Thursday, January 19, 2017

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1977)

aka Dracula’s Dog

While excavating whatever in Romania, some Soviet soldiers stumble upon the crypt of the family Dracula, all family members apparently properly staked in their coffins. Alas, during the night watch, a sleepy guard without basic folkloristic knowledge frees one of the staked undead. It’s…Zoltan, Dracula’s rather large (vampire) doggy! Well, actually, Zoltan is more the dog of old Drac’s Renfield (or in the film’s parlance, “fractional lamia”) Veidt Schmidt (Reggie Nalder). After dispatching the soldier, Zoltan awakens Schmidt, and off they trot to find themselves a new master.

For this, they need to find the last of the Dracula family, who had been secreted out of the country when he was still a small boy. He’s all grown up now, going by the name of Michael Drake (Michael Pataki) and living the life of the working rich (or as the Americans say, “upper middleclass”) together with his wife Marla (Jan Shutan), their kids Linda (Libby Chase) and Steve (John Levin), as well as a dog couple and their new pups. Michael is obviously no vampire (please insert joke about bloodsucking upper classes here), but that doesn’t mean Zoltan and Schmidt – well, mostly Zoltan – aren’t going to try to turn him into one.

It certainly offers a nice opportunity for this sort of shenanigans that the Drakes are just going off on a camping trip in their RV somewhere a bit isolated from other campers. It’s all set for our bad guys to create a tiny vampire dog army to bite Michael, instead of just grabbing him and be done with it.

Fortunately, Romanian fearless vampire hunter Inspector Branko (José Ferrer) is on the case, and might just come to provide rescue and exposition before Zoltan is finished sniffing Michael’s butt.

As you probably realized already when reading its title, Albert Band’s Zoltan, Hound of Dracula is a pretty daft movie. Or rather, it is about half of the time, for some of its ideas are actually rather interesting, if one can only get away from the basic silliness of the vampire dog, the unfortunate glowy eyes effect the dog vampires have, the unnecessarily complicated plan to vampirize Michael the bad guys have, and so on and so forth.

About half of these screwy ideas are at least rather funny, like the vampire dog army part of the villains’ master plan, or the film’s final “shock” scene that is based on that most horrifying of creatures, an adorable vampire puppy. The other half, alas, is just a bit dumb without going off either into the stratosphere of the really bizarre or managing to reach the point where you just accept the stupid bits as a normal parts of the film’s world.

On the other hand, Zoltan’s isn’t trying to be funny at all. The film shows total conviction of being Very Serious Shit, and in some scenes, this approach does pay off. Despite everything around them, most of the dog attacks are pretty well done and suspenseful, with the short siege sequence the film’s obvious high point much preferable to its actual climax. In general, Band does manage some rather moody scenes that make effective use of the outdoors locations; unfortunately, in other scenes, things bog down to mediocre TV movie levels with basically nailed on camera, adding another somewhat schizophrenic element to the film.

Reggie Nalder certainly has the right presence for his role but I find it rather difficult to take a villain all that seriously who more often than not doesn’t actually do anything but lets his dog do all the work. Dracula apparently wasn’t a man of good henchmen choices. The rest of the acting is pleasantly competent, even when the actors have to fight through dialogue that probably aims for naturalistic but lands on mildly improbable and generally bland.

Which really is Zoltan’s problem in a nutshell: it’s neither strange or plain bad enough to be enjoyed in this way, not consciously funny enough to work as a comedy, nor so consistently effective I’m ever able to completely forget how silly it is. It’s still a film worth watching at least once in one’s life, mind you, if only to compare it with Devil Dog and Monster Dog.

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