Saturday, 13 September 2014

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978)

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula may have one of the goofiest premises for a vampire film, but it deserves credit on three points. Firstly, for trying something different with the mythology, secondly, for a couple of interesting cast choices, and thirdly, for being great trashy entertainment.

The story starts in 1970s Romania, where a group of Russian soldiers are carrying out excavation and demolition work. But despite their best efforts, they only succeed in unearthing and reviving two of Count Dracula's faithful and long dead servants, one two legged (Veidt Smith, played by the wonderfully sinister looking Reggie Nalder) and one four legged (Zoltan, the count's faithful mutt, played by, well, a dog). However, servants are no good without a master, so the pair set off to track down the only surviving member of the Dracula bloodline, a man living in Los Angeles, under the cleverly disguised name of Michael Drake. Can the enigmatic Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer) get to him first? Moreover, can Drake trust his own four-legged friends to protect himself and his family?

The central premise, the idea of man’s best friend turning into man's worst enemy is actually a good one, and screenwriter Frank Ray Perrili, a veteran of low budget exploitation films has some fun with transferring human vampire behaviour to animals. Granted, the results, such as scenes of Zoltan biting other dogs to turn them into his vampire slaves are impossible to take seriously. However, there are two set pieces with Drake trapped in a house and a car respectively, under siege from the canines, desperately trying to hold out until sunrise, which are suspenseful.

The (human) star of the show is definitely Reggie Nalder, whose distinctive scarred face had helped him get work with the likes of Dario Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) and Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much). Despite often doing nothing more than staring at the camera, he still manages to imbue the role with an unsettling, creepy quality.

Kudos too for casting Jose Ferrer as Inspector Branco, the Van Helsing type character tasked with explaining the back-story to the audience and characters. In a similar way that Peter Cushing does, he manages to bring a bit of gravitas to patently stupid situations and dialogue.

The film only really flags during the frequent, unnecessary and interminable scenes of people driving, scenes that last beyond the time needed to establish that people are going somewhere and quickly feel like the padding that they are. However, they are usually accompanied by a distinctive musical theme, so at least when you hear it start, you can go to the fridge and get a beer.