Dogs (1976)

Dogs (1976)

Don’t Pet Them … Fear Them!

In a small California town, mutilated cows are baffling the local authorities. It is clear that the attacks are not the work of coyotes or wolves but when some of the town’s citizens are found dead, the finger of blame is pointed at the town’s dogs which are grouping together in packs and inexplicably attacking people. A pair of college professors attempt to find out what is turning domestic pets into blood-thirsty killers before it is too late.

 

‘Animals attack’ films were all the rage in the 70s as every sort of animal imaginable suddenly become a man-eater, peaking with the monstrous success of Jaws in 1975 but taking in bees, spiders, grizzly bears, ants and frogs along the way to name a few. Preying upon fears that nature would begin to take revenge upon man’s meddling with the planet, Dogs places man’s best friend in the role of the avenger, striking back at mankind for whatever reason (it’s very sketchy at best). It’s hardly got enough in it to warrant cult status but Dogs was surprisingly effective in places. For someone who doesn’t like dogs, the thought of being ripped apart by them had already me freaking out a little beforehand. I guess if you’re a dog lover, then that notion becomes absurd.

The daft premise could have bombed had the material not been taken seriously but thankfully Dogs is as straight as they come. There’s not a joke or sight gag to be had though most likely lots of unintentional humour will arise should you decide to watch this with a few beers. Though the film is meant to be about the four-legged fiends of the title, too much time is spent with the talky, two-legged kind. There is about a twenty minute chunk of time from the title credits in which the main characters are introduced and talk academically and scientifically in very droll fashion. It’s a stretch to sit through it all but there are a couple of vague reasons thrown around for why the dogs are acting in this fashion. Nothing is really explained and the film ends in very similar anti-climactic fashion to Hitchcock’s The Birds in which more questions will be raised than answers.

After the half-way point, the film does pick up a lot of pace as more dog attacks happen and the film’s big set pieces begin to come into play. When the film finally gets into the correct gear, Dogs ticks off the right boxes and unleashes its horror elements. With the majority of the film taking place at night, there’s a suitably menacing vibe to the film. Seeing a pack of ravenous dogs charge out of the darkness towards their victims is an effective sight to send shivers down the spine. The dog attack look real, as stunt people are chewed on by real dogs, and as we all know from seeing dogs in real life, they can be quite aggressive and relentless when they get their teeth into something. The only weakness with the dogs is the lack of them – there are about twenty dogs in total, a variety of breeds, but you never really get the sense that the scale of this uprising is widespread.

Though the film isn’t very bloody, there’s enough splashed around to make it effective. Also adding to the ambiance is a creepy sound effect used when the dogs begin to howl and pack up before an attack – sort of like a warning alarm. This is used to good effect on a number of occasions, particularly during a nail-biting scene involving a drunk posse who have been camping out in the wilderness to hunt the menace, not realising what they have got themselves in for. It’s a fantastic sequence, well-shot, atmospheric and ratcheting up the tension as the posse can’t see the dogs but they can hear them getting closer and closer.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum is top-billed as the alcoholic hippie professor Harlan Thompson and pulls most of the movie together. He’s a bit irritating and abrupt at first but mellows out as the film progresses and he does less talking and more action. There’s good support from George Wyner too who will most likely be remembered more as a comedy actor for his roles as Colonel Sandurz from Spaceballs or the camp director from American Pie 2. Wyner is pretty solid in a straight role as the other college professor. Linda Gray would go to later worldwide fame in Dallas.

 

A dismal first half an hour kills off a lot of momentum that the second half should have had but Dogs tries it’s hardest to recover with some memorable moments and a honest approach which treats its daft idea with a lot of respect. It’s like The Birds…only with dogs…and it’s nowhere near as good. Thankfully the sequel teaser at the end involving a sinister-looking cat didn’t come to fruition.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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