‘Don’t Pet Them……Fear Them’!

So screamed the ads for this 1976 slice of mad animal mayhem, concerning a bunch of domestic dogs going a bit loopy and chowing down on the folk in and around a California university campus.

Desperately low budget, chock full of corny dialogue, featuring some ropy dog attack sequences and failing to even offer up any real sort of explanation (or ending), you’d expect me to consign this one to the ‘forget about it’ bin, right?

Well, wrong actually – for the same reasons I’ve given in the previous paragraph.

Sure, if you sit a ‘serious’ movie-goer down and subject them to this, they probably wouldn’t last ten minutes, but for someone who has happily sat through the likes of Grizzly, Snowbeast and a truckload of other killer animal movies, this was more than enough to keep me happy.

A lot of that is undoubtedly down to the film’s lead, a physics professor played by David McCallum.

McCallum is about as far removed from the image of a professor as you could imagine, donned in denim jacket and jeans, all unkempt shaggy hair and scruffy beard and imploring anyone within range to get him another beer.

McCallum’s Harlan Thompson is a truly weird creation – pretty unlikeable in a lot of scenes, yet with just enough of an anti-hero edge that you end up rooting for him.

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Thompson starts poking around after some cattle turn up mutilated in a field and, once the farmer of that cattle also turns up dead, becomes convinced that dogs are responsible.

Naturally nobody believes him (including uni head Dr Koppleman, played by Sterling Swanson, who basically trots out the mayor’s role from Jaws).

But as the bodies continue to pile up, Thompson is joined on his quest by fellow professor Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner), who comes up with the theory that domestic dogs are somehow joining in packs and becoming one, hunting down humans for fun for no real reason at all.

For a lot of the film’s 90-minute running time, a stream of references are made to a top-secret research facility right on the campus’ doorstep, leading any right-minded viewer to believe that will hold the key to the canine’s craziness.

But no – in fact, that story angle is dropped as the film reaches its climax, with no reason offered as to why it was ever included in the first place.

Another chunk of bizarreness comes in the form of Barry Greenberg’s Howard (simply dubbed ‘the fat kid’ by professor Fitzgerald), who pops up for a couple of strange, not-sure-if-they-are-meant-to-be-funny-or-not-but-they-are scenes involving stealing food, before being munched.

There is plenty of carnage here, although a lot of it belongs in the ‘too dark to see anything so we’ll just linger on the aftermath’ style, hardly surprising though when the makers want us to believe terriers, Labradors and plenty more harmless looking mutts are on the rampage.

A few notable scenes are cleverly staged by director Burt Brinckerhoff though – to-be Dallas star Linda Gray bites the dust (in the shower no less), while a mass attack on students packed into the campus library proves an enjoyable climactic showdown.

But then, just like that, the film ends, in a manner reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds, although this does at least throw up a ‘shock’ closing image that I must admit actually made me laugh out loud.

Dogs will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, and you certainly need to know what you are letting yourself in for, but I’d happily sit through this one again.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.