I've had the DVD of the 1978 made-for-TV flick Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell sitting on my shelf forever; I'd been saving it for a special occasion, you see, the way others might save the "good" china or a box of boob-shaped pasta. What...specialer occasion is there than the end of Animals Run Amok Week 2, I ask you? None! None specialer! Though the bar for evil dog movies had already been set somewhat high by Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, I was still looking forward to this movie like crazy. Let's face it, Satan trumps Dracula. And after countless days of anticipation, did Devil Dog live up to the hype created in my head? Well, ask yourself...does anything?
Yes, sometimes things DO! Geez, don't be so bitter and cynical.
One fine sunny afternoon, a creepy bunch of people show up at a kennel, looking for that perfect bitch who's ready to breed. As a savvy DVD box reader, I knew that these creepy people were in fact satanists and were looking for a dog to sire pups from Hell; immediately I wondered how the dog was going to get pregnant. All sorts of terrible thoughts ran through my head as I reimagined the "This is no dream! This is really happening!" sequence from Rosemary's Baby...to my great relief, however, there's only a simple ceremony. The wind howls! The sky turns red! The dog barks! It is...pregnant!
On another fine sunny afternoon, Mike and Betty Barry (Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux) come home to find their dog Skipper dead in the road. A neighbor rushes over and claims to have seen the terrible accident: Skipper was run over by a big black station wagon with a yellow sign in the back that read SATAN'S MINIONS ON BOARD. OK, that's not entirely true. The dog was hit by a big black station wagon though, which just made me laugh. The Satanmobile is a damn station wagon.
Barry kids Charlie and Bonnie (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who were both in the Witch Mountain movies- Escape to and Return From- and can you believe Devil Dog has reunited the Witch Mountain kids and omigod how awesome is that?) don't have to mourn Skipper for long; soon enough a fruit truck pulls up outside the family home, offering fruit and puppies. Eeeeeevil puppies! Bonnie immediately falls in love with one pup- she names him Lucky and brings him home.
Lucky soon begins Zoltan-esque displays of power, meaning he stares and his eyes glow. Maria, the Barry's housekeeper, suspects something is hinky with the pooch- she begs Mike to get rid of Lucky, saying "He gives me a scary feeling all over!" Shockingly, Mike doesn't think this is enough evidence to get rid of the family pet. When Maria and Lucky are left alone, however, it's on...meaning Lucky stares, Maria clutches her crucifix necklace, Lucky stares some more, and Maria sets herself on fire when her robes hit her evil-wardin' candles. Eyyaaagh!
We fast forward a year in which apparently nothing much happens. Lucky is all grown up now, and it's The Parents Barry who are beginning to suspect that the dog is eeeeevil. With the power of his stare, Lucky almost forces Mike to thrust his own hand into the spinning blades of a lawn mower! Bad dog! And in a sequence that's nothing short of absolutely fucking hysterical, Betty faces off with Lucky. By "faces off with Lucky", I mean that every time Betty looks up from her magazine, Lucky has...gasp! choke!...moved closer!
After this terrifying showdown (yes, that's all that happens), Betty and the kids start acting awfully weird. The kids are lippy and sullen, and Betty has started smoking. Lucky kicks things into high gear by killing a neighbor and his dog- well, we can assume the dead bodies are Lucky's doing, I suppose, though all the dog actually does is stare.
Betty and Mike get a visit from Charlie's guidance counselor Miles (Ken Kercheval, yes, of Dallas, so you know I was psyched), who expresses concern for Charlie's outrageous behavior- it seems The Son Barry cheated his way to the class presidency! He's becoming corrupt! Mike expresses concern, while Betty, who's becoming corrupt herself, expresses get the fuck out of my house you nosy bastard. Later that night, Lucky takes off for Miles's house- the shots of the dog running down the street are shown in slow motion and are accompanied by "oooOOOooo" music so you know it's supposed to be scary. When Lucky arrives, there's a puff of smoke and he transforms into...a different breed of dog with horns and a Tina Turner wig.
Well, Miles is frightened anyway, and he runs out into the road only to get creamed by a car.
OK, now Mike is totally convinced that his family is being weird and all these people are dying because of the dog. He goes investigating and finds his family's Super Secret Satan Clubhouse (no nuns allowed!) in the attic. He family proclaims innocence...I mean, whoever heard of satanists who wear jammie jams?
Mike is not convinced though, and fearing he's next on Lucky's hit list, he seeks the guidance of some broad who owns an occult bookstore. She hands him a pamphlet titled "So You Think Your Family Members Are Satanists..." (I wish) and tells him to try The Ultimate Satan Test: hold a mirror up to a sleeping person's face; if the reflection shows a gnarly face, the sleeping person is in cahoots with The Devil! If'n his wife and kids and dog truly are in cahoots, Mike will need to travel to Ecuador because...umm...the demon possessing his family will be...umm...Ecuadorian. Yeah, it made no sense. Anyway, Mike goes home and administers the test...
Uh oh! Bonnie's not looking so sweet!
Mike heads off to Ecuador, and just by sheer coincidence his cabdriver happens to have a great-grandfather who's a shaman or something and knows all about this demon shit. Mike finds the shaman, who is very wise and decked out in a sweet snowboarding hat.
The shaman advises Mike to let him give Mike a tattoo on his hand that can be used to defeat the Devil Dog by...showing it to the dog; he also advises Mike to do the Dew.
With his bitchin' new palm tat, Mike returns to the US and has a final showdown with Lucky. Lucky gets his Tina Turner on, Mike shows off his tattoo, and Lucky disappears in the "flames".
Hooray! Mike has saved the day...or has he? There were ten puppies in that litter! Where are the other nine satanic dogs? Could one be in...your house? Could your dog be a...DEVIL DOG?
OK, let me just paraphrase the late great film critic Pauline Kael for a moment here: this movie is absolutely retarded. Putting aside the whole "hound of Hell" idea and its inherent retardedness for a moment, this movie really does not deliver the goods. I mean, I'm not trying to tell Satan's minions how to do their job or anything, but the damn dog doesn't even bite anyone! Come on! All he does is stare. Stare stare stare and pant. Sure, when he goes into Tina Turner mode he bares he teeth, but...he only bares his teeth! And besides, "Tina Turner mode" is scary for reasons probably not intended by the filmmakers. I realize this is a made-for-TV venture, but that's no excuse- I've seen scarier episodes of Antiques Roadshow.
But at the beginning of this review, didn't I say that Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell lived up to the hype I'd created for it? Yes I did- and the movie did live up to all my expectations. I knew it would be stupid, and I hoped it would be fun. Goals met! Seriously, I defy any one of you to sit straight-faced through the Betty-Lucky showdown sequence. Click here for the trailer- you can't tell me you don't want to see this movie, even if you know it sucks! There's a satanist in sunglasses for crying out loud!