Films involving dogs can be especially memorable and to a certain generation of children, the climax of Martin Rosen’s Watership Down (1978) to this day remains one of the most shocking, alongside many adults’ memories first seeing the graveyard attack on Gregory Peck and David Warner by German Shepherds in The Omen (1976).
Dogs, originally released in 1976 and then subsequently on VHS under the alternate title of Slaughter, is a movie that emerged to capitalise on the immense success of the first modern blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).
It’s a man-vs-nature affair which belongs alongside the likes of Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978) and John Bud Cardos’ Kingdom Of The Spiders (1977), a precursor of Arachnophobia (1990) and one of William Shatner’s best non-Kirk movies.
David McCallum plays Harlan Thompson, the head of the Biology Department at a Southern California University, who is informed of local attacks on cattle in the countryside nearby by a local rancher. Upon examination of the carcasses, Thompson senses that the attackers could be a pack of dogs, as the bites on the bodies are of various sizes.
Before long, however, inexplicable impromptu attacks by the pet canines of the local residents begin to accelerate, prompting an air of terror and dread amongst not only the townspeople but also the college students in the school, heading towards the inevitable confrontation between Mankind and its’ best friend….
Like other horror films released around the time, Dogs certainly would be one that would make for a blood-thirsty remake under the guidance of Alexandre Aja, who has directed two very competent blood-soaked affairs with the likes of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 and the wonderfully tacky Piranha in 3D in 2010, which prompted a 2012 sequel, Piranha 3DD.
Although its heart and jugular are in the right place, and throughout the film there are sequences and moments that with a little more thought and attention could have turned this into another Jaws, Dogs suffers from sloppy editing and expectation which renders the key moments more silly than shocking.
Part of the problem is that the mix of breeds in the film, rather than the single breed focus of a film like The Omen, makes the dogs seem more playful than pernicious. The packaging also suggests that the film is going to be a bit more gnawing at the hearts and minds of the audience. The tagline ‘Don’t Pet Them, Fear Them’, for example, suggests a greater expectation of dread than what is actually presented here.
There is still a lot of appeal in this release. Fans of Linda Gray will have some joy in watching her brief appearance in this - and she does feature in a memorable scene - made before her success as Sue-Ellen Ewing in Dallas and fans of the original Hills Have Eyes will glimpse Russ Grieve as Homer, who played the head of the Carter Family in the classic 1977 film.
Another motivation for owning this Blu-ray release is not just for the film, but also for the extras on show, which include a mini-documentary on American Cinema Releasing, who were responsible for other key indie films of the period.
Disappointing, but worth a look.
DOGS (1976) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BURT BRINCKERHOFF / SCREENPLAY: O’BRIAN TOMALIN / STARRING: DAVID MCCALLUM, SANDRA MCCABE, GEORGE WYNER, LINDA GRAY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW