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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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08 August, 2011

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: DEVIL DOG: HOUND OF HELL


Year of Release—Film:  1978

Polyester-clad Mike Berry (Richard Crenna) picks up his lovely wife, Betty Barry (Yvette Mimieux) from work and drives to their upper middle-class suburban home only to discover the family dog has been run over in the street.  Their neighbor, who was either too lazy or too stupid to remove the dog’s carcass from the middle of the road, tells them that the dog was hit by a big black car that didn’t even stop.  The Barry’s two children, Bonnie (Kim Richards) and Charlie (Ike Eisenmann), who also played siblings in RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN earlier the same year, are understandably upset.  Little does the Barry family know that, on the other side of town, a coven of witches has bred a German shepherd to Satan.  Or Satan’s dog.  We’re never sure.  And, for some unexplained reason, are giving out, free of charge, the litter of puppies from the back of a fruit and vegetable peddlers truck.  The devastated daughter instantly falls in love with a puppy, names it Lucky, and takes it home.

The Barry family’s maid, Maria (Tina Menard) instantly takes a dislike to the dog, grabbing her rosary beads and muttering in Spanish.  As the Barry family prepares to attend a nighttime school function, they put the puppy in a box in the hallway outside the maid’s room where the maid is preparing for bed.  Lighting some candles at a small shine on her dresser, the maid sees the dog looking at her and, faster than you can say Kingsford, the maid bursts into flames.  A reasonable man would assume the maid got too close to her own candles (which she did) but Mike begins to think the dog had something to do with it.

Fast-forward about a year.  Mike is outside, repairing his lawnmower by turning it upside down on the lawn.  Cue the dog, now grown, who stares at Mike.  Suddenly the mower starts and Mike, seemingly under the spell of the dog, fights mightily to not place his hand in the mower’s whirling blades.  The dog stares.  Mike stares back.  The mower blades whirl.  Repeat for what seems an eternity.  Mike, through sheer brute mentality, finally fights the urge and the mower stops.

Meanwhile, something’s wrong with the Barry kids.  Normally, they are kind and well behaved but, according to visiting friend and teacher Miles (Ken Kercheval), they have been up to some pretty dirty tricks at school.  Charlie has been running for class president and was in second place until the sudden and mysterious death of the other nominee.  And both children have become bossy and bullies to fellow students.  Betty scoffs at this information, finally insisting that Miles leave the house.  Mike watches the dog as Miles leaves.  Later that evening, Betty and Barry skinny-dip in the neighbor’s pool.  (Don’t get your hopes up, fellas.  Remember, this was made for TV so the only skin we see is a watery shot of Richard Crenna vertical smile).  The next day, the neighbor’s dog is dead.  While I lean towards the thought that somehow the dog saw Richard Crenna naked, Mike blames Lucky.  The next day, the neighbor’s dead.  Mike takes Lucky out into the hills and tries to shoot the dog but either the dog is bulletproof or Mike’s a lousy shot because every bullet fails to meet its mark.

Meanwhile, Betty has turned into a raving nymphomaniac, seducing teacher Miles in hopes that he will not suspend the children from school.  When this fails to work, she sends Lucky to do his evil voodoo.  Mike finds out about this plot and drives over to Miles’ house to warn him but is too late.  Miles has been frightened to death.  Spying Lucky, Mike jumps into the car and, flooring it, drives home.  But, somehow, the slow-motion running dog beats him back home.  Hearing muffled chanting coming from the attic, Mike goes up to find his wife and children performing a satanic ritual.  Tearing down a hand-painted drawing of some satanic god, Mike takes it to a lady who owns a bookstore and she, after some searching, gives Mike a book about Satan-possessed dogs.  Seems in order to gain the knowledge about how to destroy the devil dog, Mike has to travel down to Ecuador and talk to some expert shaman who lives on a mountaintop.  Faster than a GPS, Mike finds the shaman who paints a small Chinese checkers board on Mike’s hand and tells Mike that showing this to the dog will send it back to Hell.

Returning home, Mike tricks Lucky into going to a nuclear power plant where Lucky finally shows his real face.  Only it’s not a “real” face.  Just some laughable low-resolution GIF of a snarling dog’s face with glowing red eyes and what looks like a black feather boa wrapped around its neck.  Tense moment follows tense moment follows tense moment follows tense moment as Lucky growls, then howls, as Mike shoves the Chinese checkerboard into the dog’s face which somehow causes the dog to explode.

The Barry family, all happy and back to normal, pack up their wood-paneled station wagon to go on a much-needed road trip.  Charlie stops and, looking concerned into his father’s eyes, asks about the other eight puppies in the litter.  Mike hesitates for a moment, then, deciding it’s not his problem, goes about packing the family car.  Role credits.

This movie aired Halloween Night in 1978.  And while it does have a few spooky moments, it fails to frighten the viewer.  After all, it’s a movie about a family pet.  A very Bradyesque family at that.  And he’s a cute puppy who grows to become a handsome dog.  Had he been rabid like CUJO, it might have been frightening.  Kind of a ROSEMARY’S PUPPY.  Or had the producers gone for comedy, it might have been more fun.  But, as a horror drama, it is what it is...pure 70’s camp.  However, I cannot end this review without a shout-out to the Barry home’s wallpaper.  It’s so overwhelmingly garish that it threatens at times to out-act Richard Crenna!  And that’s the scariest part of DEVIL DOG: HOUND OF HELL.

Enjoy!  Or Not!


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