Sunday, 22 November 2009

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

D'awwww! Cutest satanic Hell hound ever!

If the 1970s were to be believed, Satanists were everywhere. Sure they had their two-pronged strategy of recording hidden messages in heavy metal music and corrupting the youth through Dungeons & Dragons (apparently sweaty teenage nerds were Satan's prime demographic) but did you know that roving gangs of Satanists were also seeding happy suburban communities with devil dogs? It's all documented in this made-for-TV movie from 1978, which I'm assuming is 100% true and historically accurate. Yep, evil Satanic cults were picking out the finest breeding bitches they could find and after an occult ceremony, replete with purple robes (one guy is wearing huge sunglasses with his outfit which is actually pretty awesome), candles, pentagrams, chanting etc, the poor dog is up-the-duff with a whole litter of devil dogs.

A couple of months later, happy suburban couple Mike and Betty Barry are driving home after making the final preparations for their daughter Bonnie's 10th birthday party. Uh-oh! It seems that their poor dog Skipper is roadkill. Their neighbour claims he was run over by a mysterious black station wagon. Sure, a sedan would have been more menacing but Satanists need plenty of room in the back for devil dogs. You'd think somebody would have at least moved Skipper's corpse out of the road; he must have been there a while because when Mike picks him up he's as stiff as a board.

Bonnie is inconsolable, but luckily a way-too-friendly farmer pulls up out front offering locally grown fruit and vegetables. After pointedly offering the boy a shiny red apple (symbolism!) he reveals a big pile of puppies in the back of his truck, claiming he has to get rid of them before sundown (or he stuffs them in a bag and drowns them in the bathtub, I assume). Who could turn down an offer like that? Of course the guy is a Satanist in a rather elaborate disguise, but what I want to know is, are the fruits and vegetables evil too? Did some poor suburbanite buy a harmless-looking eggplant only to end up making the Baba Ghanoush... of Beelzebub?

Bonnie names her new dog Lucky and the whole family immediately falls in love with him. Everybody that is, except for the housekeeper, Maria. Confronting Mike, she says the puppy gives her a "scary feeling all over" and begs him to get rid of it. Mike condescendingly replies "Let me think about this, Maria" and all but makes a "cuckoo" gesture with his finger, but Maria is proved right when Lucky uses his psychic puppy powers to burn her alive with the candles from her own Catholic shrine of warding. Cut to a year later and Mike knows there's something suspicious about that dog, especially when it tries to hypnotise him into sticking his hand into a whirling lawnmower blade. Could've been a tense moment but it's a TV movie so you know nothing is going to happen.

Unfortunately, that's one of the big problems with this film. Don't be fooled by the DVD with the angry dog and firghtened Haley-Joel-Osment-looking kid on the cover. Devil dog doesn't actually maul anyone in this film; in fact he doesn't even growl or bare his teeth (except for the rare times he appears in his true demonic form). The neighbour's great dane is mauled to death, presumably by devil dog, but it occurs off screen and it's corpse is discreetly covered by a white sheet with nary a drop of blood to be seen. The neighbour himself also suffers an offscreen death at the hands of devil dog, but it's apparently by drowning in the pool. Come on, he's a satanic hell hound! Let's see some claws and fangs! All devil dog does is stare. He stares and he stares, and any dog owner will tell you that staring is pretty typical behaviour for a dog. It's one of their favourite things to do.

In one particularly hilarious scene, devil dog has a staring competition with Betty as she sits in an easy chair reading a magazine. Every time she looks up she is shocked to see that devil dog has moved a little bit closer, which might be scary for an inanimate object but I'm pretty sure that it's normal behaviour for a dog. Nevertheless, Betty is so terrified that she flees into the bedroom with devil dog trotting lethargically after her, his corrupting influence transforming her into a super-slut. Suddenly she's wearing low-cut dresses and wants to bone Mike in the neighbour's pool. Scandalous! Before long Betty and the two kids are standing around giggling like hyenas while playing table tennis (aka the devil's tennis).

Bonnie and Mike receive a visit from Charlie, the school counsellor, who reveals that both of the children have been lying and stealing. Their son has even blackmailed his way to class presidency! Mike is concerned but Betty is now part of Team Devil Dog and tells Charlie, in a safe-for-TV manner, to go fuck himself. Charlie vows to look into things further but devil dog ain't having none of that shit. He runs to Charlie's house in slow motion with spooooky music (although I like to imagine the Baywatch theme song instead) and reveals his true form: a dog with a wig, devil horns and a cheesy filter effect. By this stage I was hoping for a good old-fashioned mauling but instead Charlie goes insane with fear (what a pussy) runs out into the street and gets splattered by a passing car.

By this time Mike thinks there is definitely something Satan-y about all this and his suspicions are confirmed when he follows his wife and kids up to the attic and finds them performing occult rituals and painting pictures of demons. Naturally the family GP thinks he's nuts but when Mike sees a news report about a dog that mauled a bunch of people (shit, why couldn't the movie have been about that dog) he knows something has to be done. He grabs a pistol, loads devil dog into the car and drives out into the desert, but when he tries to give Lucky a .44 caliber lobotomy the bullets have no effect. Foolish mortal, devil dog cannot be destroyed by mere bullets!

Mike then visits a crazy old woman in an occult bookstore who tells him to hold a mirror to the face of his sleeping family to see the true nature of their souls. When he does so his daughter Bonnie looks like Regan from The Exorcist, so I guess they fail the Satan test. Next Mike is off to Ecuador to find more information about the demon (apparently it's from Ecuador or something) and it just so happens that his cab driver's great grandfather is a Shaman who knows all about devil dogs and speaks perfect English, so that's handy. It seems that Mike is the chosen one, the only one with the power to defeat the devil dog bla, bla bla, and he gives Mike a tattoo on the palm of his hand that he can use to destroy the devil dog once and for all.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that Mike's final showdown with Lucky is pretty lame, but as Mike loads his back-to-normal family into the car for a well-deserved vacation, his son asks, pointedly: "What about the rest of the dogs in the litter?" Do I smell a sequel? Well, no actually. It's really hard to imagine what the makers of this film were thinking. A cute puppy with Village of the Damned style glowing eyes and a dog that just stares at people are not exactly the stuff of nightmares, unless you have some really fucked up nightmares. I still think it's worth a watch and it's pretty entertaining for a 70s TV movie but one thing's for certain: The wallpaper in the Barry household is far more frightening that anything conjured up by Devil Dog.

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