He comes from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder. Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder of another Retro Review approaching from one of you, our glorious Outposters! Wrenage, our one man Retro Review machine from the future, out to the East. You better run, you better take cover from Devil Dog: Hound Of Hell.

If you have something you want to share with your fellow Outposters then give us a shout on [email protected] and see your name up in lights. This time, Wrenage has been watching the magic box again.

Devil-Dog

Devil Dog: Hound of Hell

I watched a Kolchak episode with a hell hound. This led me to watch the redundantly-titled, made-for-TV horror movie Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. Let’s take a Deep Dive: Going in Depth look at this flick. Spoilers abound about the hound.

Devil Dog: Hound of Hell aired Halloween night on CBS in 1978. I imagine a good time was had by a lot of youngsters as they hunkered down in front of their gamma ray-emitting 19-inch TVs, still in their costumes, their piles of candy spread out on the shag carpet before them and stimulated their brains with sugar and cheesy commercial-break horror.

Devil Dog: Hound of Hell starts with a black station wagon pulling up to a dog kennel. Two well-dressed men and a woman step out. The woman is played by Martine Beswick, who participated in the gypsy catfight in From Russia With Love.

But we are not here to talk cats. We are here to talk dogs. This trio wants a dog for breeding purposes. They pick out a German Shepherd for the princely sum of $5,000. That’s the equivalent of $23,000 today. I like dogs, but if I paid $23,000 for a dog, it better have a Captain America #1 rolled up inside its keister and give me foot rubs.

Captain America #1 – unsoiled

Lo and behold, these people are witches and make the dog an unwilling participant in a black mass. Their plan is to have the devil mate with the dog, and its progeny will rule the world. Apparently, that whole Mia Farrow thing didn’t work out…

Sam Peckinpah-stalwart R.G. Armstrong is one of the cult members. I like to think he is the same character he played in Race With The Devil. He is probably the same character in Lone Wolf McQuade, as well. Basically, we will assume R. G. Armstrong is a cult member in general. He is a Hollywood actor, after all. A black mass where a dog mates with the devil is likely pretty tame compared to the average Hollywood Adrenochrome Kegger.

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The movie gives us some credits next. Devil Dog: Hound of Hell was written by Steven and Elinor Karpf. They were mainly TV writers. Episodes of Kung Fu and the early Stan Winston-vehicle, Gargoyles, show up in their resumes. Devil Dog: Hound of Hell was directed by Curtis Harrington, who also brought us Killer Bees and Queen of Blood with John Saxon. Harrington went on to be a forerunner of New Queer Cinema. Now every movie is New Queer Cinema, amirite?

Next, we are introduced to the stars of the film. Playing the husband is Colonel Trautman himself, Richard Crenna. I’m not sure how to categorize Crenna. He is like if Robert Vaughn and Don Ameche had a baby. Great career, though. He started out in radio on the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show.

Crenna’s wife is played by Time Machine beauty Yvette Mimieux. I was surprised to learn Mimieux just died in January of this year. I guess she was not invited to the Adrenochrome Keggers…

On their way home, Crenna and Yvette find their dog dead in the street. Skipper is a stiffer. A neighbor says Skipper was hit by a black station wagon. The conspiracy is afoot!

The death of Skipper puts a damper on the daughter’s birthday party – not quite as bad as if James Cordon showed up as a guest, but pretty bad. The daughter is played by Kim Richards and the son is played by Ike Eisenmann, who played Scottie’s nephew in Wrath of Khan. Kim and Ike also played siblings in the Witch Mountain movies from Disney. Remember when Disney made fun movies like that and not New Queer Cinema?

Devil-Dog

In an effort to cheer everyone up, Crenna promises they will get another dog. Kim doesn’t want another dog.

“If I died, would you say, we’d get another daughter?”

So angsty. Kim is going to end up goth for sure. Wait, do goths still exist or is that a boomer term? Are jugaloos the new goths? Regardless, the names may change, but I think we can all agree that someone should give all of those folks a stern talking to about their life choices.

Devil-Dog

Ike and Kim hop upon their ten-speeds, which are about as 1970s as bikes can get. The only thing these bikes lack is an orange-and-brown color scheme and a “DY-NO-MITE!” sticker. RG Armstrong pulls up in a vegetable truck.

“Hi kids, do you think you mom would like some nice fresh corn or cucumbers?”

Yeesh, phallic-symbolism much, R.G.? This is a TV movie. Take it down a notch.

R.G. also has puppies. Ike and Kim take one, which, in case you are slow-on-the-uptake, is the unholy union of the devil and a $23,000 German Shepherd. Ike and Kim name the puppy, Lucky, which is so prosaic that my modern brain cannot wrap itself around it.

Surely, if this movie was made today, the creators would name the dog Damien, Satin, Lucy Furr or straight-up Hell Beast. I appreciate it when a movie takes an absurd concept and simply runs with it — no tongue-in-cheek or self-aware quips. Good on you, Devil Dog: Hound of Hell.

devil-dog

All in all, the movie is doing a decent job. Scenario and characters are established. The tone is bright, with an undercurrent of malevolence. Suburban horror is a catchy concept. Instead of castles, villages and countryside, you get ramblers, neighborhoods and lawns. Horror in a gothic setting seems like it belongs. Horror in a suburban setting seems like a tumor. Poltergeist is a great example of the genre. I once read that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was one of the first books to leave European horror tropes behind and put an Americana spin on things.

Next, a Spanish housekeeper, Maria, enters the movie. She wears a cross and knows the dog is bad news. How? Spanish powers. As Lucky’s eyes glow devilishly, Maria becomes so aghast she goes directly to Crenna and tells him the dog is evil.

“You must get rid of it!”

Crenna, who is sitting in a den that is a manifestation from Ron Swanson’s Id, says:

“I will certainly think about it.”

This is male speak, and translates into:

“Women be shopping…AND crazy.”

Crenna, Yvette, Ike and Kim go out. Maria is left alone with Lucky. She lights candles in front of her Mary idol. Lucky’s eyes glow, and the candle starts Maria’s arm on fire. The dog locks her in the room to burn. Later, Crenna and company come home to discover they need a new maid. Don’t worry, Crenna. A new maid will come to you. Herbert Hoover once said:

“A chicken in every pot!”

Or as Biden says:

“An illegal in every kitchen!”

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Time passes. Lucky is now a full-grown dog. Crenna is fixing a lawn mower. For plot purposes, the dog does not like Crenna. As Crenna works on the lawn mower, Lucky’s eyes glow, and Crenna cannot help but inch his hand closer and closer to the whirling blades. I’m pretty sure Crenna approached this scene with the question of “How would Shatner play this?” It’s kind of great.

Suffice it to say, Lucky’s mind control is no match for the willpower of a suburban dad who represses all hope of ever being happy again to dutifully work 40 hours a week for 40 years to provide for a nagging wife and two snot-nosed brats. Lucky walks away with his tail between his legs.

Later that night, Lucky enters Ike’s room. Ike gets out a candle. Kim joins him, and the three of them go up to the attic. What are they doing up there? Sorry, we have to wait for the movie to reveal it. Don’t worry. You are in the hands of experts. Remember, Steven and Elinor Karph wrote episodes of Kung Fu. Not even Shakespeare wrote episodes of Kung Fu.

The next day Yvette finds what looks like blood on Ike’s art projects. Ike threateningly asks:

“What are you doing sneaking around in here? Leave my things alone.”

Yvette is unnerved. Kids didn’t speak to their parents that way back then. Actually, kids don’t speak to their parents that way today. Because kids today don’t have parents! Ba-dum-tsss!

Hound-Of-Hell

Ike apologizes, but something is clearly amiss – mostly, the devil has come to earth in the form of a dog. Bible eschatology is a minor hobby of mine. In all my studies, I’ve never come across this scenario before. Then again, I do tend toward amillennialism, which is the most practical and least fantastical of the bunch. The works of Hal Lindsey and Timothy LaHaye belong in the trash.

Due to the bizarre behavior of Ike and Kim, Yvette calls Crenna and asks him to come home from work. Crenna is swamped, however. Yvette machetes her way through shag carpeting to read a magazine. Lucky sits there looking at her. Lucky gradually gets closer in a series of cuts that rival Hitchcock in their innovation. The scene culminates with Yvette fleeing into her bedroom. Lucky follows and the door slams shut.

Crenna returns home in his giant 1970s car. Maverick could land an F-14 on the trunk of that thing. Yvette is waiting and puts sex moves on Crenna. She is now clearly possessed. Instead of barfing pea soup, she takes Crenna skinny-dipping in the neighbor’s pool.

Now we know Lucky is truly evil. He essentially made a married woman have sex with her husband and uphold traditional values. How dastardly, how devious, how villainous!

The next morning, Crenna is out jogging, probably trying to outrun the feelings of dirtiness inside of him that resulted from Yvette’s seduction. He sees a police car. Lucky killed the neighbor’s Great Dane. I’m beginning to think the witches who set this plan in motion are slightly misunderstanding the concept of ruling the world. So far, all that has been accomplished is the death of a maid, kids going up to the attic, marital lovemaking and now the death of a Great Dane.

In The Omen, Damien was at least trying to get himself placed high in the government where he could do some damage. Lucky is aiming considerably lower.

The owner of the Great Dane vows he will kill Lucky in revenge. At one time, we would take this declaration with a grain of salt. Post-John Wick, we now expect gratuitous Gun Fu.

We don’t get it. Instead, the neighbor is found floating dead in his pool. We assume Lucky is responsible, but Crenna and Yvette had sex in that pool. Perhaps, that knowledge killed the neighbor…

Moving on, Ike’s school counselor, Miles, visits. Apparently, Ike cheated to win his class-president election. Possessed Yvette has no problem with this. “It’s the American way,” she says. Yikes, how frighteningly prescient!

Miles says Ike needs professional help.

“There is a kind of corruption seeping into his personality. I can’t explain it.”

Even though he just did… Later on, Crenna and Yvette have a spat. Yvette went to see Miles in a slutty dress to get him to change his mind about Ike. Crenna says that Miles would never fall for it. Yvette responds:

“Miles did!”

This movie has taken a dark turn. Crenna sets out to visit Miles for verification… or maybe compare notes. Lucky follows. He runs to spooky synthesizer music. Devil Dog: Hound of Hell has a fairly distinct score. It sounds like flutes and a choir going “woo-woo.” Note: I didn’t say the score was good. I said it was distinct.

Lucky beats Crenna to Miles’s house and transforms into a hell hound, which is basically a goblin dog superimposed into the film. It looks like they took a rottweiler and gave it a mane and horns. The imagery of the hell hound makes me wonder if Stephen King saw this movie and used the creature as inspiration for the supernatural canine in his novella, The Sun Dog.

hound-of-hell

Crenna arrives to see Miles run out of his house and get hit by a car. For lack of anything better to do, Crenna returns home. Ike and Kim play ping-pong without a care in the world when Crenna asks:

“Your counselor is dead, do you know what that means?”

“Yeah. No one flunks English anymore!”

Sick burn, Ike! That night, Crenna lies in bed looking at Yvette. She wears a nightgown with a plunging neckline. You can read Crenna’s, thoughts, Yeah, she is possessed and seduced our son’s counselor. On the other hand, she does have world-class breasts…

Men everywhere nod in understanding. Crenna hears noises in the attic. He goes to investigate and finds Ike, Kim and Lucky having a black mass. Candles and blood are on the floor. A picture of a three-eyed demon hangs on the wall. This leads to the superb exchange:

“What’s this?”

“Just a picture.”

“What about the chanting and candles?”

“We’re ethnic!”

The next day, Crenna goes to the doctor for a checkup in case he is the one with the problem. Your dog tried to get you to swan-dive into a lawnmower and killed your maid, neighbor and neighbor’s dog, your kids are worshipping the devil in your attic, and your wife is possessed and seducing school faculty, and not even powerful school faculty that can get her a deal on textbooks but counseling faculty. They are the people who wear Bart Simpson ties to get kids to relate to them (Don’t have a suicidal thought, man).

All of this is very beta on Crenna’s part, and the movie slows to a stop. The doctor visit has the feel of a scene that was added to get the movie up to an appropriate length to fill a two-hour time slot. Leaving that scene out would have given them time for an extra Woolite commercial and a MASH promo.

Back at home, Crenna watches the news. There is a story about a shooter holding off police after murdering folks. They interview the shooter’s distraught wife. She blames it all on… a dog.

Dun-dun-duuuuuun!

Crenna grabs a gun. He is going to take care of Lucky himself. He puts Lucky in the car. Ike and Kim try to stop him with whiney, nasally voices. Yvette warns:

“You’ll never forgive yourself for this!”

Crenna, now alpha, drives Lucky into the country. He tries to shoot the dog, but the bullets have no effect. Crenna gets back in the car and drives away, leaving Lucky in the country. Is Lucky home when Crenna gets back? You bet! Crenna now has no choice but to do what characters in these kinds of movies do when confronted with these types of situations.

They go talk to an occult bookstore owner for answers.

The bookstore owner says Lucky is a “Bargus”. She exposits mumbo-jumbo about demons. You get the sense the writers are making this mythology up. I googled Bargus. It is defined as a spot on a windshield that is perpetually not cleared by a wiper.

The bookstore owner finds a picture that is similar to the demon picture Crenna’s kids drew. It is on a cliff in Ecuador. This sends Crenna on a trip to Ecuador, and by Ecuador, I mean, rural California.

Crenna talks to a wizened old man in pretend Ecuador. The old man has a tattoo on his hand that looks like he drew it in study hall. The old man tells Crenna to read Revelation 20, which is the millennialism chapter of the Bible.

Devil-Dog

I get a kick out of Hollywood’s use of the Bible. Nothing in Revelation 20 has anything to do with this movie. It reminds me of an old theology joke about taking verses out of context to piece together nonsense. It goes like this…

“Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).”

“Go and do thou likewise (Luke 10:37).”

The old man draws a study-hall tattoo on Crenna’s palm.

“Don’t look into his eyes, but the Bargus will fear the tattoo. Hold the tattoo against his eye to banish him.”

Sounds reasonable. Crenna flies home. Lucky is waiting for him in the middle of the road. Crenna drives to work and wanders around in your standard industrial basement, which shows up in a lot of low-budget horror movies. If Crenna is not careful, he might run into some colonial marines looking for colonists.

Lucky approaches out of a foggy spotlight as the hell hound. Crenna holds up his glowing tattoo and once more exhibits all of the skills he learned from the William Shatner School of Acting. The hell hound barks. Crenna puts his tattoo over Lucky’s eye… or something… and flames surround the hell dog. Lucky morphs into a roaring demon and disappears.

Hurrah! Victory achieved! In celebration, Crenna takes his family on a camping trip. Kim asks:

“It’s over, forever, isn’t it?”

Ike then says:

“About it being over, there were ten pups in that litter. Where do you suppose the other nine are?”

And on that note of existential doubt, we exit the movie…

And there we have it – Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. There is something special about these 1970s made-for-TV horror movies. A relatively-unknown, mini-golden age of horror happened on ABC, CBS and NBC at that time. I’ve found a few gems spelunking their depths. A lot of them are on YouTube.

It turns out the Kolchak episode that made me remember Devil Dog: Hound of Hell is related. According to IMDB, “The film was inspired by The Devil’s Platform, the seventh episode (of 20 total) of the horror TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974). However, the film’s producers could not get permission to continue the storyline from the TV episode, so they opted to do a new one. Also, Tom Skerritt was in talks with Ridley Scott to do Alien (1979) and was unavailable for the film, so the producers offered the role of Mike Barry to Richard Crenna.

How about that. It’s a purposeful universe, after all.

Devil-Dog

I grew up with German Shepherds, so it was hard for me to take Lucky serious. I saw his “acting” on a daily basis for years. It’s basically how a German Shepherd acts when it is trying to maintain its discipline before its owner gives it permission to be goofy. I can see that barely-contained playfulness in Lucky’s performance. Truly evil dogs are not the large breeds. It’s those little yip dogs. They are nothing more than glorified rats conscripted into service as surrogate children for lesbians.

Simple rule-of-thumb: if you can’t wrassle with a dog, it ain’t a real dog.

 

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