It’s a treat to see NCIS’ David McCallum, a fellow Glaswegian, in his younger years. Here he plays a straight shooting biology professor by the name of Harlan, who works as the head of his department in the same university as his ex-girlfriend Caroline, played by Sandra McCabe. With the help of his colleague Michael (George Wyner) he tries to use science to solve the town crisis of killer canines.
Just when you thought it was safe to pet your pooch! Man’s best friend becomes Southern California’s worst enemy. DOGS is looking brand new again as No. 7 from 88 Films’ VAULT series.
Admittedly my knowledge of killer/dangerous dog movies isn’t as extensive as it should be. Mostly because dogs don’t scare me. So I’m afraid I’m limited to Cujo (1983) and The Breed (2006). But don’t think I’ve forgotten those infamous mutts from movies such as Madhouse (1981), Cabin Fever (2002), a certain dog-headed clown from Part 2 of Stephen King’s IT (1990) miniseries, and more recently Green Room (2015) and Don’t Breathe (2016).
DOGS as a whole, is an entertaining ride. The children’s dog show – of all the bloody events to put on at a time like this! – is one of the most enjoyable scenes. It’s also the funniest. Sorry, but watching a load of people running screaming for their lives from animals that so many people adore and regard as their own family members is bound to make the odd person laugh. Me included! I know that’s where the horror is routed, but sometimes it just goes the other way.
The more sceptical characters make one or two poodle jokes, so the film definitely has a decent sense of humour about its own subject matter. And it isn’t hard to spot the smiles on the kids’ faces as their parents carry them to safety. They’re having a great time. And why not? As a film-maker, how else would you play it out? You don’t want to actually scare the shit out of the little troopers!
It isn’t until the movie’s final 10 minutes that it really comes into its own as a serious horror picture. Starting first with the library massacre sequence which breeds true panic and chaos; followed by the sadness of its aftermath and the morning after as the remaining survivors try to flee the town. It’s such a beautiful, sunny day overcast by the quiet of devastation and death.
I don’t know why, but it’s hard to route for humans over dogs, even if they are trying to kill everyone. Perhaps it’s because they are pure creatures that aren’t responsible for how the environment around them conditions their behaviour. With some good laughs and a sound performance by McCallum, DOGS rounds itself off with an unexpectedly unnerving finale.