Review Date: June 3, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Count Dracula just may have been depicted on screen more times than any other character in film history. In fact, just to spice things up, sometimes filmmakers tried to make movies about other members of Dracula's family. We've had sons of Dracula, daughters of Dracula, brides of Dracula, you name it. But did the famous count ever have any pets? Well, that very question (whether we even wanted to know or not) was answered in the 1978 film, Zoltan: Hound of Dracula. Anchor Bay has produced the DVD that's all about a vampire's best friend.
As in so many other Dracula films, Zoltan begins with the discovery of Dracula's tomb somewhere in Eastern Europe. Predictably, some inept guard opens a coffin and foolishly removes the wooden stake from the body inside. But instead of a human bloodsucker, it's a savage pooch that attacks the guard. After killing the guard (by a bite to the neck, naturally), Zoltan the dog then opens another coffin and removes the wooden stake from its occupant as well. This time it's Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder) who comes back to life, and the pair quickly leaves the tomb to create more vampire mischief.
Cut to the Van Helsing character of the film, Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer), providing all the necessary exposition. He explains that Smit wasn't a true vampire, but a servant of Dracula. He needs a Dracula to be his master. As it turns out, there is one living descendent of Transylvania's first family still alive: a Michael Drake (get it?) who was taken from his natural family and brought to the United States. Branco knows Smit will seek out this last remaining Dracula, so he plans to find Drake before Smit and his killer canine do.
Now we meet Drake (Michael Pataki) himself, who's planning a camping outing with his wife, their two kids, their dogs, and a fresh litter of puppies. Smit and Zoltan, ignoring all California leash laws, are already tracking the family. The Drake camping trip doesn't go well, as the dogs disappear, and the children are attacked by other wild dogs. Yes, there are a lot of dogs in this movie. They decide to pack it in early, until Inspector Branco shows up and tells Drake of his true family lineage. Drake sends his family home so he and Branco can elminate the vampire menace. The duo begins a fight to the death, and believe me, Zoltan's bark is NOT worse than his bite.
If the above description sounded silly, you should see the actual movie! Actually, that's a bit harsh, since this wouldn't be a terrible movie had they just left out the Dracula part. Can you really take the idea of vampire dogs seriously? Mostly, this is a film about a family under attack from a wild dog (ala Cujo), and that's not terrible. But I guess they needed a plot device to make the dog truly evil, as well as the ability for Zoltan to infect other dogs to create an army of vampire mutts for the final attack sequences. And those attack sequences aren't bad, it's just all the dull scenes of the annual Drake vacation that get so mind-numbingly boring.
The cast of Zoltan will be well known to fans of B movies. Jose Ferrer and Michael Pataki starred in numerous low-budget films in the 70s, and the craggly face of Reggie Nalder has been seen in several horror films like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Mark of the Devil. He was also the vampire Barlow in the TV adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot. But despite the experience of these men, the acting still falls way flat. Nalder's on-screen time is mostly close-ups of his creepy face as he telepathically instructs Zoltan. The best performance may well be Zoltan himself, particularly in the opening scene where he removes the stake from Smit's heart.
There are a few flashback scenes where we see the transition of Zoltan from lovable dog to hound of hell. And these scenes are about as bad as you'll ever see. Luckily most of the film takes place in modern times, 'cause they sure did a terrible job with the supposed gothic 19th century setting. It's good to know that even vampires dislike dogs that bark in the middle of the night though. And I got a major laugh from seeing a Cal Worthington commercial on the Drake's TV. Southern California residents will note that those annoying spots still show up on late night TV almost 25 years later.
Anchor Bay continues their efforts to reach way back in the film vaults to find movies to release on DVD. I had never even heard of this movie before (it also went by the name Dracula's Dog). Despite it's obscurity, it doesn't look half bad. It's presented widescreen (1.85:1) and anamorphic. Although it's not the best work Anchor Bay has done visually, it's still quite good, with solid colors (though slightly faded) and well-done dark scenes. Much of this movie takes place at night and outside, so making those scenes as clear as possible was of utmost importance. Considering this film has probably not been seen outside of a drive-in, I'm sure it will look amazing to anyone who caught it on it's first run.
The sound presentation was a bit disappointing however. The dialogue in the opening scene in Eastern Europe is almost unintelligible. It clears up for the remainder of the film, but most of that is just dogs barking. And that gets quite shrill and annoying by the end of the film. Maybe I'm not a dog lover, but 90 minutes of barking dogs really gets on my nerves. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which for once might be a good thing, since if I was subjected to surround sound of barking dogs for an hour and a half, I might just go crazy.
Not much to discuss in the way of supplements, other than the theatrical trailer. At least it's an accurate preview, pretty much detailing exactly what you'll get with Zoltan: Hound of Dracula. I realize people like loaded special editions, but with an obscure film like this, even getting the trailer practically makes it a special edition. Maybe a cast and crew biography (Director Albert Band is the father of Charles Band, a B-movie guru himself) would have been a nice addition, but I doubt that supplements will be a factor for those who are interested in this film anyway.
From the subject matter alone, you know this is gonna be a fairly silly movie. If you like vampire movies but are tired of all the usual cliches, you might even enjoy Zoltan: Hound of Dracula. Personally, I found it a bit slow and dumb, with nothing really interesting until the two major dog attack scenes near the end. But as always, Anchor Bay at least makes the film look as good as it can get. Strictly for lovers of drive-in fare though.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - B
Sound - C
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono