MONSTER DOG (1984) Blu-ray
Director: Claudio Fragasso
Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber

Alice Cooper howls at the moon for Scorpion Releasing's special edition Blu-ray of 1980s Euromutt MONSTER DOG.

After his latest music video "Identity Crisis" (or "Identity Chrises" as spelled out in the closing credits) flops, Vincent Raven aka Vincent Roberts (Alice Cooper, PRINCE OF DARKNESS) decides to take a trip to his family homestead where he and his music video director lover Sandra (Victoria Vera, SCHOOL OF DEATH) – along with dancer Angela (Pepita James) and crew Jordan (Emilio Linder, SLUGS), Frank (Carlos Santurio), and Marilou (Pepa Sarsa, THE MONK) – plan to experiment on a groundbreaking video for his new song "See Me in the Mirror". It is not a happy homecoming however as Vincent discovers after twenty years absence that the town is on alert after a series of grisly deaths by a pack of mad dogs, not unlike the series of deaths which lead to the townspeople to turn vigilante and scapegoat his father who suffered from the clinical form of lycanthropy. After accidentally hitting a stray dog on the fog shrouded road and putting it out of its misery, the group is told by the specter of an old man (Barta Barri, HORROR EXPRESS) in torn and bloodied clothes that they are fated to die. Arriving at Vincent's gothic homestead, they are unable to find the caretaker but settle in despite Angela's premonitions and nightmares in which Vincent turns into a werewolf and slaughters his friends. After the sheriff (Ricardo Palacios, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK) and deputy (Luis Maluenda, Paul Naschy's LICANTROPO) are torn to shreds, the townspeople (lead by CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES' Charly Bravo) turn vigilante again and lay siege to the mansion; but the ensuing violence draws the mad dogs in search of their lycanthropic master.

Brimming with wasted opportunities, from the presence of horror-loving rock star Cooper, the 1980s genre emphasis on gore and effects transformations, a rock soundtrack, to the reality-bending possibilities of its music video angle, MONSTER DOG could have been a 1980s cult classic. Alas, the American production – shot in Spain and helmed by former Bruno Mattei protégé Claudio Fragasso (TROLL 2) – plays like a last gasp Italian horror offering that is not without its pleasurable elements. The gore is suitably grisly but the monster dog puppet head is so laughable that it's just as well that it's largely obscured by fog and backlighting whenever onscreen. The monster dog creation of effects artist Carlo de Marchis (who cut his teeth working under Carlo Rambaldi on films like DEEP RED and ALIEN) looks nothing like the beast on the poster art and in the portrait featured in the film (in the disc's featurette Fragasso reveals that his favored design was drawn by production designer Antonello Geleng [ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN] and that de Marchis did not use the design). In any case, the threat of the monster is sidelined for too long in favor of the vigilantes (it does not help that his canine followers are well-groomed Seeing Eye German Shepherds and dachshunds). Cooper (barely expressive by design in his more iconic PRINCE OF DARKNESS role) seems to give a good performance but he didn't participate in the dubbing (although his voice is heard in the two songs). The film was dubbed in Italy and features the usual suspects: Ted Russoff (Kieran Canter in BEYOND THE DARKNESS) dubs Cooper, Vera is dubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca (Daria Nicolodi in DEEP RED), Sarsa dubbed by Pat Starke (Antonella Interlenghi in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), among others. The cinematography of José García Galisteo (BLOOD HUNT) is quite attractive in its 1980s smoke and backlighting music video derivativeness while the music of "Grupo Dichotomy" consists mainly of mood pieces apart from one cool lyrical passage underscoring a location scouting montage (IMDb also lists Dick Maas who scored his own directorial efforts THE LIFT and AMSTERDAMNED but this is unconfirmed).

Although an HD master from MGM has been making the rounds, Scorpion's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC encode appears to be derived from a newer master as it is framed at 1.66:1. Detail is impressive throughout with the lines in Cooper's face evident under his make-up and his nose almost jutting three dimensionally out of the screen during his "Identity Crisis" close-ups, tendrils of smoke and fog distinct against dark backgrounds, and the clarity only suffering during a few handheld shots where the follow-focus is almost non-existent. Colors are also vivid, particularly in the red blood (the sculpted wounds also gain from the resolution) and saturated lighting gels undistorted. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track gives crisp rendering to the dubbed dialogue, scoring, and the Cooper songs (reportedly demo versions were used and Cooper was not afforded the time to refine the music or vocals). There are two odd jump cuts early on (only noticeable by the jump in the swirling mists in the shots) but these appear to be the results of cuts made within shots by the filmmakers as they are not points of missing footage nor are they points of print damage since the two scenes in which they appear are excerpted in the deleted scenes as contextual footage and reveal that these jumps were present even in the source material for the longer international version.

"Lord of the Dogs" (42:56) is a somewhat overlong but extremely welcome featurette interviewing director Fragasso, his uncredited writer wife Rossella Drudi (AFTER DEATH), and production manager Roberto Bessi (who worked on several of Charles Band's Italy-lensed Empire Pictures productions). Drudi reveals that the idea came from producer Eduard Sarlui (then head of Trans World Entertainment) and she jumped at the idea because she had never done a werewolf film while Fragasso reveals that Sarlui picked him to do a film about killer dogs since he had already done RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR. Bessi had worked on LADYHAWKE in Italy and had been introduced by producer Harvey Barnhard (THE OMEN) to Sarlui and worked with him on WARRIORS OF THE LOST WORLD. Fragasso also reveals that the film was made as part of a two-picture deal with Sarlui with Deran Sarafian's THE FALLING/ALIEN PREDATOR being shot back-to-back with MONSTER DOG (it was Fragasso who got Sarafian work on Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 3). They discuss the production circumstances in Spain during the 1980s, with the crews unfamiliar with shooting sync-sound and effects (no mention is made of director-turned-producer Carlos Aured [HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN] who reportedly gave up filmmaking after being stuck with the costs when THE FALLING went over-budget). There is a bit too much gushing over Cooper, his kindness, and his professionalism (Spanish star Vera was in comparison a diva) but they compensate with some juicy stories of crew incompetence and Fragasso firing a loaded shotgun on set when the still photographer called cut in the middle of a risky scene to reload his camera and attempting to play matador in a bullfight.

Although Fragasso states that twenty minutes were cut from his director's cut, MONSTER DOG also underwent some minor cuts from Trans World Entertainment to improve pacing when they released its stateside (international versions run about four minutes or so longer). The deleted scenes (13:51) are sourced from foreign VHS and presented with surrounding contextual footage. There is no additional gore, with the cut footage consisting mainly of additional dialogue (one bit could have been deleted because it contradicts everything the character says subsequently but the second-to-last deleted scene turns out to have alternate dubbing). Three theatrical trailers for the film are included, the first in 16:9 and seeming more like montage of scenes set to "See Me in the Mirror" while the second (sourced from video) is a more conventional American trailer with narration and quick-cutting. The third is a poor quality and raggedly-edited Spanish-language one titled LEVIATAN (with each iteration of the title appearing to be sourced from the title sequence as it is always preceded by the credits for Cooper and Vera). A stills gallery includes international video covers, a Trans World poster, and Spanish lobby cards. (Eric Cotenas)