Monday, March 3, 2014

"The Pack" (1977) d/ Robert Clouse

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In a world gone to the dogs, as Prospero and Jacopetti so eloquently stated back in the tumultuous sixties, it was only a matter of time before "man's best friend" finally turned the tables on us in the form of a couple of marginal survival horror/thrillers released towards the middle of the following decade. So what transformed these furry tail waggin', leg liftin', tongue waggin' pals o' ours into snarling, pack-minded, frothy-jawed biters of human meat? Prolonged exposure to Mason Reese's infernal Underwood deviled ham commercials / Paul Lynde musical numbers that feature Roz Kelly in a tune-carrying capacity / disco-themed action slacks ? Come to think of it, all of those things induce bloody rabies madness with billowing froth like a volcano o' violence, no matter how the frig you look at it. Tonight's review, the better of the aforementioned pair of killer dog movies (The less-satisfying 'Dogs'(1976) being the other), was written and directed by the guy responsible for Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon four years earlier, and stars Joe Don Baker, still riding a wave of "Walking Tall" popularity four years later.

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"Now, you want me to make out with her? Can't I just bat her in the face instead?"
Right from the outset, we see how Seal Island's titular feral pack grows in number, as a vacationing family abandons their summertime pal, leaving the whining collie tied up in the woods, as they depart for home with fall weather on their heels. Apparently, lots of folks discarded their pets after a satisfying holiday together, culminating in an apex hunting party of flea-bitten mutts led by a particularly ornery-looking mongrel-beast, driven by equal parts hatred and hunger in dispatching adult horses, and even local blind hermits. Enter Jerry (Baker), the local widowed marine biologist(!) growing roots on the island with his young arm candy, Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and their two sons. In between some slobbery make out sessions and upright parenting, Jerry begins to notice the looming canine threat when the pack punks the family dog out of his junkyard rabbit chase and later terrorizes Millie in her Volkswagen, forcing him to alert the remaining islanders to the danger of the murderous reverse-Lassie's with a vicious storm impending.

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...just as the car's eight track player chewed up her new David Soul album.
Among the sitting ducks-turned-human chew toys are a grizzled old angler (R.G. Armstrong), a local merchant (Richard Shull), a banker named Dodge (Richard O'Brien), his girl Marge (Bibi Besch), his drape son, Tommy (Paul Willson), and a happening chick named Lois (Sherry Miles) that Dodge has brought along in an attempt to "man" his withdrawn wallflower of a son up a bit. Naturally, the dogs whittle down the survivors' numbers; sending Tommy to plummeting cliff death (a seventies favorite, for sure), eating Lois alive in a barn, and tearing ol' Dodge up like he was one of your good loafers safely tucked away in the back of the closet, before Jerry and company can orchestrate a dramatic final showdown with the killer pack in one of the abandoned houses. His meticulous study of shrimp must have included classes on pyrotechnics and stunt falls, as he manages to set the house ablaze with the majority of mad dogs inside, impaling the main mongrel, Tepes-style on a sharpened radiator pipe (!!) after rolling off the roof, and even winning back the trust of the surviving abandoned collie from the first reel before the end credits finally roll. I think everything's gonna be alright here, afterall...

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"I SAID...Roll that motherfuckin' beautiful bean footage..."
Though you'd rightfully expect to come away from tonight's movie mostly underwhelmed by the final product given the 'Meh' factor of the anti-Benji subject matter and much of the supporting cast, the performances of Baker, Besch, and an underutilized R.G. Armstrong, meshed with the film's realistic dog attacks, prove effective enough in raising tense vibes throughout to elevate this one out of the decade's prolific celluloid heap. Probably the best killer dog movie this side of 1983's Cujo or Wilderness (2006), it's available on dvd-r through Warner Archives. On the scale, a respectable deuce.

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Luckily, we've kept the island's damage to a minimum...
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