Thursday, May 28, 2009

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

Directed by Curtis Harrington. This just might be the most important TV movie of its era. First, how could anyone regard as scary a horror movie that shares its title with the name of a pre-packaged pastry? This may tip the hand that none of these TV movies were made with a straight face. When I point a finger and chuckle at "Diary of a Teenage Streetwalker, Hitchhiker and Hot Dog Vendor," maybe the joke is on me.

I love this movie.
  • I love that the brother and sister in it are played by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, both of whom played the brother and sister witches in Disney's "Escape to Witch Mountain" (1975) and "Return From Witch Mountain" (1978). Is this some evil-twin sequel? Booooo!
  • I love that the kids name the dog Lucky. Get it? That's like naming the hero who dies at the end of your movie J.C. Crossnailed.
  • I love that the family's housekeeper of some unspecified ESL nationality warns the family that "there is something evil" about the little puppy they have adopted, because if there's one thing I know from movies like this it's that little foreign people can detect supernatural energy that WASPs can't.
  • I love that the dog possesses the family members one-by-one but it apparently happens during the commercial breaks. Is he like a vampire, biting them somewhere? Is he peeing demonically on their respective bedroom carpets? Heaven forbid, is he humping them into some satanic state?
  • I love that possession seems to affect everyone very differently. The son seems to have some very vague but morbid plan involving a lot of blood, though fortunately with no specified timeline for completion. The daughter, limited by the acting range of Kim Richards, changes from confused by life to angry with life. Mom suddenly seems very horny.
There is one thing the possessed people do share in common. Like that rule that little foreign people can detect evil that white people can't, possessed people are only amused by confusion expressed by non-possessed people. In fact, to them this is the funniest thing ever. To them it's like the just got the first Steve Martin record:

Non-Possessed Person: "My God, why are you acting like this?"

Any Possessed Person: "HAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHA!"

Naturally, there's also a great scene when Dad (Richard Crenna, though it could have been anybody), finds Someone Who Knows About This Stuff who explains what the hell is going on so that Dad can get the third act of the picture into gear, when he gets everything back to normal.

The third act is massively padded because obviously there is no B-story to resolve, no character development, and no subtext. If you've seen "The Exorcist," you know the rule: kick the demon out and you get your life back. All it takes is whatever poem, magic beans or special effects the friggin director wants to put you through and/or the budget will allow.

Fortunately, there is not much budget here and the director is Curtis Harrington, a guy whose most immediate projects were episodes of "Charlie's Angels," "Wonder Woman" and "Dynasty." Boom! Guess whether good or evil triumph.

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