Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978)

I apologize if this is full of typos. Because that damn rhyme is so confusing, I forgot November has but 30 days. So to make the deadline I’ve been working on this piece for like 12 hours straight, and my eyes are swimming. I’ll clean it up tomorrow. Still, I technically met the deadline!

There were two dominant horror sub-genres in the ’70s.  One was Devil/demon/generic ‘evil’ films, following in the footsteps of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, etc.  The other was killer animal movies, of which there were several early in the decade (Frogs, Night of the Lepus, etc.) and zillions following the megasuccess of Jaws.   (Here’s to Alfred Hitchcock, who in the 1960s grandfathered the dominant horror genres of the following two decades.  The Birds augured the killer animal genre of the ’70s, Psycho the slasher movies of the ’80s.)

It was surely only a matter of time until somebody got the bright idea of combining killer animals and the supernatural.  Even so, examples remain fairly sparse on the ground.  TV provided at least a couple such.  The biggie was the titular star of 1978′s Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, a telepicture in which suburban dad Richard Crenna battled Satan’s best friend.  Meanwhile, a Chicago politician in the devil’s employ (pardon the redundancy) transformed into a demonic Doberman to kill rivals in an episode of the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

On the big screen picking were similarly slim.  Probably the most remembered demon dog was the huge, vicious Rottweiler that guarded Damian in 1976′s The Omen.  That was but a minor element in that movie, however.  In contrast, as the title of our subject would indicate, here a paranormal pooch took center stage.

On a side note—I know, it’s not like me to get all discursive—I’ve been waiting for years for somebody to make a movie about zombie dogs.  I mean, the zombie genre is certainly played out right now, so why not go in a completely other direction?  Imagine a plague that turned just dogs into zombies.  It’s novel, and yet plays into some of the traditional tropes in fresh ways, such as the inability to kill a zombified person you love.  There are animal lovers out there who surely would have more trouble killing their zombie dog than a zombie spouse.

Ah, well, it will happen sooner or later. And in the meantime, we have…

We open upon a European-looking military truck parked in some forest location. The peace is shattered by a series of explosions, as monitored by men in Communist army uniforms. A halt is called after the blasts reveal the previously buried entryway to a large underground shelter. After an investigation reveals a series of stone tablets inscribed with names and dates running along a wall, one genius suggests “It looks like a giant tomb.” Wow. Nothing gets past you, slick.

One stone reads Mikhail (!) Dracula, 1777-1883. Another reads “Count Igor Dracula [!!], 1680-1927. “I’ll tell headquarters we need an archeologist,” the head officer notes. He then assigns a guard to watch over the chamber until said expert arrives. Oddly, despite the action presumably being set in modern day Transylvania, none of the actors bothers trying to disguise their American accents.

That night the dozing guard is wakened by a strong tremor. He rushes halfway up the stairs, whereupon the shaking ceases as quickly as it began. He heads back down and, ducking under the stone staircase for cover, resumes his nap. Soon, however, another tremor begins. This one vibrates a couple of the inscribed stone markers off from the wall. One of the coffins contained within comes tumbling out.

The awe-struck guard bends down to examine the casket, an act accompanied by an ominous piano theme. Given this, I deduce this won’t be one of those ‘good luck’ coffins. Seeing the crest engraved upon it, and presumably thinking it may contain jewelry buried with the owner, he forces it open. Inside he finds a desiccated body, sewn into a shroud and transfixed with a wooden stake.

I don’t want to surprise the hell out of you, but the first thing he does is pull out the stake.  Because…I don’t know. You’d think people would learn from all those Waldemar the werewolf movies, if nothing else. Even so, every movie character ever in this situation does the exact same thing.

To our vast amazement, the result is that the shroud seems to inflate and then to move. The guard pulls back, but a form comes shooting out at him. It’s a slavering Doberman, coated with white powder to make it look unworldly or something, and it sinks a pair of industrial-sized canine fangs into his neck.  Following this, the dog’s eyes begin to *cough* eerily glow. We freeze on the dog as it licks its bloody chops, and get the title; the more formal British one, Zoltan, Hound of Dracula. I guess they thought the American title, “Dracula’s Dog,” was a bit declasse.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Our star, ladies and gentlemen.

Snack attended to, Zoltan jumps up to the marker covering the Count’s coffin. The camera tracks in on the dog’s face and the screen starts to go blurry. Then, at the very millisecond your disbelieving brain begins protesting, “THERE’S NO F***ING WAY THEY’RE GIVING THE DOG A FLASHBACK!!”…they give the dog a flashback. I mean, wow. Seriously, it’s for stuff like this that you slog through the endless piles of almost uniformly mediocre cinematic dreck out there. One such brief, shining moment can restore your faith in humanity’s glorious capacity for grand artistic stupidity.

Cut to a (rather posh) peasant house in Ye Olden Days. Zoltan is chained outside when his master, Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder), approaches. Meanwhile, the director shows his stuff by giving the image a slightly soft sheen and the soundtrack a bit of a reverb. This is presumably to reassure a reeling audience that the movie is, in fact, currently chronicling an undead dog’s flashback.

Zoltan jumps up and begins barking furiously at something out in the night. Smit unchains him and sets him loose. We then cut inside a woman’s nearby bedchamber…and you’ve got to love the movie at this point, because not only does it feature a vampire dog’s flashback, which as I noted is just incredibly awesome in itself, but then they forget what a flashback is and show us stuff which the dog wasn’t a witness to! Man, that’s just great filmmaking there.

Anyway, as Zoltan is engaged in retroactive hypothesizing, I guess, a be-caped gentleman I think we can safely assume is Count Igor (Michael Pataki) approaches the room’s sleeping inhabitant. He’s in full gear, by the way, including a big red sash over his dress shirt and red accents on his cloak. Roused by Zoltan’s incessant barking outside her room, the woman wakens and screams at the face looming over her. Aside from being a very gaudy dresser, Count Igor is a bit of a wimp, and he immediately hoofs it back out the window.

Using what in 1978 was the then awesomely cutting edge “cut away from the actor / cut back to find him replaced with a prop bat” technique, the Count takes wing. Denied his favored meal, his bat form settles—in more ways than one—on Zoltan’s neck. As the bat suckles away, Zoltan’s eyes start glowing and his fur turns sort of whitish. Seconds later Count Igor has resumed his man form, but the dark deed is done. Zoltan is now Dracula’s Dog. (Did you see what I did there?)

Thus ends the flashback, and now we know Zoltan’s hellish—not to mention highly risible—origin story. Sensing nothing from behind his vampiric master’s tomb marker, Zoltan instead pulls from the wall another coffin exposed by the quake. This one has a skeleton in it, also transfixed by a stake. Zoltan, using all his earthly stick fetching skills, draws this out with his teeth. Another resurrection occurs, and up rises the reconstituted form of Veidt Smit. Apparently Dracula vamped him as well.

Smith can communicate with Zoltan telepathically (??). With the Count apparently permanently kacked, he tells the pooch it is time to take their leave. “We must find our new master,” he projects. As they depart another tremor begins, partially collapsing the tomb behind them.

The next morning the army squad is back and rummaging through the wreckage. Joining them is Major Hessel, a foxy female officer, and civilian police liaison Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer!). As a distinguished older savant played by a (sorta) name star, I think we can safely conclude that Branco will be our Van Helsing surrogate for the day. This is quickly confirmed when Branco admits he pays special attention to anything involving one of the area’s tombs. “The history of this region has not always been a happy one,” he gruffs. Well, it’s completely unlike the rest of central Europe, then.

Since the original officer is a bit dense, Hessel gives him the 411. “The underground blasts uncovered a Dracula tomb,” she explains. I guess this isn’t one of those movies where nobody believes what is going on. Actually, to give the film credit, this is a not uninteresting update on the way the natives always believed in the vampires in these things. Vampires thus actually represent a greater danger in the ‘civilized’ countries because no one believes in them there.

Hessel and Branco then go over to examine the various coffins removed from the crypt. Inside the first they find another desiccated corpse with a stake sticking out of it. Seeing this, they send the enlisted men away. “You are right,” she tells Branco. “Definitely a vampire tomb.” Branco inevitably suggests the whole thing be hushed up, lest the entire countryside go into a panic.

Then the two are called over to examine another pair of coffins. “Empty!” Hessel gasps. Finally, they look over the guard’s body. A medic notes that he detects a faint pulse, but no sign of breathing. Branco pulls at his shirt collar and sees the telltale bite marks. The medic is order to leave the guard in their care and return to the hospital. We fade cut to a roaring fire, wherein all traces of the tomb’s contents are being burned to ashes. The guard’s body, meanwhile, has been staked. “This…Soldier of Dracula,”* Branco orders, “burn him with the rest of them.”

[*Zoltan is a Hound of Dracula, this guy is a Soldier of Dracula. Apparently this is the proper form of address for any of Dracula’s victims. Cocktail Waitress of Dracula. Cane Toad of Dracula. eBay Power Seller of Dracula….]

Cut to a library, where Hessel and Branco have been conducting research on the occupants of the tomb. Having identified all the remaining bodies, Branco properly names Veidt Smit as the former occupant of the now empty casket. He admits, though, that the second empty coffin remains a mystery.

Here’s where the film adds it major—if kinda stupid—addition to vampire lore. Branco posits that Smit is a “fractional lamia.” You might think that means he’s transsexual, since traditionally a lamia is a female monster, sometimes a vampire, which exclusively targets children. Bram Stoker picked up on this and his female vamps—the Count’s brides, Lucy Westerna—generally are shown assuaging their bloodlust on infants and children.

These connotations are ignored, however, and it seems the scriptwriter merely made up the term “fractional lamia” because he thought it was cool. In which, clearly, he was much mistaken, as a more awkward turn of phrase is hard to imagine. Branco, meanwhile, helpfully spells out the whole thing: “It means someone who is only part vampire. A real asset to a Dracula. Unlike their masters, they can function in the daytime, they can be trusted to find victims and, most importantly, they have no craving for blood.”* Well, yeah, a guy like that would make the whole vampire thing a bit more convenient.

[*It should be noted that in the vastly superior Fright Night, vamp Chris Sarandon has a similarly supernatural but apparently non-vampiric servant. It must be said that in what film they never bothered to explain exactly what he was. In lieu of this, we can only count him, I fear, as being a fractional lamia.]

Hessel points that that this seems, in anything, a superior state of being to an actual vampire. Branco reveals their one defect however; they literally can’t exist sans a master. “If my thinking is correct, Major,” Branco avers, “Veidt Smit is searching for his.” Hessel protests that there aren’t any Draculas left. “No vampire Draculas,” he corrects. Branco, who keeps track of such things, knows that about thirty years ago the last mortal member of the family, a young boy, was taken to America. Conveniently, Branco even has his address in Los Angeles.

Given all this, Smit’s only chance for continued survival is to find this man and make him his vampiric master. Branco asks if Hessel can get him to America to try to intercede. She agrees, and they leave to make their plans. Here the film answers one question we might have: how would Smit know of this remaining Dracula, half a world away?

Well, it turns out, it’s because Smit’s been lurking in the library this whole time listening to Branco spill the beans! Gee, good thing Branco actually read aloud the fellow’s entire home address in the States. Yeesh! I hope the Inspector is better at ordinary police work than he is at this Van Helsing gig. “How can that crime gang have learned where we were hiding that witness?” we can hear him asking the barmaid down at his local pub. “We can only hope they don’t know we still have his accounting ledgers hidden behind the living room oil painting of President CeauÅŸescu at his former address of Str Batistei 47, Bucharest! Oh, another pint, Inga.”

Being an old fashioned sort, we next see Smit making his way to America on a fog-shrouded tramp steamer. He has his own flashback—these Transylvanians were apparently quite a reminiscent lot—that handily takes up right where Zoltan’s former flashback left off. Smit sees Count Igor with Zoltan trailing along behind and runs over to see what’s up. “Come, Veidt Smit,” Igor telepaths, “I will not deprive you of your dog.” Quite the sentimentalist, our Count! “You too belong to me!”

Smit then goes down to the hold where Zoltan is sequestered inside a crate. The next day we see that selfsame crate getting removed from the ship. Custom inspectors look inside, thus exposing Zoltan’s comatose form to direct sunlight. He remains apparently lifeless, but there are no other ill effects. Man, I got to call ‘Shenanigans!‘ on that. The inspector grimaces as he handles the body to ensure there are no signs of life, and then passes it through.

“I don’t know, Barney.  The manifest says ‘vampire,’ but shouldn’t it be explodin’ in flames or something?”

That night, Smit releases Zoltan from his little doggie coffin, which comes complete with black satin cushioning. They stroll through the city, including an inevitable gambol through a fog-shrouded cemetery. (Do they have a lot of fog in Los Angeles?) They come across a nice hearse, which is like a station wagon for vampires. On the other hand, it’s not exactly hard for the police to find a stolen hearse, you’d think. They kind of stick out.

We then cut to the rather expansive suburban home of everyman Michael Drake (get it?). He’s just a regular joe, and it must be said that actors often looked a lot more average back in the ’70s. Michael and his wife Marla actually don’t look movie star attractive, although their two kids, young teen Linda and maybe ten year-old Steve, do suffer from a severe case of the cutes. The family also boasts a pair of pretty fine German Shepherds, Sampson and Annie, which also just had puppies. I guess it’s only fair the good guys have dogs, too.

Turning off a TV commercial where a used car salesman finds a supposedly tame tiger to be a bit of a handful (subtext!), Michael orders his protesting mop-topped kids to bed. All in all, Drake’s family is so nearly identical to Richard Crenna’s brood in Devil Dog: Hound of Hell that you could switch them out and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.

The Drakes are leaving on a camping trip the next day. The kids are upset because Mike plans to leave the dogs at home rather than take them with. Marla doesn’t like the fact that he’s bringing his revolver for protection. (No wonder, it’s a dinky little thing. I wouldn’t want to have to use it on a bear.) He does take the gun, but gives in on the dogs. We also find out Drake’s a psychologist. Wouldn’t it have been funnier if he’d been an IRS agent?

That night, as the family lays sleeping, Zoltan and Smit show up outside the house. Their objective, of course, is to find Mike. (Who, by the way, has kids. I don’t want to be pedantic, but this means he is longer “the last of the Draculas.”) Zoltan runs around the house, peeking in the windows, and telepathically relaying back to Smit what he sees. (!!)

He then makes it up on the roof and locates Mike’s bedroom. However, in the process he dislodges a ceramic tile which crashes to the ground. This sets Sampson a’barkin.’ Much like their master before them, Zoltan and Smit beat feet. All Mike knows is that the dogs are acting up, though, so he’s less than pleased and goes down to shut them up.

By the way, when he looks in on Steve, the kid has a Battling Tops game on his bed. I remember that! You’d set your top spinning wilding and bump it into another player’s top, or several of them. Whichever stayed up the longest won. Ah, good times.

The next morning Drake searches in a trunk for his bullets. He finds them, along with, coincidentally enough, some photos from the old country. Hilariously, this includes two snapshots of none other than Count Igor—again, also played by Pataki—stiffly posing with Zoltan. (!!) Not only can you photograph vampires in this universe, but apparently they drop by their area Val*Mart store to have studio portraits taken.

“”Man, I’d have liked an 8×10 of this.  But for $29.95?  No way!”

They take off in their RV, followed surreptitiously by the hearse. Again, really? A stolen hearse? Yeah, no cop will ever notice that. Then it’s a rather nauseating traveling montage, accompanied by ’70s disco ‘happy’ music. A minute of that and believe me, you’re ready for somebody to die a horrifying death. Anybody, really.

They arrive at a lake just as another family is leaving. Too bad, too, because the mom is wearing a patterned outfit so ugly that it would definitely keep vampires away. (Of course, Marla herself is wearing what looks to be Colin Baker’s spare Dr. Who jacket.) Mike parks and the family and dogs pop outside and make with the merry and the smiles and the hugs. Geez, Walt Disney would be rolling his eyes at how saccharine this scene is.

“No, I bought it on purpose.  Yes, seriously.  Uh, huh, the purse, too.”

That’s funny.  She gets spun, but I’m the one who feels like throwing up.

One of the puppies goes off exploring, accompanied by more happy music. Blech. Luckily, Smit is seen for a bit to cut through all the heartwarminess. Then we see the kids and Sampson looking for the errant pup. However, after a search they can’t find it, and decide to look again later on.

By this time it’s sundown (yay!). In fact, night doesn’t fall, it plummets, as we go from sun sinking on the horizon to pitch dark in about thirty seconds. Although I never thought I’d say it, thank goodness Zoltan is on the scene. After the sun is down, Smit releases him from his satin-lined doggie coffin. Here we get one of numerous identical close-ups of Smit. As played by pucker-mouthed actor Reggie Nader, Smit appears during each of these like nothing more than Dana Carvey’s old Church Lady character. This isn’t helping in the chills department.

“Well, isn’t that special!”

Smit sends Zoltan out, and we cut to the cute little lost puppy. Here he we get another of the film’s trademark “No way!” moments when Zoltan appears and sinks his fangs into the wee pup, draining him dry. (!!!) Zoltan licks his lips after enjoying his hors d’oeuvre and then we see the pup’s bloody little body. Well, I wasn’t expecting that!

BAD DOG!!!

A hiker with a huge blonde perm and matching ’70s mustache happens across the hearse. Finding it odd, he writes the license plate number down in a little notebook and moves on. He has been observed by Smit [Church Lady!], however, so if you can get a life insurance policy on that guy, go for a big pay-off. You’d best hurry, though.

The Drake kids are sleeping outside the camper for extra tension—and really, after kacking a puppy all bets are off—and Zoltan now looms over them. However, Sampson wakes up and starts barking. Mike pops outside to see him chasing after something, and checks to make sure the kids are OK. Zoltan leads Sampson on a merry chase, but escapes after superdoggedly leaping over a high wooden fence with sharp pointy tips on top.

Yes, a wooden fence with sharp pointy tips on top. Gee, I wonder if we might be seeing more of that fence later in the movie. Perhaps right at the very end of it, in fact.

By now it’s quite nearly dawn (!!), and Zoltan returns to Smit. He growls, however, as Smit stands there and refuses to open the lid. Uhm, earlier sunlight had no effect on Zoltan, but apparently it might if he’s not actually in his coffin at the time. This makes very little sense to me, but what do I know? Anyway, Smit uses this as a Bad Dog teaching moment—apparently snacking on free range puppies wasn’t in Zoltan’s instruction packet for the night—but having made his point, pops open the coffin lid just in time.

Back at camp, Mike and Marla make the protesting kids, who didn’t even see anything, go back into the RV. Spooked, Marla suggests maybe moving to a trailer camp. Mike refuses, though. The whole point of this trip was to find some solitude.

Later the puppy hunt continues. Mike and Steve meet up with Sampson along the way. Meanwhile, a searching Linda (ominous music) just happens to come across the hearse, as Sampson did earlier that morning and the hiker the night before. For a car hidden in a supposedly remote wilderness area, it sure draws a lot of traffic. Linda sees Smit, and being a complete innocent, just politely tries to chat with him. In return, he just silently Church Ladys her. She gets a bit creeped out and takes her leave.

Meanwhile, Mike and Steve find the dead puppy. I was expecting a bigger emotional sob scene from Steve, but in fact his reaction is nicely restrained. Mike tells his son the puppy must have died from exposure, but we can’t tell if he really thinks that or not. I mean, wouldn’t the body be incredibly light and shriveled from the lack of blood? Anyway.

The family has a little funeral for the puppy. Mike notices the bites, now, but ascribes them to a rattlesnake bite. (Yeah, I’m sure the kids appreciated hearing that.) Then that night we get the *cough* eerie resurrection scene. This looks about as awkward as you’d imagine, as it entails pushing a squirming puppy up through a hole in a concealed board covered with dirt.* And as you might imagine, the Horror Factor isn’t exactly being pushed to 11 here.

[*Actually, the effects work here is often fairly good for the time period and budget. They and the film’s prosthetics were done by the Stan Winston Studios back in their early days.]

Perhaps noticing that the film’s been a bit light on non-puppy related carnage, that night Smit sends Zoltan to hunt down and slay the hiker who wrote down their license number. This leads to a fairly lengthy and explicit gore scene—oddly, the only one in the movie—as Zoltan tears the guy apart with his fangs. Maybe they needed one scene that would ensure an ‘R’ rating, for street cred’s sake. Still, it seems quite out of place, considering what the rest of the movie is like.

Then Zoltan lopes away. He comes across a campfire and lures away Buster, the hunters’ dog. Smit apparently thinks Zoltan needs a posse, and telepathically orders Zoltan to vamp the pooch.

We next see Buster approaching the Drake’s camper. He manages to get the door open—which is actually feasibly, and much more credible than when Octaman did the same thing that one time—and enters. The family wakes and Buster retreats. Mike grabs his gun and gives chase, but it’s an ambush and Zoltan is waiting outside. Zoltan has Mike on the ground and ready for the Big Bite, but instead flees. Luckily (I’ll say!), Mike proves to have been wearing a cross pendent.

I apologize for the lack of commentary in the paragraphs above. However, except for general goofiness, there hasn’t been a lot to say. However, here comes the cavalry, as Inspector Branco arrives at LAX. After a scintillating scene where he picks up a black Cutlass Convertible from a rental agent (a small role for the producer’s girlfriend?), we spend much of the rest of the movie watching him tool around in his bitchin’ wheels. He even gets a jaunty little ‘driving around’ theme.

The filmmakers apparently decided they were going to get their money’s worth out of whatever rental fee they paid for this car. Either that, or it was owned by somebody on the production side who pocketed extra cash by himself renting it to the production. Either way, if you’ve ever lusted to see Jose Ferrer drive around in a black Cutlass convertible, then buddy, have I got the movie for you!

Branco drives around and eventually arrives at the Drake place. They’re not there, of course, but Branco wheedles out of their neighbor a general idea of where they’ve gone on vacation. The scene actually goes on a bit. The tension grows intense, as we all wait for Branco to get back to drivin’. C’mon, lady, just spill it!

She does, and he does! He’s toolin’! Too quickly, though, he has stopped at a ranger’s office for info on where the Drakes might be camping. By now Branco has traded in his suit and Tyrolean hat for jeans and a sporty beret. Between that and the car he’s certainly ready to head to the nearest college town and start macking on young co-eds. Hey, he’s from a communist country and it’s the ’70s, he can’t miss. Uhm, he might want to skip over the part where he’s a cop, though.

Luckily, the blah blah only lasts a short while, and then it’s back to drivin’! Whee-ha, this is exciting.

Meh, it’s still better than the new Knight Rider.

It’s only a tease, though, as we quickly cut back to the Drake RV that night. Yep, that’s right. After the dead puppy, the feral dog (as far as they know) in camp two nights ago as the kids slept outside, the feral dog that actually got into their trailer last night and the other one who actually attacked and lightly mauled Mike—they’re still there camping. Man, Clark Griswold has nothing on Michael Drake. That guy is determined to see this vacation through.

Linda wakens and sees Annie acting strange. Being a movie character, she of course sneaks out of the trailer to see what’s up. Annie takes off running into the woods and Linda follows. (!!) Again, this is after she’d seen her dad nearly killed by a wild dog right in their own camp. Linda’s now joined the endless roster of Horror Movie Characters So Dumb That You Actually Kind of Hope They Die.

Annie arrives in a clearing and is met by Zoltan and Buster, who now himself is gray. So…huh? Vampire dogs always turn gray? That’s…weird. Human vampires don’t do that. (It would be a lot easier to identify them if they did.) Anyway, I assume they were worried that audiences wouldn’t be able to tell when a dog was a vampire, and so they came up with this. Kinda dumb, though. I mean, what, the glowing green eyes weren’t enough?

Under Smit’s telepathic control, Zoltan advances and bites Annie. It’s at this point that Linda appears on the scene. She runs to Annie, who is standing right next to the huge monster dog that nearly ate her dad the night before. Zoltan jumps her and things look dire. (I guess. Again, are we supposed to worry that this young twit might get killed?) However, Buster’s former owner show up just in the nick of time and again the dogs run.

The two guys carry Linda back to the Drakes’ RV and explain what happened. They are most confused by the way that Buster seems to have gone suddenly feral on them. “And he was all gray-looking,” one finally adds, as if that were just slightly weird. Meanwhile, Sampson runs off—there’s a lot of running off in this movie—presumably to go find his Mrs.

Then, it’s morning, and…AWESOME! Branco is driving around in his car! Man, you just can’t get enough of that. Eventually, though, all good things must come to an end, and Branco arrives at the Drake campsite just as they are packing up to go home. (Gee, ya think?) He meets the family, and then asks if he may speak with Drake alone.

We cut to the tail end of Big Talk. (Wisely, so as not to heap on, Branco describes Smit without using the phrase “fractional lamia.”) Even following all the weirdness, Drake unsurprisingly takes Branco’s assertions with a grain of salt. He even jokes about suing everyone who’s made a Dracula movie without his permission.

I especially like these lines, though. Branco seeks to remind Drake that “You are the last of the line [of Draculas].” Then a bit later he say, “You are the only direct descendent.” This all of ten minutes after Branco met Drake’s two kids. Maybe in the course of keeping tabs on Drake and his family Branco learned that Marla has long been cheating with the mailman, but otherwise it’s hard to figure out why Linda and Stevie don’t factor into his thinking. Indeed, if he wants to prod Mike into action, pointing out that his kids would eventually be subject to the same dangers he now faces would seem just the ticket.

In the end, Drake seems to mostly accept Branco’s tale. Even so, he remains shocked when Branco says the only solution is to kill Smit before he can kill them. (At this point neither has figured out the mystery occupant of Empty Coffin #1. And really, who can blame them? Vampire Dog isn’t the first thing that would pop into my head, either.) In other words, he wants Drake to help him murder Smit, based solely on his say-so. In the end, though, Drake can’t ignore the threat to his family.

Since all they have to do is wait for Smit to come to them, they send Linda and the kids back home. Meanwhile, Branco has rented a teeny tiny cabin to act as their base. Meanwhile, an omnipresently lurking Smit [Church Lady] has again otherheard all their plans.

So the family drives off in the camper, while Mike (lucky guy!) gets to actually become part of a Branco Drives Around scene. Several of them, in fact. This one, however, goes on for an atypically long time. Even better, this Branco Driving Around scene is intercut with some RV Driving Away footage. It’s a vehicular hootenanny!

Arriving at the cabin, Branco explains that they must prepare. Oddly, neither of them thinks it might be reinforcing their tiny HQ, which is basically a ten by ten, thinly walled wooden shack. Moreover, it boasts a few windows, too. Let’s just say that it’s not exactly a fortress. Branco even mentions again that at night Smit will be coming after Michael. Seriously, a few boards over the window maybe? Perhaps Branco doesn’t want to lose the security deposit he left on the cabin.

Branco explains that wooden stakes are the thing, and he has a supply. (These he leaves in his car, though, until he nonchalantly goes to fetch them after its quite dark out. Seriously, this guy is the brains of the outfit?) These prove to be sharpened rectangular boards, which strikes me as all wrong. Surely it would be a lot easier to hold and thrust with a round stake? These look both awkward to handle and, because they are so thin compared to their length, liable to snap in two during a struggle. What do I know, though?

A few minutes after Branco grabs the stakes—good timing for him, I guess—they hear scampering around the outside of the cabin. Soon it’s under siege from Zoltan’s vampire dog pack. This is your basic Night of the Living Dead deal—or more aptly, the siege in The Killer Shrews—but it’s not at all credible. The cabin doesn’t look remotely strong enough to withstand sustained assault from regular large dogs, much less vampire ones. And the idea that the dogs can’t break through the spindly wooden chair the men use to block up one shattered window isn’t exactly enhancing their terror factor. Meanwhile, the other window is ‘secured’ with a thin cot mattress!

“There!  I’d like to see any vampire get past that!”

In any case, we get a good long scene—clearly meant to be the film’s major set piece—of the siege. Sadly, this largely consists of the the two men battering away at various phony dog limbs protruding through holes and such. Truth to tell, it’s not really a bad sequence. However, it could have been a lot more effective if they’d thought it through a bit more. Again, it’s not just that the shack lots so flimsy, but that neither man was bright enough to even board up the windows when they knew an attack of some sort was in the offing. Indeed, they look shocked when the first window goes.

There are some highlights, though. Zoltan gets up on the roof and begins digging away at the ceiling. During this he’s foregrounded against a gloriously bright moon, and it’s really a very nice shot. (I assume the moon is artificial, but it honestly doesn’t look it.) Later, Zoltan gets through the roof and chews up the shack’s electrical wiring, knocking the lights out. This seems like an actual thing a dog might do, at least one immune to mortal injury.

In the end, Zoltan gets all the way through the roof and falls through the ceiling, knocking the men unconscious. All appears to be lost, but he senses the sun about to rise. Despite Smit’s frenzied orders, Zoltan and the crew take off rather than hanging around to put the bite on Mike. It’s kind of odd, really. In most movies the humans always wait until it’s nearly nighttime to stage an attack on the vampires. Here’s it’s the other way around. The dogs always seem to wait until it’s nearly daylight to launch their commando raids.

Again, the idea here is sound. The guys find themselves besieged by the vampiric dog pack, and in the end seem to lose, only to be saved because they held out right until sunrise. However, and I realize I’m beating an undead horse here, the idea would have worked a lot better if you actually believed they could have held off the dogs for any length of time. Good grief, the front door seems like it’s made from quarter inch plywood. Also, any vampires you can fend off for seeming hours—even canine ones—by beating at them with sticks…well, I mean, c’mon.

Although the original plan was to hunt for Smit during the day (why, since he can move around in it?), the men instead are seen talking to the police about the attack. Then, rather than getting themselves some stronger digs, Branco suggests they hang out at the Drake’s former open campground site. (!!) Congratulations, you’ve come up with an worse idea than spending the night inside a windowed plywood shack. Kudos. Even better, when Mike asks why they’d do that, Branco just kind of shrugs and say he has a feeling. Well, sign me up then!

Then…Branco Driving Around! They arrive at the campgrounds after dark. Because, you know, if after barely surviving a sustained attacked against a cabin you decided to position yourselves entirely on open ground, why would you bother getting their early to scout the place or make any preparation? No Nervous Nellies, these two! Plans, schmans. Just get there and get it done.

Smit is already on the scene, somewhere. [Church Lady] Hearing that the dogs retreated in different directions following the various attacks on the RV, Branco decides to go search in one direction while sending Mike in the other. That’s right, they’re on open ground, and Super Genius Branco decides splitting up and stumbling around in the dark is their smartest option. Yeesh.

Meanwhile, Smit is having a little pow-wow with Zoltan by the hearse, like a coach trying to fire up a player before the Big Game. He sends Zoltan off. A bit later, Branco finds the hearse. Sure, why not, everyone else has. It appears to be deserted and he looks around it. As he stands near the back, however, the door pops open and knocks him to the ground.

It’s an ambush by Smit, of course, and the two begin to tussle. I know Smit isn’t a full vampire, but yeesh, you’d think he would have an easier time subduing a 66 year-old mortal. Moreover, Smit seems rather too vulnerable to the old fist in the face. He eventually slumps over after being battered by his geriatric foe, leaving him vulnerable to Branco’s stake. Exit Veidt. I guess this explains why the whole fractional lamia thing never caught on in a bigger fashion. (By the way, it doesn’t help that the scene is accompanied by the sort of music pianists would provide when silent movie heroines were tied to train tracks.)

Meanwhile, Michael, having not found anything, returns to the car. Good thing, too, because he quickly sees the Drac Pack (sorry) bearing down on him. He goes inside the car and protects himself by, and I crap you not, raising the canvas roof. OK, I stand corrected about how lame the shack was. Thus we get a much lamer smaller scale version of the siege, as Mike repels the marauding dogs by smacking at their paws whenever one of them manages to claw through the fabric top.

At one point Mike expresses horror when he realizes one of the dogs is none other than the formerly loving Annie. Then he gets in a staring contest through the windshield with Zoltan. Now getting a good look at the beast, he recognizes him from the photo with Count Igor, and figures out who the occupant of the second coffin was. So, you know, at least he has closure on that.

Eventually Mike manages to overcome the engine’s standard Suspense-Related Starting Problems. (To be fair, the car may simply have been exhausted from Branco’s constantly driving it around.) As he does so, he sees a normal looking Sampson running in their direction and drives over to let him in. However, it’s a trap, as Sampson instantly turns vampiric gray and makes with the glowing eyes.

I again call ‘Shenanigans! Either the dogs can change appearance at will, or else (and we saw this with Buster) they take a while to change color and this miraculously occurred in Sampson’s case at this very exact second. Well, the second is retarded and the film hasn’t established the first and the whole thing just smells like a cheat.

In any case, there’s another tussle. You’d again think a man in a confined space would have a problem wrestling with a regular very large and fit German Shepherd, much less a vampire one. However, Mike manages to jab it through the chest with the stake, which I’m not even sure is possible without the use of a hammer or something. Especially, as I mentioned before, given the awkward configuration of these stakes. Still, that’s what happens.

At this moment the two hunters show up, and Annie and Buster attack them. Zoltan hangs back, presumably because with Smit eliminated he’s now upper management. However, at this juncture Branco shows back up. The men manage to hold the dogs down as he stakes them. That takes care of the doggy deputies.

Zoltan beasts feet, and I have to say, this is the most cowardly collection of vampires I think I’ve ever seen. Mike gives chase [Silent Movie Chase Music], though, because it’s nearly the end of the movie and he’s the hero. He corners Zoltan on a steep hilltop, but Zoltan turns and mesmerizes him. All seems lost, until Mike rips open his shirt to expose his neck to Zoltan’s fangs.

However, this exposes his cross—oh, yeah!*—and Zoltan rears back in vampiric fear. Following Christopher Lee’s example in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, he then clumsily falls over the cliff side. And what coincidentally lies directly below? That fence topped with sharpened pointy tips! Gee, who could have foreseen that coming into play at some point? Anyhoo, like Francis Lederer in Return of Dracula, Zoltan finds himself impaled through the heart.

[*I suppose Zoltan should have remembered that this exact same thing happened to him but a day or two ago. However, I have no short term memory either, so who am I to mock?]

And so our story ends, with evil defeated. Except for the inevitable (and hence not very suprising) shock coda. After the heroes congratulate themselves and leave, we cut to a trail of slaughtered, torn up small animals. The culprit, of course, is the (they hoped) forgotten and still extant vampire puppy. His eyes begin to glow and the film ends on that image, which is hands down the very stupidly ‘shock’ freeze frame in horror movie history.

Zoltan Hound of Dracula Vampire Lore Checklist:

  • Vampires cannot abide barking dogs.
  • Ironically, then, dogs can become vampires.
  • The whole fractional lamia business.
  • Vampires can project their thoughts telepathically.
  • Vampires are inactive during the day, but direct exposure to sunlight doesn’t otherwise affect them.
  • Fractional lamias and vampires can remote view through one another.
  • Vampires can be photographed, and thus presumably also cast reflections.
  • UPDATE: I guess sunlight might be fatal to vampires (maybe), but apparently only if it strikes them outside the apparently magical confines of their coffins.
  • Vampire dogs can mesmerize other dogs (and, as it turns out, humans).
  • All vampire dogs turn gray with whitish highlights. Human vampires, not so much.
  • Vampires can easily be fended off with sticks, and fractional lamias with good old fisticuffs.

Cast & Crew

The first thing to appear onscreen as the film starts is the name of Albert Band. This tells the b-movie buff much of what he needs to know about this film. Albert Band is the father of Charles Band, whose company Full Moon Entertainment issued a myriad of cheap about often enjoyable DTV genre flicks for over three decades now.

Indeed, any veteran of the video shelves of the 1980s will recognize such titles as Ghoulies, Trancers, Demonic Toys and dozens and dozens of others, including a raft of sequels for the each of those three referenced titles. Charles Band personally wrote, directed, and/or produced all of them. It can be fairly said that he was to the early video age what Roger Corman was to independent filmmaking back in the 1950s.

In this Charles was stepping in the shoes of his father, Albert. Albert Band also wrote, directed and/or produced dozens of movies. As a director he helmed one of the more successful imitation William Castle flicks, 1958′s I Bury the Living. That would be, however, the last film he directed here in the States until our current subject, made 20 years later. In the meantime he toiled in Europe before returning stateside in the early ’70s.

It wasn’t long after Dracula’s Dog that he helped his son establish Empire/Full Moon. Following that the senior Band pretty much exclusively work with his son, writing, directing and/or producing whatever movies Charles was too busy to write, direct and/or produce. Albert Band continued such chores through 1996, and passed away 2002.

The script was provided by Frank Ray Perilli.  Apparently he had a thing for dogs, because his first screenplay gig was co-writing 1972′s The Doberman Gang, about a group of dogs trained to rob a bank.  Presumably either Perilli owned Dobermans or just knew someone who trained them, or perhaps he was just seeking to recreate the success of that first effort.  The Doberman Gang was popular enough to inspire two theatrical sequels (one starring Fred Astaire!) and a later TV movie.

Mr. Perilli didn’t work on those, although his next film continued the ‘weird crime gang’ motif by chronicling a band of midget bank robbers in Little Cigars (1973).  The film was produced by Albert Band.  Further connections to Dracula’s Dog were forged with his third script for Mansion of the Damned, a gory ‘mad medico’ flick directed by Michael Pataki.  The film was produced by both Bands.

Next came a comedy skin flick version of Cinderella—nudie versions of fairy tales being weirdly popular in the ’70s.  Indeed, he later also wrote the similar Fairy Tales.  Scripts prior to Dracula’s Dog included the sci-fi flick End of the World with Christopher Lee, and the MST3K subject Laserblast.    Mr. Perilli continued to work after that, but few of his subsequent credits are of note.  He did provide the story for the John Sayles-scripted Alligator, however.

Michael Pataki was one of those average-looking guys who you can’t imagine starring in a bunch of movies these days, even ‘B’ pictures.  In effect, he was the urban version of Bo Hopkins, or a more New York-y Robert Forster.  With a ton of movie and episodic TV credits, Mr. Pataki was one of those familiar character actors of the 70′s and ’80s who made a specialty of playing heavies.  In 1974 he also played one of the undead in the gritty thriller Grave of the Vampire, co-starring William “Big Bill” Smith.  He continues to work today.

Jose Ferrer had a slightly more upscale pedigree, although he ended up in his share of crap, too.  One can’t imagine this amused him too much, as he’d once won a Best Actor Oscar for 1951′s Cyrano de Bergerac, and was nominated on two other occasions, for 1953′s Moulin Rouge and Best Supporting Actor for 1949′s Joan of Arc.  He was also nominated or won various other awards, including BAFTAs, the Directors Guide of America, an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Still, by his later years it was schlock that more often than not was paying the bills.  With his stentorian voice and icy demeanor, Mr. Ferrer often played aristocratic or intellectual villains.  He starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny and appeared in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.  By the ’70s, though, projects were generally less prestigious, including a hilariously awful Irwin Allen plot for The Return of Captain Nemo, in which Nemo (Ferrer) awakens in the present day and battles a mad scientist played by an even hammier than usual Burgess Meredith.  Sadly, this pilot failed to become an equally laughable series, although Irwin later gave Ferrer a memorably flashy death scene in The Swarm.

Occasionally somebody would remember he was a good actor and cast him in a big movie, as David Lynch did in 1984′s Dune.  More representative, though, were appearances in Z-grade dreck like 1983′s The Being.    Mr. Ferrer continued to work steadily in TV and cheapie features until his death in 1992.

Reggie Nalder (Veidt Smit) took a craggy, burn-scarred face and, much like Richard Lynch, forged a solid career playing thugs and miscreants.  Ironically, his most remembered credits is probably as the heavily made up vampire in the TV mini-series Salem’s Lot (1979).  However, he was approaching the end of his career at that time, having been working steadily since the ’40s.  Mr. Nalder again was one of those actors made familiar to audiences by his constant TV guest roles, usually menacing some hero or heroine.  Genre credits include Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Mark of the Devil, the porno flick Dracula Sucks and The Devil and Max Devlin.  He appeared on such TV shows as Thriller, Star Trek, The Wild Wild West and the original Battlestar Galactica.

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