Written by Frank Ray Perilli
Directed by Albert Band
Starring John Levin, Reggie Nalder, Jose Ferrer
US Release June, 1958
RT 90 min.
Home Video Lionsgate
Classic Horrors rating = 4 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers.
When you have a dog that recognizes other dogs on TV and barks at them every… single… time, you realize how many dogs there actually are on TV. I had to put my girl, Ginger, in the other room while I watched Dracula’s Dog. She had company, though. My Yorkie, Cosmo, wouldn’t have barked, but the poor little thing would have been scared by the Doberman with the glowing eyes. Or he would have laughed, more likely; there’s nothing very scary about the movie, aka Zoltan, The Hound of Dracula.
On the other hand, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Based on the novel, Hounds of Dracula by Ken Johnson, Dracula’s Dog spends a lot of time creating an origin story for the vampire dog and it makes sense… sort of. Protecting a woman from Dracula (Michael Pataki) while she sleeps, Zoltan is bitten when, in a pretty cool scene, Dracula jumps out a window and turns into a bat. In one shot, we watch from below as Dracula jumps. In the next shot, we watch from above as the bat flies down to Zoltan.
More ridiculous to me is the human aspect of the origin and the motivation for the rest of the story. Zoltan’s owner, Veidt Smith (Reggie Nalder), is part-vampire, the perfect servant for Dracula because he can function during the daytime and has no craving for blood. Smith must find and serve a new master when Dracula is destroyed and the one surviving descendant was whisked away to safety in Los Angeles when he was a child. Smith and Zoltan therefore take a trip overseas to find him.
Following them is Inspector Branco (Mel Ferrer) who arrived on the scene in Russia when military blasting uncovered “a” Dracula tomb (there must be others). It contained several coffins for dead “Draculas,” such as Contesssa Eva and Mikhail, as well as coffins for Smith and Zoltan. When the stakes are removed from their skeletons (or the cloaks covering them), Zoltan and Smith spring to life, overhear Branco talking, and board a ship for the United States.
In L.A., the last surviving non-vampire Dracula, psychologist Steve Drake (John Levin), prepares his wife and children for a two-week camping trip. Their German Shepherds, Samson and Annie, have just had babies and, so the children won’t feel “terrible” about leaving them at home, their canine companions are going to join them on the trip. That’s good, because Zoltan can only turn other dogs into vampires and we need to provide some more victims for the story.
Herein lies the problem with the entire endeavor. Dogs are scary enough when they’re mean; they don’t need to be vampires. The fact that Zoltan is a vampire dog poses no additional threat to the humans in the movie. He can tear them up with his regular teeth just fine. So it’s just a little silly when his supernatural victims are other dogs, particularly when one of the puppies dies, is buried, rises from its tiny grave, then become a full grown dog in the very next scene.
The script by Frank Ray Perilli offers an opportunity for human thrills when Drake and Branco are trapped in a cabin and Zoltan and his pack of long-toothed dogs attack. However, director Albert Band squanders it. I’m not sure how there can be absolutely no suspense with growling dogs literally tearing the roof off to get at the two men. Perhaps it’s because nothing is going on inside the cabin; they just stand there. And every time Zoltan is about to accomplish one of Smith’s missions, the sun rises.
Drake atypically accepts Branco’s explanation for what’s happening, so that’s refreshing. Two other campers play the role of the skeptics when Zoltan bites their dog, Buster. Since it’s already full grown, we know he’s a vampire dog because his fur gets darker. Every character and plot point in Dracula’s Dog is conveniently positioned so its story can exist. For example, Branco rents a convertible when he arrives in L.A., the better to have its top slowly close later as Zoltan charges towards it.
I got a kick out of this movie. Even though it’s bad, it’s not bad enough to be good. I accept the backstory, but have trouble with what happens in the present. He’s largely ineffective, but Reggie Nalder makes one creepy looking villain. Since I’m a “dog person,” I like to see a movie made with my furry friends in mind. I’m going to slap the parental lock on this one for Ginger and Cosmo, though. I can stand a lot in my horror movies, but I’d never subject them to this one.