Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula - review

DVD set that contains ZoltanDirected by: Albert Band

Release Date: 1978

Contains spoilers

Also known as Dracula’s Dog, the producers were really scraping the bottom of the barrel when they came up with the concept for this one, with logic flaws, bad soundtrack, really odd concept and one of the most pathetic and obvious epilogue twists in movie history (which I shall utterly spoil later) this is B movie production at its best/worst (depending on your point of view).

That said it does have at least one interesting concept genre wise.

We begin with Soviet soldiers performing underground blasting. They stop when they unearth a tomb. When they investigate there are several graves in the wall belonging to the Dracula family. The officer in charge suggests they need an archaeologist and leaves a soldier on guard.

That night the soldier is awakened by an Earth tremor that causes a couple of the coffins to slide out onto the crypt floor. That'll teach you for pulling out stakesHe opens one and finds a wrapped shape with a stake in it and so pulls the stake (as you do! Actually for a real good look at whether you would pull the stake out or not I’d suggest the book "The Stake" by Richard Laymon, however in this case the soldier was just plain stupid). The shape below the sackcloth seems to move then a black dog leaps at him and bites his neck. Zoltan is awake.

Zoltan jumps up and paws at an unopened tomb, belonging to Count Igor Dracula (Michael Pataki), and remembers back to when he was just a mortal pooch and sensed something nearby. Igor Dracula in actionIn a nearby room Dracula is approaching a sleeping victim but the dog's barks awaken the woman and she screams. Dracula flees, turns into a bat and suckles upon the dog instead. This, and a further memory sequence, is the only *real* vampiric action we get. Unfortunately it is a dog's memory, a dog who remembers events it did not see (ie Dracula in the room - but perhaps, to be really generous, Zoltan picked those memories up from Dracula) and it is a scene that is completely lacking in atmosphere.

Zoltan Smit awakenspulls a coffin out, knocks the lid off and reveals a staked skeleton. He pulls the stake and Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder) reforms, looking a tad worse for wear. Telepathically he tells Zoltan that they must find a new master. As they leave the crypt a further earth tremor causes the crypt to become sealed.

The next day the soldiers have obviously re-excavated the crypt and have pulled the coffins up out of the earth. Maj. Hessel (Arlene Martel) and Inspector Branco (José Ferrer) have a coffin opened and find a staked corpse. Definitely a vampire tomb, decides Branco. They check the guard who was attacked by Zoltan and he has a faint pulse but no discernable breathing. They have the coffins and bodies burnt, stake the guard and have him burnt too. They are left with the quandary of two empty coffins.

Branco has done some research and realised that one of the coffins contained Smit and here we have some interesting genre lore, as far as I can tell solely emanating from this film and the novellisation by Ken Johnson. Smit is a “fractional lamia”. Essentially he is an immortal who can only be killed by stake but can function in daylight and has no bloodlust, however he cannot survive without a vampire master. It is clear to Branco that he will be looking for the last remaining Dracula, sent away for his own safety when a child. That person is one Michael Drake (Michael Pataki again) and Branco tells Hessel where he lives in LA, the exact address, Hessel arranges to get a visa but it might take some time. Little do they know that Smit is in the room listening to the conversation.

ZoltanIt is obviously easier for a person returned from the grave to get out of the Soviet Union than it is for a government official to get a visa because we see Smit on a ship. He remembers going out to look for his dog, for he was Zoltan’s mortal owner, and finding Dracula who does a little eye mojo and makes Smit his fractional lamia. The ship arrives in LA and Smit and Zoltan go looking for their new master.

Mike Drake is married to Marla (Jan Shutan) and they have two kids Linda (Libby Chase) and Steve (John Levin). They are about to go camping for two weeks and decide to take their two German Shepherds, Annie and Samson, plus the two unnamed puppies. Zoltan does go to the house that night but Samson’s barking wakes the household, causing Zotan to back off, the next day the family go on their camping trip, followed by a black hearse (driven by Smit and containing Zoltan’s doggy coffin). Before they leave Mike finds some old family photos including one of Igor Dracula with Zoltan – so vampires can be photographed in this.

The next section of the film sees the family’s trip falling apart. Firstly they lose a puppy that strands itself in a moored rowboat and becomes Zoltan fodder. Then Zoltan gets to the camper but is chased off by Samson. Mike saw Zoltan briefly and thinks it looked like a wolf, which means that Mike Drake has no idea what a wolf looks like! When, the next day, they find the puppy they assume death by exposure but as they bury it Mike notices the fang marks and assumes a rattler got it. TTerrifying image of a vampire puppy!his leads to the *terrifying* scene of the puppy rising from the grave, honestly you have to watch a puppy rise from the grave to realise how none threatening it seems.

Zoltan gets a pair of fishermen’s dog and bites its neck (only a neck bite will change you into one of the undead it seems) and then the dogs try and invade the camper. Mike is attacked but they run off, unbeknown to him because they see his crucifix. Then, the next night, they vampirise Annie and Samson runs off into the night. It also becomes apparent that the vamped dogs turn a charcoal grey colour. Having lost their dogs and suffered several dog attacks Mike, sensibly, decides to get out of there. Then Branco arrives. He explains to Mike what is going on (with the amusing aside from Mike that if it is true he is going to sue the movie companies making Dracula pictures without his permission). Despite not being convinced he sends his family away and goes off to a fisherman’s cabin with Branco.

That night they suffer the siege of the vampire dogs, which generally make a mess of the cabin. Branco has put two and two together and seems to realise that it was a dog in the second coffin so they head back to the original campsite. Now the only reason I can see for going off to the cabin and then back to the campsite was that they were so distant it took out the daylight hours and the filmmakers couldn’t work out what to do with the characters during the day!

Reaching the campsite they split up. Branco finds Smit, fights him and then stakes him. Smit meets his endMike is attacked by the vampire dog pack and hides in the soft-top convertible that the dogs seem to have trouble getting into! He eventually starts the engine (having recognised Annie as one of the dogs and Zoltan from its picture), drives off and then sees Samson running up. He lets Samson into the car who is, of course, a vampire. A bit of a struggle and he stakes the dog. Meanwhile the fishermen are tackling two of the dogs and Branco appears to stake them. Mike chases Zoltan, gets hypnotised by the pooch's vampire eyes and drops his stake and bears his chest. This reveals the cross which causes the dog to back off and fall off a cliff onto a fence that stakes the erstwhile Devil dog!

It is all over, but wait we have the epilogue twist as the camera pulls away, follows a trail of ripped up birds and animals to the terrifying sight of the vampire puppy!

The acting is below average throughout. Nalder only speaks in the memory sequences and his dialogue in the rest of the film is voice-over telepathy. The concept is poor and the soundtrack consists of seventies synthesisers (including a Bontempi by the sound of things) that produce an obtrusive and none atmospheric mess.

This is one that is so bad it has to be seen to be believed. I’m giving a score of 1.5 out of 10, and those points are mainly given for the idea of the fractional lamia which, despite a silly name, was an interesting concept for a Renfield type servant.

The imdb page is here.

Many thanks to Zombiepunk who found the Horror Classics DVD set for me.


Edna Sweetlove said...

You might not believe this, Taliesin, but Edna actually agrees with you about something!! Zoltan really is worse than the chicken at Tresky's. Simply atrocious.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for that Edna. I don't think we disagree over Countess Dracula either

Edna Sweetlove said...

If you check back, you'll see that we do actually. Edna's firmly on the fence re Countess Dracula: no great shakes but I really don't think it's as bad as you say - and certainly not in Zoltan's league for genuine unwatchability and embarrassment.
Official worst film in Jose Ferrer's career - and there's a quite a bit of competition there (The Swarm and The Greatest Story Ever Told spring to mind).

nick said...

I kind of disagree with the rating for this one. It's clearly a terrible movie, but I at least got a few chuckles out of it for B-movie's sake. It's certainly not the best Dracula film and it was a poor career choice for Ferrer and Naldar (though given the script they had to work with they were probably about as good as they could be), but I wouldn't have given it a worse rating than Dracula 3000. That film had absolutely nothing going for it. Not even Udo Kier could save it and he was the only one in the cast who can still get away with being referred to as an actor. I would have given this a 3 for camp value and Ferror and Naldar's sake (I know I'm probably being generous) but something like Dracula 3000 isn't even worth a 0.5.

Oh well at least Naldar got to redeem himself one year later when he played Barlow in Salem's Lot right?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Nick, I appreciate the comment. All the scores I give are immediately after a watch and so I might have been harsh and, perhaps, more generouus to Dracula 3000 - dependent on mood at watching...

One thing is for certain, the concept of Zoltan, I think, is ingrained in all genre fans minds and - no matter how bad it is - we all remember that concept