Cast: David McCallum, George Wyner, Eric Server
It's a morbidly fascinating idea when you think of it
- the idea that all of man's best friends suddenly turn on their
Especially since it really isn't a stretch to think of that actually
After all, we all know that the common domesticated dog is descended
the wolf, an animal we can agree would be somewhat unnerving to come
in real life (despite the
fact that wolves have an unfairly branded reputation
when it comes to encounters with humans.) When you look into Fido's
you can't help but wonder if any of the wildness of his ancestors still
lingers in his blood. Maybe there still is - there are countless
cases of dogs viciously attacking humans, sometimes even killing them.
It's the teetering between domesticity and wildness that I think is the
most effective part of this premise, and why I think the movie Dogs
an idea that was not only scary, but more believable than a lot of
ideas found in horror movie. And I think that's why I found the end
much more disappointing than many botched executions of less intriguing
The movie takes place at "Southwestern University" in
California, though since the movie's dialogue suggests that it is
near Sacramento, I don't think it quite deserves the "South" part of
name. Anyway, it's one of those movie campuses that's literally in the
middle of nowhere, so that it is convenient for anything horrifying to
arise and run rampant with little to nothing to stop its progress.
I get into that, let me just mention that this isolated (and seemingly
not very big) campus somehow has a high-energy linear accelerator
we never get to see), and some government bigwigs are currently
some top-secret particle experiments on it. The questions as to why
a campus has an accelerator, and why the government would choose to do
highly classified experiments in a not-so-secret location are never
Nor is it answered as to just exactly how these experiments are
in nearby pet dogs gathering in packs and then attacking cattle, later
setting their sights on humans. There is some nonsense scientific talk
about pheromones and how the unknown phenomenon is causing the dogs to
have a collective intelligence like what is seen in colonies of
but in the end the movie is still woefully lacking a coherent
as to why all the dogs in the area soon gather together and declare war
on their masters.
I have a theory that one reason why there is a proper
lack of explanation is that the director was going for something like Night
Of The Living Dead did - besides the isolated location and an
kind of menace from something previously peaceful, there was only the
of explanations. It didn't really matter in that movie why
had risen, it was more important just to stay alive. Whether or not the
director was trying to recreate that mood here (as well, some scenes
more than a passing resemblance to scenes in The Birds),
the movie in the end fails to have any sense of society in chaos, or
plain horror. One big reason why it fails is that it doesn't properly
a foothold in establishing the setting. I've already mentioned a few
in how unusual this campus is, but the peculiarity of it goes further.
It's really in the middle of nowhere, with seemingly no outside
or any sign of civilization visible outside of the campus. We don't
get a real sense of what the campus itself is like, because the movie
keeps holding back from showing us any real establishing shots of the
campus or specific buildings. The few campus interiors we get to see
(at least to me) don't seem like rooms at a university. And then the
times we travel off of campus, it is during the dead of night, so we
get a feel for this area as well. If we can't relate or comprehend the
setting of a movie, it's mighty difficult to appreciate what actually
in the setting.
That is, if anything of interest is actually happening.
This is one slow, rambling horror movie that takes forever to get
Once the characters are introduced, the movie seems to know it has to
a large portion of the picture to build up the horror before it finally
bursts out completely, but hardly a thing is done. More time is spent
boring and irrelevant chat than dealing with the horror directly or
Just before everything hits the fan, there is actually a sizable chunk
where the movie either simply doesn't know what to do, or more likely,
is just trying to increase the running time of the movie. (Such as the
build-up to the shower sequence - yes, this movie tries to recreate the
shower scene in Psycho with dogs.) Things do improve
after this point in the movie, but only in the sense that something
is actually happening, not in a way that something of interest and/or
done is happening. This movie here and elsewhere almost flaunts to us
incompetence; dialogue is poorly recorded, the boom mike is seen
and you frequently can't tell what exactly is going on during the night
Now can you guess when all of the dog attacks take
You guessed it - in the dead of night. Naturally, they are all quite
to make out, though from what you can see, you start to have an inkling
that they were all made to look murky on purpose. Despite the darkness,
I could still see that when the dogs had their human victims on the
screaming and rolling about, the dogs just had their teeth around the
clothing and pulling on it. Just before that, when the dogs leap into
air to pounce on their victims, the actors don't
fall down with the dogs
biting them, but with the dogs hugging them (which wouldn't be so
if these shots weren't shown in slow motion.) The darkness doesn't just
seem to be intentional to hide the inept attacks, but to hide the dogs
themselves; though there is a large pack of dogs, in most shots we
just see one or two of them, suggesting that maybe the filmmakers were
somewhat limited in their canine resources. Though it could also be
some of the dogs in the pack - like one Yorkshire Terrier - don't
come across as big brutes in normal circumstances, and that something
needed to make them scary. (The Pack, a so-so movie with
a similar theme to Dogs, was, at the very least, careful
enough when it came to casting its animal stars.)
To be fair, there are a few entertaining moments with
the dog attacks. One early scene has an old woman attacked just out of
camera range, though we get to hear her scream "Ah! Ooh! Oh my God!" -
though the way she screams those words comes across in a comic way, as
if Homer Simpson was screaming those words. A later attack on a group
college students is actually genuinely satisfying to watch - though
because the college students are utter jerks, who are neither appealing
or apparently able to hold a shred of common sense in their brains. At
least there's not that much time devoted to them, which would have been
preferable with lead actor David McCallum (The Man From Uncle),
who plays the college professor who figures out something is up long
anybody else does. Looking curiously hippie-like with a shaggy
and beard, he's not very compelling as the central figure. He comes
as aloof, a loner in a world of his own who doesn't come across as
even in the inevitable scenes where he pleads (in his thick accent)
the authorities to investigate the situation. (And inevitably, they
Significantly better is George Wyner (Matt Houston) as a faculty
member who gives McCallum a hand. Though his character is somewhat
he comes across as very likable, cautious and a bit klutzy, but
concerned and understanding.
Dogs isn't a total washout; besides the
previously mentioned amusement, there is occasionally a good scene. One
of the best is a wordless
sequence with McCallum and Wyner at the
station, and you can tell just by looking at the expressions on their
the exact thoughts that are going in their heads at the moment.
be honest, even though the majority of the movie was poorly done, the
of the movie - more believable than many other movies - I found really
compelling, and the movie became more palatable to me than probably
viewers. But even then, I could see all of the movie's incompetence and
wasted potential, and though it was palatable, it definitely wasn't
Still, I can give it some kind of praise; considering that The
the only other killer dog pack movie I can think of, I can call Dogs
the second best movie of its kind ever made.
UPDATE: I got this letter from "Allister":
"I just wanted to say that you do a wonderful job
with your reviews. I saw your site HIGHLY recommended on many other
b-sites I use for information, and now I can say I now know why.
"Anyway, I have a bit of pointless trivia about the movie Dogs, on your
site. It takes place at Southwestern College (University?) because
Southwestern is a REAL college here in my home town of San Diego. (It
was apparently) a project by some of the students for their film class.
One of my college professors did the sound on it!
"Well, I hope I didn't take up to much of your time. Keep up the great
UPDATE 2: "Laurel" sent this in:
"Just wanted to offer
another bit of trivia about the movie, Dogs.
One of the college student extras happens to be the late Wiccan author
and magician Scott Cunningham. A first-person account of the two days
Scott spent on the set of Dogs
can be found in chapter 9 of his biography, Whispers of the Moon, by
"Your review points out the "isolated" feel of the college campus set.
Scott Cunningham remembered that the film was very low-budget and was
shot while school was in session, and at night - which explains the
lack of establishing exterior shots you mention. The interior shots
were of the campus commons, which might be why it doesn't look like
"rooms at a university."
"It's also interesting that you note how aloof David MacCallum's
character is, because it sounds like the actor was also coming across
that way in person. Scott said that MacCallum "finally came to the set,
looked around, and went to his honeywagon... [and] stayed there."
"And regarding your observation that the dogs are noticably "hugging"
the actors, instead of attacking, Scott's account verifies that, too.
He called them "innocent pups" who were "quite sweet off-camera."
"Thanks for the great reviews!"
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See also: Crocodile, Elves, Ticks