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  Pack, The This whole town's gone to the dogs
Year: 1977
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Joe Don Baker, Hope Alexander-Willis, Richard B. Shull, R.G. Armstrong, Ned Wertimer, Bibi Besch, Delos V. Smith Jr., Richard O’Brien, Sherry Miles, Paul Willson, Eric Knight, Steve Lytle, Rob Narke, Peggy Price, Steve Butts
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: For years tourists abandoned their unwanted dogs on Seal Island. Now the ravenous mutts form a malevolent, murderous pack terrorizing people at this remote holiday resort. Marine biologist Jerry (Joe Don Baker) moved here with his young son following the death of his wife and is now rebuilding his life alongside girlfriend Millie (Hope Alexander Willis) and her little boy. Jerry and local entrepreneur Clyde Hardiman (Richard B. Shull) greet a boatload of new visitors including bullying banker Jim Dodge (Richard O’Brien), his portly son Tommy (Paul Willson, later a regular on sitcom Cheers), business partner Harry Walker (Ned Wertimer), secretary Marge (Bibi Besch) and ostensible cook Lois (Sherry Miles), unaware their weekend fishing retreat will be ruined when the crazed canines attack.

Killer dogs ran wild in the late Seventies, of both the supernatural (Zoltan… Hound of Dracula (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)) and “regular” rabid varieties as in this nature-gone-amuck horror-thriller based on a novel by David Fisher. You sense after birds and sharks, studios were looking for the next scary animal to exploit and dogs are a good choice given their lives are inextricably bound to man. The idea that your loving pet could turn against you is an unsettling one but though Enter the Dragon (1973) director Robert Clouse, who also scripted, includes a subplot about a cute abandoned Lassie type joining the pack and pairs Jerry with a loyal German Shepherd, he drops this promising element in favour of a standard siege-based scenario.

Clouse, who was probably hired to helm the underwhelming James Herbert adaptation Deadly Eyes (1982) on the relative strength of this obscure effort, builds a sense of unease from the brisk, yet well photographed opening reel wherein a horse is hunted down by wild dogs. The island is an atmospheric location with dense forests and eerily isolated farmhouses and interestingly the dogs, all quality canine actors, aren’t the usual violent breeds but include such normally placid animals as the Dalmatian, spaniel and border collie. One good set-piece finds Millie trapped inside a car that the ravenous pack slowly rips apart, but too often Clouse’s slack direction saps suspense. The sequence where the pack terrorize blind hermit McMinnimee (Delos V. Smith Jr.) is ruined by the old man’s incessant narration (“Oh my god, that window’s open out back!”).

Further edging things towards unintentional camp is a crass subplot about Dodge’s obsession with getting his sexually indifferent, thirty-something son laid by all-purpose bimbo Lois (“He didn’t even try to grab my tits!”) alongside the cruel, yet hilarious spectacle of overweight Tommy failing to elude the pursuing pack in blubber-jiggling slow motion. Local misanthrope Cobb (R.G. Armstrong) gets a guilty laugh by observing if Tommy “has any sense he’ll climb up a tree, if he can get his fat ass off the ground!”

Reunited with Clouse after the strange caper movie Golden Needles (1974), Joe Don Baker makes a solid hero in the Rod Taylor mould, briskly efficient in his attempts to save friends, family and strangers, but the supporting characters are guilty of jaw-dropping stupidity. Jerry’s tense standoff with the pack’s scary-looking leader is a highpoint as is the lush score Lee Holdridge. Clouse raises a point about people callously dumping their unwanted pets, but does nothing with it and ends on a cutesy scene to appease dog-lovers everywhere.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Robert Clouse  (1928 - 1997)

American director who, after directing Darker Than Amber, settled into a string of martial arts thrillers starting with the Bruce Lee favourite Enter the Dragon. His other films include Golden Needles, Black Belt Jones, The Ultimate Warrior, Game of Death, The London Connection, The Big Brawl, camp classic Gymkata, China O'Brien and its first sequel.

 
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