Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

directed by curtis harrington
landers-roberts-zeitman productions

Man, I do NOT remember there being any made-for-TV movies like this when I was a kid – though admittedly, in 1978 my parents most likely would not have let me stay up late enough even on Halloween night, when this aired. (They weren’t that restrictive on content, for the most part, although how they would have felt about a possessed dog is anybody’s guess.) For such an offbeat premise, unfortunately, the product can be a little underwhelming. True, I didn’t expect the main character to wind up going to Quito, Ecuador, to consult a shaman in order to defeat the Barghest his family’s unwittingly adopted, because why would anyone mix up their various mythologies that way. Ultimately, the picture is saved by suchlike casual idiocy, managing to be thoroughly entertaining despite its limitations.

why did i watch this movie?

The power of Zoltan compelled me.

should you watch this movie?

You know, I’ve often thought of the made-for-TV horror picture as kind of a lesser creation, figuring it couldn’t possibly compete with its large-screen brethren and sistren, but it turns out this isn’t always the case.


highlight and low point

“It’s a monstrous thing, a goblin dog,” the occult bookseller tells Richard Crenna’s Mike Barry – “A man … hounded by his dog,” as he described himself to her with an abashed chuckle – and boy, she ain’t kidding.

The climactic and climatic final battle between Mike and Lucky the hellhound is a marvel of multiple-exposure imagery, and the portrayals of Betty, Bonnie and Charlie Barry as they slip toward infernal fealty are quite amusing. Unfortunately, we aren’t treated to nearly enough Satanic goings-on, especially given the promising opening.


rating from outer space: c−

Dracula’s Dog aka Zoltan, Hound of Dracula aka El perro de Satán (1977)

directed by albert band
vic cinema productions

So, “Dracula” as the world knows him doesn’t really appear in this movie – but an “Igor Dracula” does, along with one last descendant, a modern family man named “Michael Drake.” The story, such as it is, is a cockamamie concoction about a canine that I. Dracula long ago enlisted for some reason or another, along with its former owner – this picture’s Renfield, essentially – a quasi-vampire that can wander around in the daylight to do his bidding. Here, having been revived and in need of a master, these servants want to deliver M. Drake to his legacy. (Did you know that if you remove the stake from the heart of a vampire or near-vampire in its coffin, it comes back to, uh, “life”? I didn’t.) I cannot possibly convince you how preposterous this film is. I would like to point out, however, that relying on dogs to be your lead actors is not the world’s greatest idea.


why did i watch this movie?

A “Dracula” flick without Dracula, but with his … dog …

should you watch this movie?

It will certainly make you laugh – though it’s debatable what kind of laughter it will provoke – but unless you really want to see how NOT to make a movie, it’s not worth it.

highlight and low point

I did mention that this pic relies on dogs to carry a lot of the action, right? Zoltan himself dismantles the roof of a cabin at one point while his comrades compromise the walls. The overdubbed dog noises are also pretty special – barking, howling, growling, you name it. Nothing, however, tops the experience of repeated shots of loyal servant “Smit” staring idiotically into the camera while a voiceover intones “ZOLTAN.”
The family RV interlude comes close, though.

rating from outer space: n⁄a

adorable vampire puppy!

The Mutations aka The Freakmaker aka Dr. of Evil (1974)

directed by jack cardiff
getty picture corporation/cyclone productions

Roger Corman’s name somehow is not attached to this tale of a mad scientist creating hybrid creatures by meshing flora and fauna. “My theory of Total Genetics is all-embracing,” intones the dependably taciturn Donald Pleasence, playing the nutter professor with his hair and beard varying its balance of black and white from scene to scene. Presumably this movie has played countless times on the types of late-night programs that specialize in daffy, misbegotten, or just plain awful cinema. Not merely horror, this flick is equally science-fiction-flavored, all the better for those sorts of showcases. Contents: Plant/human hybrids, plant/animal hybrids, fake deformities, actual sideshow freaks, and a whole lotta stock footage of vegetation. The real star is either the ludicrous monster costume that looks like a deconstructionist Creature from the Black Lagoon (or Swamp Thing, I guess) or the hilarious props in the lab of Dr. Pleasence, a cross between the Little Shop of Horrors and the workplace of Bunsen Honeydew.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember, but probably because it sounded completely ridiculous. And Donald Pleasence.

should you watch this movie?

It’s the kind of presentation you enjoy while wondering how in the world any of the people involved possibly could have been taking their jobs seriously. It’s … definitely amusing.

highlight and low point

Once “Tony” escapes the lab in his hybridized form, the proceedings shift into another realm entirely. It’s almost must-see stuff, almost enough to justify sitting through the rest of it … such as the blatant exploitation of Freaks, for instance. Basically, the plot of Dr. Freakmaker (hmm … ) is grafted onto a rehashing of certain themes of that infamous pic, including an approximation of the “One of us!” scene and an abridged version of the revenge piece.

rating from outer space: C+

that’s not subtle

Haunted aka The Haunted (1977)

written and directed by michael de gaetano
northaire communications, inc.

Wow, I might owe an apology to a few of the other terrible movies I’ve lambasted, because compared to this abysmal folly, some of them look much better. While nothing could make films like Home Sweet Home and Monster look “good,” compared to this debacle, a relative respectability may be easier to obtain. It’s hard for me to precisely describe this fiasco, because the script is a disaster, the acting atrocious, the concept absurd, and the pacing and editing undisciplined and unstructured. You probably couldn’t write dialogue this poorly if you tried, and its recital is akin to unlettered folks reading cue cards with missing words and disorderly syntax. It’s astonishing. Unbelievably, the filmmaker claimed that budgetary constraints robbed his flick of its brilliant philosophical insights, but with what’s in evidence, that very idea strikes one as utterly asinine.

why did i watch this movie?

This intro doesn’t mention a “phone booth,” but the poster does. Details below!

should you watch this movie?

The fact that is even a possibility says too much about this modern world.

highlight and low point

A “phone booth” was a “box-like kiosk containing a public payphone.” A “public payphone” was – I am not making this up – a coin-operated telephone that stood alone in public spaces, so people could use them to make calls.

In this movie, a “phone booth” is erected in a cemetery for some damn fool reason, and it is claimed that this device allows Abanaki’s Indian spirit to inhabit a terrible English actress, but she never uses the structure until far too late for this to have occurred.

Any claim that reincarnation is involved in this picture is spurious at best.

rating from outer space: F

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

directed by tobe hooper
vortex, inc.

To paraphrase Chuck Eddy on Motörhead, “If you don’t know by now, you’re sure as hell not going to learn from me.” That’s more or less how I feel about this devastating picture, which retains its deeply unsettling effect with every viewing. No, it’ll never be the way it was the first time, when it felt the way a nightmare does – everything confounding, elements changing without rhythm or reason, with no apparent end to the confusion and tension – but it doesn’t need to be. This movie still gets my vote for terror champion of all time. Tobe Hooper never came close to matching it, but you don’t catch lightning in a bottle more than once.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a personal favorite, but this time I watched it because Johnny Ramone ranks it third on his list. Only third, John? (Johnny also thought that “loud guitars” were what made the Ramones great, so … )

should you watch this movie?

Of course, but again, I’m a bit biased. Not only is this the pinnacle of horror in my opinion, it’s also one of my three favorite movies of any sort. (Trivia! The other two are Fargo and Repo Man.)

highlight and low point

The moment when film audiences first meet Leatherface is one of the greatest moments in scare cinema, and Sally and Pam variously exploring different rooms of the house are highly disturbing moments, but the scene that begins as Sally seeks refuge in Drayton’s gas station barbecue outpost does it for me every time. Some of the vaguely suggested parallels between the teens and the family of killers are never explored, and Sally escaping the remote farmhouse twice in the same manner might be a bit questionable (although the first time is astonishing).

rating from outer space: A+

Silent Night, Bloody Night aka Night of the Dark Full Moon aka Death House aka Deathouse (1972)

directed by theodore gershuny
cannon films/jeffrey konvitz productions/armor films inc.

Mainly filmed in 1970 but not finished or released until 1972, this poorly constructed, many-titled movie shows the strain of its uncertain, prolonged creation. The editing is particularly touch-and-go, as scenes hopscotch abruptly. Plus, early on, plentiful stills and freeze-frame shots dominate, sorta like in a Ken Burns documentary. Eventually the production commences with typical cinematic techniques and practices, but at a critical later juncture turns sepia tone, and subsequently seems to attempt an approach on German Expressionist territory. These latter changes are in service of flashbacks explaining the story, because someone must have realize it wasn’t coherent. Despite that, one of the characters still has to drop more knowledge on the audience more or less out of the blue. The opening and closing scenes appear to have been shot separately from the rest of the picture and appended later, and although their narration also is meant to help tie things together, it doesn’t.

why did i watch this picture?

It’s Christmas season, and the events of this film occur on Christmas Eve, as did a supposedly pivotal event 20 years earlier. (The only evidence of this is occasional background music.)

Should you watch this movie?

I cannot in good faith recommend that course of action.

highlight and low point

Even when crucial plot points are revealed, some of them still don’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, the fact that the owner of the house around which the film is centered turned it into a mental hospital at some point, then freed the patients – blaming them for mayhem that ensued – and then spent most of the next 20 years living in a mental hospital himself, apparently by choice. Actually, that’s the linchpin of this whole muddle. Now you don’t have to watch it!

rating from outer space: D+

Axe (1977) aka Lisa, Lisa (1974) aka California Axe Massacre

written and directed by frederick r. friedel
frederick productions/Boxoffice international pictures, inc.
a harry novak presentation

Despite its bare-bones script, rudimentary plot development, bland camerawork, lethargic pacing, and some less-than-inspired acting performances, I found this flick interesting. Possibly its very simplicity helped, as might its hints that latent violent tendencies on behalf of the victim/avenger were merely awaiting a particular catalyst to turn from self-directed to outwardly focused. Those suggestions gave this film enough of a push not only to overcome its brevity (barely an hour running time) but to invest the enigmatic acting of its female star with a compelling strength that it may not otherwise have warranted. Strangely, this rape-revenge pic (of sorts) isn’t much of an exploitation flick, despite containing all the elements – it’s probably the most restrained and puritanical production possible featuring three murders, a sexual assault, an attempted rape and a police shooting. I always wonder why and how films of this ilk were produced … and in this case, it’s because Friedel – a complete novice, as it turns out – wanted to break into the film business, and somehow sold an investor on this scheme.

why did i watch this movie?

You probably figure it’s because it’s called “Axe” and you know I can’t ignore films titled so … succinctly, but it’s actually because the original title, “Lisa, Lisa,” provoked thoughts of the many amusing movie names bandied about on Seinfeld. (My personal favorite being “Ponce de León.”)

should you watch this movie?

We’re living in a society here, people.

highlight and low point

The many different scenes in which a closeup focuses on the weapon in Lisa, Lisa’s hand tickled my fancy, and Leslie Lee’s nearly unchanging deportment in her depiction also fascinated. The writer/director’s acting as “Billy” is impressively lousy, despite the wise choice of name.

rating from outer space: C+