AKA DRACULA’S DOG, HOUND OF DRACULA
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 85 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Some Romanian soldiers accidentally blasts open a subterranean crypt, and an earthquake shakes loose one of the coffins, which is opened by a guard who removes the stake from the body of the dog inside, thereby reviving the vampiric hound Zoltan. Zoltan was originally a normal dog owned by an innkeeper called Veidt Smidt but was bitten by Dracula when he saved a woman from him. Now, he revives Smidt whom Dracula had part-turned into a vampire, and the vampire dog and the half-vampire human set off for America to locate the one surviving descendent of Dracula, a mild-mannered psychiatrist named Michael Drake….
There seems to be very little information about Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula which, while not appearing to be listed under that particular title, I remember showing on TV a couple of times over 30 years ago called just Hound Of Dracula. I wasn’t able to watch it then, and there were times that I wished I hadn’t watched it now, for it really is a dog [sorry] of a movie, a supremely dumb idea done [for the most part] supremely badly, though there are times when it’s unintentionally funny. The film would probably have worked better if it were deliberately humorous, but no, the filmmakers decided to take it all fairly seriously despite the stupid story, awful dialogue and general idiocy. An example of this idiocy: in this movie, the original Count Dracula’s first name is not Vlad or some similar Romanian name, but Igor. Then again, it’s not actually mentioned where the first ten minutes are exactly supposed to be taking place, and why the soldiers are blowing things up. The screenplay feels like it was dashed off in a day, and director Albert Band, father of Charles and founder of cheapie video favourites Empire Films and Full Moon Productions [Trancers, Puppet Master, Ghoulies et al] seems to make no attempt to build tension, though fans of ‘deadly animal’ movies [I plead guilty] will be partially rewarded in the second half with a few reasonable dog attack scenes, even if they’re be far better off checking out the previous year’s The Pack for canine horror.
Sad to say, Dracula only appears in the film in a couple of short flashbacks, which means that I’m stretching matters by including it in a mini-series of Dracula movie reviews, but never mind. Michael Pataki had previously played a vampire very well in the underrated Grave Of The Vampire but he’s a laughable Count in the couple of minutes that he’s given to play the role, though I was busy marvelling at the fact that The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 was no longer the only movie I knew of that contained a flashback from the point of view of a dog. What with Reggie Nalder, one of my favourite little-known culty actors and not just for his terrific Nosferatu-like vampire Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot, also in this film playing the half-vampire, half-human Veidt Smidt, I expected some considerable enjoyment from things but, despite there being lots of footage of Nalder looking strangely and communicating telepathically with Zoltan [!], the first half of this film is really rather dull. It’s fine if a film like this has a lengthy build-up to the scares if it’s well done, but there’s just no atmosphere, no sense of menace, nothing – despite the Doberman/Pincher cross playing Zoltan being quite a scary looking dog, albeit a dog whose eyes don’t always glow the same colour. One especially tedious section has Michael, his wife and their two kids playing with their dogs for ages, though you’ve got to chuckle at the upbeat synthesiser music heard on the soundtrack whenever people are travelling around in a car.
Smidt and Zoltan find the Drake family’s house but for some reason don’t vampirise [if that is what they intend to do with him – it’s not made clear except that, like the Minions, these two need a master to serve] him there and then. No, they wait for the family to go camping, and follow them there to an ugly looking field just off the highway. It’s amazing how much of an 85 minute movie can seem like padding. All this time, by the way, Smidt and Zoltan are themselves being followed by a Van Helsing substitute called Inspector Branco. Watching the dignified Jose Ferrer deliver the awful lines he’s given with some gravitas is both hilarious and painful to see and hear. Eventually Zoltan sets about vampirising the other dogs in the area [you haven’t lived till you’ve seen a vampire dog bite another dog]. Smidt also orders Zoltan [who isn’t always very obedient] to attack a camper because – honestly – he says he may wish to cause Zoltan some harm, and it’s actually quite a good bloody sequence, but the victim never becomes a vampire himself, though I suppose he wouldn’t do if he wasn’t biten on the neck, but….oh I give up….I’m trying to make some sense of this fiasco and it’s a fruitless exercise. At least we do eventually get a rather good Birds-type sequence of Drake and Branco trapped in a cabin by the four [well, it is a low budget movie] vampire canines, their claws and teeth ripping into the building, and there’s a solid similar bit in a car near the end.
Aided by some early makeup effects from the great Stan Winston, many of the dog scenes are reasonably well pulled off, such footage often being difficult to create in the first place but the animals were obviously trained very well here. Otherwise though, Band’s handling of the material is thoroughly pedestrian except for some early ‘shakycam’ in some action moments, the thing looking like a TV movie of the time for the most part. Of course people [and vampires] behave stupidly throughout. It’s funny how Drake believes all the stuff that Branco tells him about vampires and vampire dogs almost immediately, and how his identity is supposed to be news to him despite an earlier scene showing him looking at a picture of Ivan Dracula wearing his vampire get-up. It’s funny how easily the Drake’s let their little puppy wander off, and how quickly they give up when the adult dogs get lost. And it’s funny how Drake is constantly referred to as the last blood descendent of Dracula yet he has two children of his own. Drake is given one bit of dialogue that hints at a bit of self-awareness. When told who he exactly is, his reply is: “I’m going to sue all those people who have been making Dracula pictures without my permission”. Otherwise it seems that no thought whatsoever was put by screenwriter Frank Ray Perelli into his screenplay.
Pataki seems very miscast in his present day role, and there are times when the dog playing Zoltan is the best actor in the film. The film is further hampered by a shoddy score by Michael Belling [usually a good composer, as fans of Wizards and Starchaser: The Legend Of Zorin will know], who just throws in as many odd synthesiser sounds as he can think of without creating any particular mood, and certainly not one of terror. It also never seems to go away. There are some effective sound effects in places but they’re way overdone for a great deal of the time. Overall I don’t think the filmmakers really knew what they were doing with this film, though it was a wretched idea in the first place. If you do feel like seeing it, then you may be far better off fast forwarding till about half way through when you’ll get to see a little bit of good stuff in places, though you’ll probably still find yourself asking yourself “how” and “why”, and being disappointed that Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula is not as fun in a trashy way as it sounds like it ought to be.