The Tour Through Hell takes us to the house pet corner of the inferno with two reviews of demonic dog flicks. The first is ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA, in which a spray painted dog attempts to bore an audience to death. He does.
Where I grew up, there were four families that owned Dobermans within eight houses. One of my formative memories from childhood was when the next door neighbor’s Doberman broke out of the fence that divided our properties. Shooting like a bullet at my mom, the dog leapt into the air, teeth at the ready. In the split second the dog had been in the air, my own German Shepherd Heidi had fired across the side lot, leapt into the air herself, and caught the Doberman by the throat. She thrashed the dog around until, bested, it rambled home whimpering. Heidi saved my mom from serious injury that day, and probably saved her life. As this story shows, dogs can be scary. They’re predators with sharp teeth designed to tear flesh, and they run much faster than we humans do. So having a vampire dog should only increase the potential for fright. Now we would have a super fast, sharp fanged undead monster out to suck blood and turn both people and dogs into walking corpses. Done right, this could be an intriguing concept. Done wrong, the result would be… well, ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA, a vampire dog movie that is more boring than watching silver spray paint dry (I’ll get back to that in a bit).
The film begins in an indiscriminate country, with some unnamed army blowing up the countryside for no other reason that to further plot. Unearthing a crypt, the soldiers enter and find the walls lined with the tombs of the Dracula family. As all but one soldier remains in the crypt, an aftershock causes the wall to spit out two of the coffins it holds. The soldier opens the coffin, and pulls out a wooden stake from the corpse, an act that awakens… Zoltan! Hound of Dracula! (Yes, this is one of those movies in which the characters commit ridiculous acts merely to move the plot along. But hey, did you think you were getting into cerebral fare when you decided to read a review of a movie titled ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA?) Dispatching the soldier, Zoltan then provides the audience with his history through a flashback. Read that again. The dog has a flashback. His memories tell of how his master’s house fell victim to none other than Count Dracula himself.
When Zoltan tries to protect his master, the Count attacks him. He goes on to drain some blood from the dog’s master, Veidt, who conveniently occupies the other coffin that the explosion broke free. Together, master and pet travel to America to find Dracula’s last living descendent, so they can continue to exist, as they are only half-vampires and will perish without him. Please do not ask me to explain this, as the plot is so convoluted and inane, I’m convinced the screenwriter couldn’t explain it. But then, did you expect something of Shakespearean proportions from a flick titled… ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA?
Even as preposterously silly as the plot is, this movie could have at least entertained had it gone one of two routes: giving a knowing wink to the audience, or speeding things up and playing on the audience’s fear of dogs. Unfortunately, it does neither. It plays the material straight, glorifying itself in ridiculous dialogue, a run of the mill horror score and constant shots of Zoltan with teeth bared and ears flopping, all of which are sure to elicit unintentional laughter from the audience. Worse, once the film brings the characters to America, it really bogs down, as Dracula’s last living descendent, Mike Drake, takes his family camping. What the film really cries for are a bunch of quick cut attack scenes that play on the speed of a demonic dog, followed by lots of throat tearing and bloodshed. In their place, it offers long scenes of Drake and his family involving themselves in the most mundane acts, in daylight no less, and Veidt’s constant commands of “Wait, Zoltan.” A slowly paced vampire dog film that takes itself seriously has zero chance of success.
And then there’s Zoltan himself. The uncredited dog gives a standard performance, but the filmmakers do everything to pull away from his effectiveness. More pitiful than the aforementioned “frightening” close ups is the vampire dog’s appearance. Somebody took it upon himself to paint the poor dog silver. Laughable, yes. But a spray painted dog is what this film has to offer (Remember again the film’s title). Not that the other performances in the film help dredge up any scares. As a Van Helsing imitator, Jose Ferrer gets outperformed by his fedora.
The scariest thing about Reggie Nalder, Veidt, is his performance as Barlow in SALEM’S LOT, which is in another film. And then there’s Michael Pataki. Imagine my surprise when I immediately followed my viewing of ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE with Zoltan and realized he was in both! In that flick, he portrayed a flamboyantly gay prisoner. Here, he plays not only Dracula’s descendent, but the Count himself! He’s not likely to make anyone forget Lugosi or Langela.
Did you really expect anything beyond a trailer that runs too long and gives away the entire movie as an extra? But the film does qualify for the Horror Movie Relocation Program, under the inaccurate title DRACULA’S DOG. I guess VEIDT’S DOG wasn’t going to sell any tickets.
Zoltan might have been effective had it acknowledged its silly premise and played off it, or attacked the audience as that Doberman tried to attack my mom. Instead, it offers a spray painted Doberman as the center of a torpid plot. Unless you’re in the mood for bad offbeat cinema, avoid as you would a dog bite.