodes of Let’s Make a Deal.

Okay, so earlier in this countdown, I gave some deserved attention to Silence! The Musical. It seems those Kaplan scamps are at it again.

Totally NSFW due to excessive gore and some lyrical profanity.
Oh, and also spoilertastic as it recaps the entire movie in song.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #10: Victor

Marlon Moreno in "Dog Eat Dog" (2007)

Look out! See what I’m doing here? Not all of these “Diabolical Dogs” are of the canine variety.

Such is the case with Victor Peñaranda (Marlon Moreno). Victor has a serious problem. In an impulsive moment, he stole a bag of cash from his boss Don Pablo. Now, he and Eusebio Benitez (Óscar Borda) are charged with finding the stolen money and dealing with the culprit. Victor just has to keep his cool and let things shake out before skipping town with his wife and daughter.

After all, there’s no honor among thieves. It’s every man for himself. In the Colombian underworld, it’s Perro Come PerroDog Eat Dog (2007).

Carlos Moreno made his cinematic debut co-writing and directing this taut little Colombian crime thriller that won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Dramatic at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It’s not paced as rapidly as a Tarantino or Guy Ritchie caper, but it held my interest throughout and was an intriguing glimpse into the seedy underbelly of South America.

Movie Poster for "Dog Eat Dog" (2007)

Movie Poster for Dog Eat Dog (2007)

Victor’s choice is the inciting incident that drives the narrative, but Benitez has problems of his own. In circumstances that aren’t made clear in the film, he killed the godson of crime boss “El Orejón” (“Big Ears”, played broadly by Blas Jaramillo in one of his final roles). Thirsty for vengeance, the superstitious “El Orejón” enlists the aid of a witch named Irish (Paulina Rivas) to put a curse on Benitez, a fate worse than death. He impatiently waits for supernatural results, unaware that the target of his rage works right under his nose, on a quest to find his stolen cash.

Meanwhile, “El Orejón” has gone around Don Pablo and assigned his own minder to the mission. Silvio Sierra (Álvaro Rodríguez) is an obnoxious pragmatist, quick with a nasty joke or bitter observation. Having a racist, a sadist, and a loudmouth like Sierra babysit the two men, each on a rapid downward spiral into his own personal hell, is like throwing gasoline on a campfire. Their travels around town in Sierra’s pick-up truck, three abreast with Victor sweating in the center while they hunt for the money that can’t be found, is claustrophobic and unnerving.

Still, Victor’s not a killer at heart, just a man trying to do right by his family, but his decisions have a bad habit of snowballing out of control. Don Pablo isn’t the cruel, vindictive boss that “El Orejón” is, and he even risks his own life to help Victor, even while suspecting Victor is the man with the stolen money that has brought nothing but disaster. The truth, however, would certainly not set Victor free. More likely, it would mean a horrible death for both him and his wife and child. Can he get away with it? Given the widespread collateral damage, should he?

The music video for the title song, “Perro Come Perro” by accomplished Colombian rock band Superlitio, serves as a better glimpse at the film than any trailer I’ve found. Even if your español is rusty or non-existant, the song is dead catchy and hard to get out of your head once it lodges there like a bit of buckshot.

Carlos Moreno has kept busy with film and television work since Dog Eat Dog, but its spiritual successor seems to be his 2011 feature, All Your Dead Ones. The plot concerns a peasant who wakes up to find a pile of corpses in the middle of his land. He tries to do the right thing and notify the authorities, but Election Day looms and there’s too many bodies to deal with easily. Where did they come from, where will they go? I’m keeping my eyes out for this satirical take on civic responsibility.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.