Film Review: Dogs (1976)


SYNOPSIS:

On the quiet campus of the remotely-located SouthWestern University, something strange is happening. All of the dogs in the area, once loyal, gentle pets, are now banding together in wild packs and hunting down their former masters. Could the strange transformation have anything to do with the secret government experiments being conducted in the school’s physics laboratory? More importantly, can the dogs be stopped before it’s too late?

REVIEW:

D: Burt Brinckerhoff
C: David McCallum, Sandra McCabe, George Wyner

Paranoid the next door neighbors pooch is giving you the stink eye? Well, Fido just may be sizing you up.

It’s all in the timing in Dogs. When a few cows and the dude that owns them turn up mutilated in a small town in California, college professors Harland Thompson and Michael Fitzgerald (McCallum and Wyner) academically stand around and talk about what animals could do such damage. Lucky for them, Fitzgerald had just been giving a lecture on what may very well be the cause …pheromones! Unlucky for them, they appear to be in a town whose common practice appears to be letting their four-legged companions collectively run free. When the bodies start piling up, Thompson and Fitzgerald take their theory to the mayor, and he promptly does what any good mayor of a small town should do. Opts to ignore the problem in the towns best interest. Which, incidentally, is a confidential government accelerator that for whatever reason this town has been chosen to test.

A film such as this one, in order to be effective, needs to manipulate the relationship man has with man’s best friend to be effective. Remind us why we love a good ol romp in the park with Rex. Why there’s no better hiking mate. Then when we’re all filled up with good feelings, on the verge of heading out to the local animal shelter, that’s when you turn Spot on us. Because when it comes down to it, these four legged canines that we love… Are animals. And whether you like it or not, there is a fair amount of breeds that could cause a life long of hurt if they were inclined.

That’ll lead into another misfire, one that countless other killer dogs on a blood thirsty rampage because of pheromones or a linear accelerator movies run into: Fluffy cute dogs that were bred to be cute and fluffy, aren’t frightening. If a fluffy were burrowing through my stomach cavity while another one stood in the shadows behind a door holding a large knife waiting to pounce… I still wouldn’t buy it. Granted, there are some breeds in Dogs that can certainly scare if they wish too, but there are those who just don’t make the cut.

The characters range from McCallum’s terrifically unexciting professor (I imagine a painted rock with a voiceover accompaniment would have had the same effect) to dislikable townsfolk, to a large group of college kids who do not possess a shred of common sense. Wyner’s performance as Professor Fitzgerald, while not Earth shattering, is human, and welcome. Its hard to care for our human fodder when they’re losing a personality contest with a Doberman.

The film does occasionally muster up some nice atmosphere, used most effectively in a sequence involving a posse vs. the pack. It’s also worth mentioning that we’re treated to some effectively eerie background baying here and there throughout the movie.

Enough so that I almost forgot that the film I was watching wasn’t all that good. As for attack scenes and blood shed, the pooches rack up a nice body count tearing into any and everyone in their path, highlights being a full scale assault on a large group of college kids and a Norman Bates-esque shower scene with a young lady and a Doberman.

Even then the numbers should be higher, as far too many people in Dogs outrun the determined mongrels with relative ease. That being said, for those that do get dropped, most of the onslaught plays out the same way. Dog leaps out at unknowing dumb bastard, latching onto his/her arm. There’s some violent shaking, followed by growling and screaming, and then cut to completely mutilated body seconds later. The state of the canine casualties would perhaps be better suited to a pack of dogs carrying metal rakes and blow torches.

The end result is a film that takes itself very seriously, and aside from a few moments that work, Dogs is a some what sub-par addition to the much beloved Nature-Run-Amok genre.

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