Color, 1976, 90m.
Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff
Starring David McCallum, Sandra McCabe, George Wyner, Linda Gray, Dean Santoro
Scorpion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Trinity (US R1 NTSC)
Southern California was a real hotbed of killer animals running amuck in the '70s, and for proof you won't have to look any further than 1976's Dogs. This rampaging canine epic managed to beat the similarly themed The Pack into American hardtops and drive-ins by less than a year, trying to do for the family pooch what other films were doing for sharks, bees, rats, and grizzly bears. Whether the concept worked is still up for debate, as some viewers now find it hard to be terrified by the sight of Dobermans and fluffy terriers barking and snapping at shaggy-haired actors in the trendiest mid-'70s fashions. In fact, the film's greatest asset now is that hazy atmosphere you find only in films from this particular era, often feeling like it could be taking place just a couple of blocks away from The Bad News Bears.
Still fairly well known from his starring gig on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., leading man David McCallum signed on for this one after gigs on two fairly short-lived but fondly remembered shows, The Invisible Man and Colditz. Here he plays Harlan Thompson, a college professor in a university town (actually Chula Vista) where bloody cattle attacks seem to be pointing to the encroaching presence of wild animals. However, he and his colleague Michael (Wyner) soon deduce that, no, it's actually the local dogs, who seem perfectly happy with tails a-wagging during the day; however, at night they band together and go prowling for blood. When a kindergarten outing suddenly turns sinister with the dogs in attendance, things begin to take a turn for the worse and point to a furry problem that will soon claim the lives of more than a few townspeople.
For pop culture fans, Dogs is also significant as the first (and still one of the very few) significant movie roles for Linda Gray, who would go on to soap immortality as Sue Ellen on both incarnations of Dallas. This was also one of the earliest releases from American Cinema, who soon went on to strike gold with Chuck Norris films like Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. It still seems like a bit of an odd man out in their filmography since they weren't really known for horror films, but this is a perfectly credible entry in that short-lived fad with some memorable dog attack scenes. The most memorable takes place in a shower, of course, which certainly puts a new spin on the Psycho formula; the climax is also lively, too, with scores of extras fending off a dog attack on the college campus, complete with lots of screaming and shattering glass. It certainly won't be considered a lost classic any time soon, but for fans of '70s nature horror film, this is obviously one worth seeking out.
Trinity Home Entertainment issued a middling full frame DVD of Dogs in 2006, complete with a trailer and a 19-minute featurette with Wyner, director Burt Brinckerhoff (who mostly worked in TV), and several American Cinema execs talking about the making of the film (including the usual dog wrangling stories, of course) and its saturated marketing, which led to TV station complaints about the vicious TV spots. Those extras are carried over to the 2014 reissue from Scorpion Releasing, which is offered both on DVD and a superior Blu-ray edition. As with other American Cinema titles, the negative has been kept in great shape and makes for a solid HD transfer, looking every bit like like its vintage in terms of texture and color but sporting clarity and solid blacks far better than past transfers. The DTS-HD mono track works well given the limited source, which consists of dialogue, barking, and some fun Morricone-inspired music (which would also make this a weirdly appropriate co-feature with the later White Dog). Label hostess Katarina Leigh Waters also appears here, not surprisingly, getting attacked by a stuffed puppy and supplying trivia about the various parties involved in the making of the fur-filled feature.
Reviewed on February 16, 2014.