Sunday, October 29, 2006

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula: One Very Bad Doggie

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula: The title packs a fair amount of menace, but don't let it freak you out too much; this 1978 B flick, out on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, also played theaters under a more straightforward name--Dracula's Dog. And the latter moniker feels a lot more apropos.
If anything, Zoltan earns bonus points for originality. The movie opens in The Old Country (probably Romania, despite the US Navy jeep driven by the soldiers of the region), where an earthquake opens up two coffins in the crypt of the Dracula family. One casket holds Veidt (Reggie Nalder), immortal servant of the bloodsucking clan, and the other houses plasma-lapping undead pooch Zoltan. Soon this duo finds their way to sunny California, where the final living member of the Dracula line, Michael Drake (hard-working character actor Michael Pataki, a frequent Klingon on the original Star Trek), is heading into the woods for a camping trip with his family and dogs. Veidt and Zoltan, it seems, want to become Drake's undead servants, whether the Californian likes it or not.

The Draculinian Duo follows the Drake Family into the woods. Zoltan turns one hapless camper into Kibbles and Bits, then enslaves the Drakes's two German shepherds and a hunting dog to form a pack of Barking Undead. Ultimately, it's up to Michael Drake and avuncular Romanian Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer) to get this vampiric threat to roll over and play dead for real, which means in pop-culture-nerdspeak: The Klingon who was flipping Scotty an attitude in 'The Trouble with Tribbles' and Cyrano de Bergerac are fighting a doberman with dentures.

Unbelieveably, it's even better than it sounds. That's because, like that classic misbegotten chiller, Night of the Lepus, Zoltan plays its goofy premise really straight. Moreover, Dracula's Dog is shot with a cheap brightness that makes the whole thing look like one of those treacly seventies family films with freckled kids and ragamuffin mutts--Benji with plastic fangs. And you'd have to be Sylvia Plath not to bust a gut when director Albert Band and company slap glowing eyeballs, fake fangs, and a gutteral growl on the cutest little puppy you ever done saw in an attempt to create a terrifying 'The-Horror's-Not-Really-Over' closing frame.

Band was an old hand at low-rent horror in the seventies, so he keeps things moving, bless him. The actors really try, Reggie Nalder gets serious mileage out of just being one ugly/scary dude, and I suppose Zoltan (a doberman pincher strategically dyed black) might be menacing to somebody. But when the big pup goes all vampire, he looks astonishingly like my dog about to make short work of a particularly deserving toy, which utterly undercuts the suspense. Really. Don't believe me?



Case closed.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Disco!! Looking surprisingly furious. It just figures you'd have a possessed dog. ;o)