Devil Dog: The Hound of Hellrecommended viewing

Suburban Satanists!
★★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
Curtis Harrington
Starring: 
Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimeiux, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenman
The Setup: 
Family adopts Rosemary’s Puppy.
Discussion: 

This is one of those things that sat on my list for a long time with little interest. Then one day I’m in Best Buy and I see it packaged as a three-pack with Grizzly and Day of the Animals—recommendation by association—and then I saw that it stars Kim Richards of Escape to Witch Mountain fame! So that shit shot to number one. I even have that weird consumer feeling that tells me I should buy the boxed set, despite the fact that I know I’ll probably want to see each of those movies once, at best, during the next decade.

Okay! So we open with these three black-clad Satanists looking for a doggie to bear Satan’s spawn. They settle on Lady, a prize German Shepherd breeder, and offer $5,000 for her. Next time we see her she’s in the center of a pentagram during a Satanic ritual. Just look at these suburban Satanists below. I love the guy with the glasses. It’s as though they just came from their AARP meeting. Anyway, so they keep imploring their dark master to “Send your seed! Send the beast!” and sure enough, soon a big wolf shadow is seen entering the chamber. We’re not five minutes in and already we’ve had K9 Satan-rape!

Then the credits. Not only does this movie star Kim Richards of Escape to and Return From Witch Mountain, but also Ike Eisenman, who played her brother in both movies! It’s like Tony and Tia are reunited to face the Satan Doggie! Too bad they’ve been stripped of their mental powers. Anyway, we see that this movie also stars Yvettte Mimeiux, of the original Time Machine and The Black Hole, and is directed by cinematic gem-machine Curtis Harrington [The Killing Kind, What’s the Matter With Helen?], who recently died. Oh yeah, and Richard Crenna’s here, too.

So Richard plays Mike Barry and Yvette is Betty Barry, and they’re rekindling their romance as they drive home to find the family pet Skipper lying dead in the street. A witness says that a black car seemed to intentionally want to kill him. Hello: Black car = Satanists. So Kim as Bonnie is all devastated, and pissed that her parents just offer her new dog, as though if she got run over her parents would just get a new daughter. This, by the way, completely ruined what I think was supposed to be her ninth birthday, although she is obviously thirteen. So she and Ike as Charlie go outside, and who should happen to be ambling through their suburban neighborhood but an old coot with a fruit cart? Those of you who live in modern subdivisions can attest to how frequently old coots with fruit carts come a’ amblin’ by. The fruit cart Satanist [come on, we all know he’s a Satanist] offers them an apple [symbolism—DING!] then shows them these adorable German Shepherd pups he is trying to give away. Bonnie takes one, completely forgetting the hapless Skipper before his tire-printed corpse is even cold. Fickle children!

So then the neighbor drops by with his fucking enormous great dane. Dude, leave it at home. Then Maria, the Hispanic housekeeper comes over. Since Maria is ethnic she is obviously much more in touch with the spiritual world, and she takes an instant dislike to Lucky, which is what they named Satan puppy. She has a talk with Mike in which she begs them to get rid of the dog, and during which we learn that Maria has been with the family for about ten years. So they leave her alone with the possessed pooch and she takes comfort in the ginormous catholic shrine that she maintains within the Barry household, while Satan puppy stares at her ominously. The little thing does look sort of evil. Soon enough Maria is on fire. When Mike comes home he says “I smell smoke!” Smoke? Don’t you mean the sickeningly sweet scent of charred flesh?

By now and at several key points in the narrative you will have occasion to say “WHAT the FUCK is with that WALLPAPER?” It’s really out there, but I also really liked it. During an earlier scene it matched well with the palette of the characters in the shot [below], and in the shot further down it creates an interesting shot that emphasizes the trapped feeling Betty is having at that moment. It’s also just darn bizarre! And I swear, I have never seen a movie use houseplants to such menacing effect.

So now it’s a year later, and Bonnie has just had her ears pierced for her birthday [we will not explore the subtext of that one]. Apparently everything has been fine with the devil dog til now, but things are about to get messy. For one, the canine antichrist has dad Mike, who, you will recall, is the only one who has been apprised of their pet’s devilish doings, almost put his hand in the whirling blades of the upside-down lawn mower. This is why it’s important to keep your power mowers in their blades-down position. Regardless, it’s impossible not to have unbearable tension when a guy’s hand is nearing mower blades.

Then Mom announces that she’s going to take the kids to this “marvelous Haitian art exhibit.” Wow, progressive little small town, having such exhibits. Then dad goes into the kids’ room and finds a vial full of blood! Actually, I think we’re supposed to believe that he knocks the vial over, but it’s quite clear that it spontaneously spills over by itself. Then the kids come back, and they are quite mean and sassy! They are now the minions of the Satan Pooch! Oooh, this is getting GOOD.

SPOILERS > > >
Then through a series of circumstances, Mom is left alone in the house with the dog—and the wallpaper. She’s just sitting there trying to get through a magazine when the dog comes in, then comes closer, then comes closer. The dog is this big panting German Shepherd that does stare with this vaguely creepy look. By the way, while this is happening, there’s also a fuzzy one-eyed monster staring Yvette [and you] right in the face as well. So after some random burning pans [Satan wants mankind to suffer a thousand torments of baked-on, spattered-on grease!] she goes upstairs, followed by the hound of hell, and ends up in the bedroom, where the knocker thumps a perhaps-symbolic bang on the door once the dog has followed her inside. Do I just have a dirty mind, or are they implying what I THINK they’re implying? Oh, have I mentioned that this is a made-for-TV movie?

Well, whatever happened, it turned mom into a lingerie-wearing, cigarette-smoking, wanton SLUT! She throws herself all over hubby when he gets home, and leads him over to skinny-dip in neighbor George’s pool! Without permission! At this point I have written in my notes: “I was so looking forward to this movie, and it’s better than I ever could have imagined.”

Okay, so our two suburban kids are evil snot-nosed brats, and our upright suburban mom is a strip-mall slut! How can it top itself? So Miles, the principal or someone from school comes over and says he’s worried about how Charlie won the class president election—essentially, he made sure the other kid was out of the race by framing him for a crime and ruining his young life! Mom won’t hear a word of it and orders Miles out, but Dad’s worried. Around this time I was wishing we could spend more time with the kids as they went about doing evil. Hard to go wrong with evil kids. Anyway, mom goes over and FUCKS Miles! Can you believe it?! We don’t see it, she just tells her husband about it with glee. Then he goes over to see Miles, but sadly Beelzebub Pooch has already been there, this time giving us a glimpse of his “true form,” which we’ll get to later.

So Dad comes home and neither the kids nor slut mom is going to let news of Miles’ death ruin their ping-pong game. Dad’s getting the idea that his world is fucked, but it gets fairly well hammered home when the kids are having a Satanic ritual in the [rather spacious] attic at three in the morning, complete with drawing of the beast [or whoever], composed in blood! He confides in his family doctor, who thinks he’s a nutjob, and he’s thinking it himself until he hears a report of a guy on the news freaking out with a gun and blaming the family dog. So he takes Satan Canine out to shoot him, and—it has no effect! So he stops by the local magic shop to consult with the proprietor, who tells him to hold a mirror to his sleeping daughter’s face and he will see her true nature. Yep, she’s an ugly hag in the mirror, and next thing you know, Pops is off to Ecuador. Along here, by the way, it is revealed that Dad is one of the few pure souls in the world who can stand up to the Satanic Housepet. What were the chances?

So Dad goes to Ecuador, where he is told to hang out until the sage mountain man comes to get him. It doesn’t seem to take too long, and along comes this Ecuadorian sage with an accent like Peter Falk's. He carves a symbol on Dad’s wrist and tells him to hold it to the eye of the true form of the hound and he can send it back to hell for another hundred years, or until it collects 77 box tops plus $3.95 for shipping.

So Dad’s seemingly on his way back from the airport when Devil Dog comes to meet him, but Dad decides to go instead to the old abandoned refinery or whatever. There’s lots of chasing around, but finally the hell hound appears in its true form: a hamster! No, jut kidding, it looks like a big mean dog with plastic horns attached to its head and a fuzzy puff of feathers on top of his head. You think I’m kidding, but look at this picture [below]. Now, Dad has been told not to look into the Satan Doggie’s eyes or he’ll be turned to stone… but it’s obvious that, while holding his hand up, he’s looking directly at the dog. Whatever. Finally the dog vanishes, and Crenna goes home to his wife and kids, who are now back to normal. I was kind of hoping the wife and kids would have a sort of “Woah, what happened to us?” kind of thing, but no, they just kind of act like it was a terrible thing and they’re so glad it’s over.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was solid cheesy fun throughout. If you like 70s styles and décor, the Witch Mountain kids, young adult horror, made-for-TV horror [in which bad things might happen or be implied, but it’s never going to be really, REALLY scary], and enjoy a current of true silliness peppered with some surprisingly suspenseful stuff… this may be for you! I could just watch this kind of shit forever, but then again I grew up watching this kind of shit on television, so it’s like a personal thing with me.

Okay, there HAS to be some kind of subtext, no? But I can’t really figure it out. I think it said at the beginning that this was adapted from a novel, so I assume that most of the coherent subtext got left there. As it is, it’s kind of just about a struggle for who is the head of this family: man or dog. There is some stuff at the beginning about how the flame in their marriage is flickering low and how dad works late a lot, but not enough to really stand up. It’s a disappointment because when you have a wife turned tramp and kids becoming vindictive evil-machines, I want subtext!

Anyway, if you like cheesy supernatural animal attack made-for-TV movies starring the Witch Mountain kids, please hop on board.

Should you watch it: 

YES! If tepid cheesy animal attacks make you smile.