Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bad Dog! The Killer Canines of Horror

Dogs have been appearing in horror movies for a long time, though their big break came in the 1970s with films like Trapped (1973), Dogs (1976) and The Pack (1977), based on David Fisher's novel. Warner Brothers originally retitled it The Long, Dark Night, but reverted back to the original right before the release. The Pack stars a variety of dogs with two German Shepherds and a mixed breed featuring prominently. The story takes place on a secluded island, favorite summer vacation spot for nearby city dwellers, who often adopt a dog for their vacation and then abandon it on the island to survive by itself. But now the dogs have had enough: They are starving and desperate when Jerry (Joe Don Baker) and his family arrive on the island for a trip that turns into a nightmare.

The superb performances by the canine stars of
The Pack can be attributed to Karl Lewis Miller, one of Hollywood's top trainers for many years. Miller also trained what is probably the most famous of all killer screen dogs, Daddy, who played "Cujo."

The dog horror film fad of the 70s continued through the 80s with films like
Dogs of Hell (1982) (this is one of the truly terrible films out there), Cujo (1983) and Play Dead (1986) (another really bad one). Even through the 90s and today we still see some good, and some not so good, evil dog movies on TV and occasionally in a theater; Man's Best Friend (1993), Atomic Dog (1998), Rottweiler (2004), The Breed (2006) and Wilderness (2006) among them. But none has ever compared to The Pack, especially when it comes to the performances of the dogs.

Unfortunately, The Pack, along with many other old dog horror films, is still not available on DVD.

Pictured: Original still photo from The Pack, from author's collection. Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures, 1977.

Some additional canine horror films below.