DOGS (1976)
Director: Burt Brinckerhoff
Scorpion Releasing

"Don't pet them… fear them!" The DOGS charge onto DVD courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.

A quiet rural college town is beset by a series of cattle killings that leave SouthWestern University biology teacher Harlan Thompson (David McCallum, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) puzzled because they seem to be mutilations rather than feedings and perpetrated by more than one animal. When human victims start showing up with the same cause of death, he and rival teacher Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner, SPACEBALLS) – who is developing a theory about pheromones influencing collective behavior in higher animal species – suspect that something is causing the local domestic dogs to attack in packs. The president of the college (Sterling Swanson, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK) is reluctant to panic the town without proof until the dogs at a local kid's dog show turn on their owners. Against Harlan's warnings, the sheriff (Eric Server, HOT LEAD AND COLD FEET) leads a posse but the dogs prove smarter than them. While Harlan attempts to get to on-again-off-again love interest Caroline (Sandra McCabe, THE ROSE) – whose new house is conveniently isolated – Michael attempts to warn the students still on campus of the danger (which could have something to do with the ultra-secret government-sponsored linear accelerator on the campus).

Shot mostly on Chula Vista's SouthWestern College campus with students as economical extras, DOGS delivers nicely as 1970s exploitation thanks to a fine cast of familiar (or soon-to-be-familiar) faces effortlessly embodying rather one-dimensional roles (with only McCallum and Wyner really investing much in their characters). The dog attacks are sufficiently grisly with some gnarly torn flesh wounds courtesy of Alan Friedman (TERROR TRAIN) and attack set-pieces are sufficiently intense. As with most animal attack movies, the ending is a bit anticlimactic (one major character actually dies offscreen for what was presumably an attempt to shock with discovery of the body), but the end result has replay value despite being rather lightweight horror fare. DALLAS' Linda Gray – as another of the college faculty – provides some cheesecake imagery (without any actual nudity) in a shower attack. The closing shot is wonderfully ludicrous and suggestive of a sequel that never came to fruition; if it had, what would Andrew Lloyd Webber have called his excruciatingly overrated musical?

The film's production company Mar Vista later became American Cinema, the producer of the early Chuck Norris efforts A FORCE OF ONE and THE OCTAGON, and released theatrically by R.C. Riddell and Associates (ACAPULCO GOLD), DOGS was released first on DVD along with American Cinema's other holdings through Trinity Entertainment in 2006 in an open-matte transfer. Scorpion's new dual-layer DVD (and Blu-ray) features a sharp and colorful widescreen (1.78:1) transfer mastered in high definition from the film's original interpositive. I haven't seen earlier incarnations of the film – if the clips in the documentary are any indication of the older master than Scorpion's is a massive improvement – but I would presume they looked murky during the night scenes which here feature well-lit and sharply defined actors (apart from the occasional focus error) against sometimes grainy but relatively solid blacks (obviously the color timing did what it could with the cinematography since the dog attack on the posse is bright enough to see the graphic wounds inflicted by the dogs even if the other characters are seemingly unable to see each other in order to help the ones being attacked). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is clean with the music, barking, howling, gunshots, and a couple squeaky sound effects coming through nicely.

Carried over from the Trinity disc is a retrospective featurette (19:08) like the ones American Cinema produced for the Chuck Norris releases. This one features input from director Brinckerhoff who liked the idea but would end up learning a lot about working with animals (thirty eight dogs), stunts, and filming at night. George Wyner and Eric Server both talk about the family feel of the cast as well as being fans of McCallum. Server talks about hoping the film would be his big break, the advantages of being an actor and stuntman (but deciding against doing his own stunts on the film when the film's animal handler was hurt). Head of distribution David Miller recalls the initially heavy TV campaign and the ludicrous calls he received from the stations about pulling the ads because of alleged concerned calls from viewers about an increase in dog attacks. Also present are the company's advertising specialist Don Enright and media expert Roger Riddell who contribute some vague recollections about the promotions, and head of advertising Sandra Shaw who recalls giving a local paper an interview about one of their productions only to find the finished product headlined "from the folks who brought you DOGS".

The film is not part of the Katarina's Nightmare Theater line but – like DAY OF THE ANIMALS – it does feature a separately playable "Fun Facts and Trivia" piece (6:18) that plays like one of the "Nightmare Theater" introductions as hostess Katarina Leigh Waters highlights the prominent cast and crew members – including later producer Lance Hool (10 TO MIDNIGHT) as a dumb jock who inadvertently leads his fellow classmates into danger – and the film's theatrical history (including foreign titles meant to make the title DOGS seem less benign). It opens with another amusing homage piece where Katarina jogs through green-screened and intercut footage from the film before being attacked by a stuffed dog (with much CGI blood splatter). The only trailer on the disc is one for the main feature (2:21). (Eric Cotenas)