When their beloved dog is killed in a hit-and-run, clean-cut kids Bonnie (Kim Richards) and Charlie Barrie (Ike Eisenmann) buy a cute puppy from an evil travelling greengrocer (R.G. Armstrong). We know he's evil not just on account of his high-priced vegetables but because a prologue has him part of the satanic cult led by Hammer vixen Martine Beswick! These hooded miscreants chant before a portrait of Beelzebub himself and plant the demon seed inside a poor, unsuspecting Alsatian. That's right - the Barrie family bought a puppy that was spawned by Satan!
Sporting one of the loopiest plotlines in horror movie history, this made-for-TV schlock classic fits snugly into the cycle of late Seventies demon doggy movies alongside Zoltan... Hound of Dracula (1977) and The Pack (1977). Quite why Hollywood turned so vehemently against man's best friend during this period is unclear, though it may have had something to do with all those satanic pets featured in The Omen (1976) and its first sequel. No sooner has the little puppy, whom the kids christen Lucky (which was the name of my first dog - yikes!), inveigled his way into the Barrie household then his glowing green eyes spook the Great Dane next door (related to Scooby-Doo, perhaps?). When their devoutly religious housekeeper warns dad Mike (Richard Crenna) the dog is evil, little Lucky sets her arm ablaze so she burns to death.
Soon the kids are acting surly (err, they're teenagers, right?) and hold a candlelit black mass in the attic. Mom Betty (Yvette Mimieux) is transformed into a sultry siren who lures Mike into the neighbour's pool for a spot of alfresco sex (hey, even Satanism has its up side), then moves onto adultery (spoke too soon) with school councillor Miles Amory (Dallas' Cliff Barnes himself, Ken Kercheval). Lucky mauls Cliff, sorry, Miles and the Great Dane and its friendly owner (Lou Frizzell) to death and tries to make Mike shove his hand inside his lawnmower. Bullets bounce off the devil dog's hide and Mike realises he was born three decades too soon to call the dog whisperer. Fortunately a helpful spiritualist leads him to a take a trip to Ecuador where a mystical shaman (Victor Jory) tattoos his hand with a powerful talisman.
In spite of its silly premise, horror veteran Curtis Harrington and his solid cast approach Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell with an admirably straight face. The film is notable for reuniting child stars Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann who appeared in tons of genre movies throughout the Seventies, most famously Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain (1975). The pair most recently reunited to cameo in the remake: Race to Witch Mountain (2009), although Eisenmann also directed a spoof documentary with Richards called The Blair Witch Mountain Project (2002).
The problem with devil movies is that none of these satanic master plans stand up to close scrutiny. Quite what old Lucifer intends to accomplish by sending demonic dogs to make kids act stroppy, is never made clear. Instead, the devil becomes an easy answer for everything sour about late Seventies society: disobedient kids, marital discord, lunatic fruit and veg vendors (seriously, what is up with that?). However, this is pulp horror nonsense at its most oddly compelling. Harrington marshals some suspenseful sequences as when Mimieux is trapped alone at home with the devil dog and a mirror held beside a sleeping Bonnie reveals her demonic soul. And though slow-mo shots of Lucky running through the dark set to "ooh-ee-ooh" electronic music tread perilously close to camp, those who caught this as youngsters have never forgotten the delirious finale where the devil dog manifests in a ball of flames as a hideous horned goblin with frilly neckwear.