KL Studio Classics Releases the Deadliest Hound of Them All!
DIRECTED BY ALBERT BAND/1977
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: OCTOBER 22, 2019/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
As it is known, every dog has its day- except for this one. For Zoltan, loyal hound of Dracula, only night will do. And Zoltan has many, many quality nights- at least as far as hard day’s nights for vampire dogs go. Because he’s been working like the dog that he is for his master, the legendary (but thankfully now staked and dead) Count Dracula.
Dracula has been popular fiction’s favorite baddie since God’s dog was a puppy. Villainously seductive and wielding a fatal bloodlust that is entirely self-serving, one might be rightly shocked to learn that he too was a dog owner.
The Lord of the Vampires is glimpsed only briefly in this film, during an early flashback, courtesy of his dog (!), depicting just how this master/pet arrangement came to be. The sequence immediately puts to rest the questions of how this great hound (more of a Doberman, actually) came to be a vampire, but also whether or not Wes Craven pioneered the dog flashback with 1984’s The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. (Answer: He did not. This film came out a good eight years earlier. Take that, snarky Leonard Maltin movie guide review!).
Zoltan, accidentally resurrected in modern day Transylvania by the Soviet military’s burial ground munitions testing (and a particularly dumb soldier who’d apparently never seen House of Frankenstein, which makes clear that removing the stake from a destroyed vampire restores the vampire), is nothing if not a devoted beast. The first thing he does following his flashback is wake up his vamped-out caretaker (Reggie Nadler, hamming it up in ghoul makeup with a lemon-sucking expression). Then, they get themselves shipped off to the states, being that Dracula’s last living descendant is there. That’s how these things work, right?
That man, Michael Drake (Michael Pataki), is taking his family out camping, along with their two dogs and their liter of pups. For Zoltan, this means only one thing: minions! For us, it means mayhem. And, by conventional film standards, an abnormal amount of aggressive barking. (Warning: watching this movie with a dog may result in more horror for it than for you). By this point, Zoltan has transformed into a family-in-peril film, out in the dark woods, to boot. The whole Dracula angle stops mattering the minute the Drake family hit the road in their mobile home camper that’s bigger than their house. Easy pickins’…
But things didn’t always flow this well for Dracula’s dog. Zoltan’s aforementioned flashback (of which he is only physically present for less than half of) takes us back to when he was just an ordinary pooch. Sensing one night that something is wrong in the nearby sleeping tower of a beautiful young maiden (either that, or there’s a squirrel in the yard), Zoltan’s peasant keeper sends him outside to bark. The nocturnal ruckus wakes the slumbering young lady just as Dracula was about to sink his teeth into her neck. Pissed off, he does the only thing an angry regal vampire would do: he transforms into a bat, and attacks the noisy dog. He gets him right in the neck, not giving him rabies but rather, immortality. Grayed out, dead-eyed, bloodthirsty immortality. For good measure, Drac nabs Zoltan’s caretaker, as well. Because not even Dracula could deprive another man of his dog. (Meaning, this film’s title is an exaggeration if not an outright lie.)
But never mind that technicality. Let’s be very clear- By virtue of its title, this is a movie about Dracula’s dog. In fact, one of its alternate drive-in marquees titles was in fact “Dracula’s Dog”. It’s also, despite what likely comes to mind when you think of a “dog movie” (I.e., family-friendly fare such as Lassie or Shiloh), something of a minor-key gore fest. It’s also not a comedy (a missed opportunity), despite the pretty good early gag of a barking dog thwarting a Dracula attack (recapped above). This is heart-shredding; not at all heart-melting. Zoltan… Hound of Dracula is a Crown International mid-1970s cheapie, brandishing an R-rating (though a fairly soft one) and only one star of note: José Ferrer (The Sentinel) as Inspector Branco, The Obligatory Old Guy Who Knows What The Heck Is Going On.
Director Albert Band (I Bury the Living, Ghoulies II), who died in 2002, made a pretty solid career out of sometimes directing and more often producing a wide array of familiar-at-best genre potboilers. While none are revered classics, several evoke a smile of recognition. This very much seems to be a person who operated under the notion that movies should be fun, even when that spirit dances up against the loose barrier of the silly. There’s no winking or moments of outward levity in Zoltan… Hound of Dracula. Band might’ve argued that with that title, why does there need to be? The title “Dracula’s Dog”? Even less so. In any case, this is a fine, middle-of-the-road horror-lite experience- unless dog deaths are a problem. (SPOILER: Every dog in this movie dies at least once). The film’s makeup effects are by a young Stan Winston, paving his way toward his game-changing work on all those James Cameron movies that await him.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Zoltan… Hound of Dracula on Blu-ray from a newly restored 4K master. For an unassuming Crown International bit of drive-in fodder, this movie looks and sounds awfully good. (Listen to that droney, singular synth score! Buummmm….). There’s a commentary track featuring not one but two film historians, Lee Gambin and John Harrison. This pair is as jovial as they are knowledgeable about every actor on screen, and whatnot. Their commentary is the type wherein immediately they announce themselves as non-ironic fans of the not-great film at hand, then continue to enthusiastically talk around it for much of the running time, discussing every other movie that might be connected to this one via actor resumes or thematically. One can hardly blame them, as Zoltan isn’t exactly begging for, and still might not deserve, this level of analytical attention. Yet, here it is, no begging necessary. The disc also contains the theatrical trailer and a vintage radio spot for the film, in which the voice-over guy seems to think he’s pitching a Disney Dean Jones movie.
Zoltan… Hound of Dracula, isn’t the dog one may suspect. Horror completists and fans of this particular era of B and C-grade drive-in specials will want to jump off the couch and fetch this one.