|Review||Monster Dog (1984)||Director||Claudio Fragasso (as Clyde Anderson)|
|Writer||Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi|
|Cast||Alice Cooper, Victoria Vera, Carlos Santurio, Pepa Sarsa, Carole James, Emilio Linder, Ricardo Palacios, Luis Maluenda, Barta Barri, Charly Bravo, Fernando Conde, Fernando Baeza and Nino Bastida|
“20 years ago something terrible happened here. And it’s happening again“ – Vince Raven
Rock star Vince Raven (Cooper) returns to his old homestead for the first time in ages along with his producer/girlfriend Sandra (Vera) and a few friends/co-workers to shoot a gothic styled music video. Upon his arrival Vince is greeted by a sheriff and his deputy and informed that a pack of wild dogs are terrorizing the area. Turns out that years ago Vince’s father was killed by the townsfolk as he was thought to be a werewolf who commanded a group of vicious dogs and Vince fears he may have some canine in his blood.
Once the shooting of the video begins all hell breaks loose; first the group discovers a mutilated victim in the house and then a quartet of villagers seize Vince’s friends and aim to kill him as they fear the Lord of the dogs has returned and must be put down.
I’m a big Alice Cooper fan. He’s had a remarkable career with highs and extreme lows and it’s a bit hard to separate “Monster Dog” from where he found himself artistically speaking in the early 80’s. He’d been dropped by his record label and was seriously out of control with booze. He went to re-hab and probably had a big identity crisis when he wanted to get back to work. Getting to work on a horror movie in Spain was probably a good way to get started again and Cooper has admitted that he wanted to see if he could function well without the booze.
Turns out that he’s got a great screen presence in “Monster Dog” but it can hardly be said that he gives any kind of acting performance as such. The fact that he’s dubbed doesn’t help much save for the lo-fi charm that accompanies low-budget European horrors in the 70’s and 80’s in the iffy technical post production department. “Monster Dog” also isn’t a prime example of good writing as the story here is anything but coherent and the characters actions are very confusing; not to mention their sometimes beyond hilarious dialogue and verbal exchanges.
But the film is positively brimming with otherworldly atmosphere, it sure looks good and the offbeat (and genuinely weird) vibe works tremendously in it’s favor. Exteriors as well as interiors are drenched in fog and artificial lighting and there’s some flashy camera work on display here. A restrictive budget no doubt hindered the special effects work from reaching it’s full potential and once the actual monster dog rears it’s head in a few scenes the result ranges from underwhelming to downright silly looking.
Cooper does a lot for the film, dubbed and all, and it has enough energy with a few decent set-pieces to keep things lively. It’s never very suspenseful but it plods along nicely enough until the final third where we get fairly gory shoot-outs and dog attacks that are decently staged.
In a supplemental feature on the Blu-ray director Fragasso states that the film he intended to make did not come through due to re-editing of his material and interference from producers and what-not. Cooper has also said something similar to that effect. Maybe there’s a gothic masterpiece lying in the vaults somewhere in Spain but the problem we audiences have is we’re stuck with the released product. Directors and others responsible can fairly freely say, especially so long after the fact, that had their vision got through untainted we’d have had a much better product to look at. We’ll never know. Although the dubbing is pretty bad it does look like the characters are mouthing the same words so probably the core story got through OK. It’s kinda’ frustrating to suddenly hear the attacking villagers refer to Raven as Roberts so there are signs of some tinkering that may have been instigated by someone not fully aware of the material. There’s a dream sequence early on that’s so far out there that it’s anyone’s guess where that came from but maybe it was just to pad out the runtime as it just barely makes it past the 80 minute mark sans credits. “Monster Dog” feels a little incomplete, it’s true, but it’s not a complete mess at all.
In the end “Monster Dog” did little for anyone beyond showing Cooper that he could function well without alcohol. Cooper supplied two original tracks; Identity Crisises (that’s spelled correctly) and See me in the Mirror and both musical sequences are bona fide highlights in the film. Especially the music video for the former track that opens and closes the film. A couple of years later Cooper released the solid “Constrictor” album and was back on the music scene. So in that respect “Monster Dog” was an essential part of Cooper’s career.
The fact that the film is also an OK, if quite cheesy and weird, addition to the Euro horror cult scene is just added bonus. I’ve watched it a few times, I’m never bored and actually find it’s visual style quite impressive at times.