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  Dogs A Four Legged Fiend
Year: 1976
Director: Burt Brinckerhoff
Stars: David McCallum, Sandra McCabe, George Wyner, Eric Server, Linda Gray, Dean Santoro, Holly Harris, Sterling Swanson, Barry Greenberg, Michael Davis, Russ Grieve, Cathy Austin, Paul Paolasso, Elizabeth Kerr, Lance Hool, Debbie Davis, Jimmy Stathis
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: On this Californian college campus, the staff like to socialise, though one member is less comfortable doing so than the others, he being Harlan Thompson (David McCallum), a professor there who doesn't suffer fools glady - he doesn't suffer anyone gladly, not even his date for the party, Caroline Donoghue (Sandra McCabe). But one anecdote reaches his ears which he does find intriguing: one of his fellow tutors was teaching his class when he was suddenly confronted by a savage dog which appeared ready to strike at him; this was dealt with but what if there was more to it and this was not simply an isolated incident? When Harlan is called away on an emergency call to a nearby ranch, he has to wonder...

For every Lassie, a Cujo, for every Benji, a Zoltan. As you may have guessed from the title, the creatures which have been attacking livestock are not wolves or coyotes, but dogs, family pets which have turned vicious in yet another revenge of nature movie from the seventies. Quite why all these showed up a good decade after Alfred Hitchcock started the cycle back in 1963 with The Birds is none too clear, maybe it kept getting broadcast on television at the end of the sixties and hatched a bunch of ideas in moviemakers' minds, or rather just the one idea, that animals are out for blood, and preferably human blood if possible. In this case, the idea was already playing itself out having attained an apex of sorts with Steven Spielberg's Jaws the previous year.

But this was no Jaws, even if it did have a mildly amusing quality born from the affrontery of setting itself above the earlier examples of the genre in the fifties where big animals, very big animals at that, were the villains. Harlan has a pointed speech about how such entertainments would be impossible since creatures cannot grow past a certain size before collapsing under their own weight, which is to assert his scientific credentials and the film's plot which tells us the wrong pheromones could send every dog in the world tearing out the throats of their masters and mistresses. Well, that's a lot more believable, cheers. Obviously there's not too many viewers who would swallow that, which results in titters when the friendly-looking mutts begin their rampage.

After making a start on cattle, the pooches graduate to humans slowly at first, picking off the occasional wayward human and almost always at night since that's a lot scarier and not because it's easier to hide the drawbacks in the makeup on the victims that way, not to mention some very noticeable wagging tails. Harlan is our voice of reason, yet he's such a grumpy bastard that nobody listens to him until it's too late, as if he were a doctor whose terrible bedside manner left his patients ignoring his advice. McCallum appears to be relishing the chance to act permanently pissed off (and slightly pissed too, as his character drinks too much, cliché fans), perhaps because he was less than enamoured with the material: his sci-fi series The Invisible Man had just been swiftly cancelled and thereafter he returned to Britain for work for a spell.

Nowadays he's better known for his recurring role on TV series NCIS than he is for his starmaking turn on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the sixties, but that essentially televisual frame of reference for his efforts affects his role in Dogs too, as with veteran small screen director Burt Brinckerhoff at the helm a lot was unmistakably televisual about this, think movie of the week on American networks and you're most of the way there, only with a shade more gore than you'd get at home viewing. Adding to that was an early role for an actress who would soon be taking part in one of the biggest series of all time, Sue Ellen Ewing herself, Linda Gray had a bimbo character to essay who in a rather silly sequence got to re-enact the shower scene from Psycho with a Dobermann instead of Mrs Bates. It all built up to a siege at the college where the idiot students ignore the pleas to stay inside and wander off en masse until the ravenous pack show up and commence chasing them, leading to hapless fat guy victim Howard (Barry Greenberg) stealing the scene. Much as you'd expect, but dimly distracting. Music by Alan Oldfield.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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