Review: Monster Dog (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #691

Also known as Leviatán, The Bite
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: July 15, 1986 (US)
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Claudio Fragasso
Producer: Carlos Aured
Screenplay: Claudio Fragasso
Special Effects: Carlo De Marchis
Cinematography: José García Galisteo
Score: Grupo Dichotomy, Dick Maas (uncredited)
Editing: Antonio Jose Ochoa
Studios: Continental Motion Pictures, M&C Films, Royal Films
Distributors: Continental Motion Pictures, Video Programme Distributors
Stars: Alice Cooper, Victoria Vera, Carlos Santurio, Pepa Sarsa, Pepita James, Emilio Linder, Ricardo Palacios, Luis Maluenda, Barta Barri, Charly Bravo, Fernando Conde, Fernando Baeza, Nino Bastida

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Lynne Hamilton “On The Inside”

[2] Alice Cooper “Identity Crisises”

[3] Alice CooperSee Me In The Mirror”

Of all the most priceless items in my inventory, few are as utterly incalculable as my rose-tinted spectacles. Working in a video store for the majority of the eighties, I made it my business to watch every horror film I could lay my sweaty palms on. Some were halfway decent but the majority weren’t and the film I’m about to cast my roving eye over definitely fell into the latter category. However, while I wouldn’t say that I was particularly non-discerning, certain low-rent oddities got by on charm alone and my recollections are positive, despite any glaring flaws.

Claudio Fragasso’s 1984 effort, Monster Dog, had no shortage of potentially deal-breaking defects but somehow struck a chord with this particular wide-eyed boy. Over thirty years down the trail, I can now fully appreciate how shoddy this movie actually is but still I find myself reluctant to tear it a new one. You see, it is now protected by being a film evocative of its era, and I can state with some assurance that they don’t make ’em like this anymore. Indeed, stick around and those precise words could well end up being my closing statement.

Most people know Fragasso for his 1990 abomination, Troll 2 (which he directed under the cunning disguise of Drake Floyd), as it has since gone on to gain a huge cult following, despite being one of the most incompetent movies of an entire epoch. Folk are under no illusion whatsoever that it sucks badger balls yet that now works distinctly in its favor, and I for one, hold a special place in my heart for this appalling little number. However, Fragasso was far more than a one-trick pony and was known at the time for his frequent collaborations with fellow Italian, Bruno Mattei.

Among the films he co-wrote and co-directed were Scalps, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Rats: Night of Terror and Zombie 3, which the pair completed after Lucio Fulci fell ill during shooting. Monster Dog represented his first solo foray behind the lens, and I’d imagine he knew it was a wrong ‘un as he elected to use another of his pseudonyms, Clyde Anderson, in the hope of remaining inconspicuous. Talk about shady.

Filmed on location in Torrelodones, Spain, Monster Dog is perhaps best known for providing undisputed rock legend Alice Cooper a rare starring vehicle. It wasn’t the only time that he popped up in horror movies and John Carpenter famously donated him a brief cameo in his 1987 film Prince of Darkness. That said, Carpenter was shrewd enough not to make it speaking role, whereas Fragasso offered him the keys to the mansion so to speak. I happen to be incredibly fond of Cooper, as for all his devilish on-stage swagger, rumor has it that he’s a bloody nice bloke and I’ve never seen anything to convince me otherwise. To be fair, Fragasso played to his strengths by making his character a musical mastermind. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you fine people (and fellow gluttons for punishment) – Vincent Raven.

We open with Raven’s latest video for his new (and deliriously catchy) song, Identity Crisises, and like any musical visionary, he is hyper-critical of the end result and demands changes. Thus he decides a getaway would be beneficial and drags his girlfriend Sandra (Victoria Vera) and film crew off to his old childhood home to reshoot the promo from scratch. On their arrival, they are greeted by a welcome party laid on by the mansion’s caretaker, but clearly something isn’t quite right here.

Perhaps it has something to do with the pack of unruly canines prowling the grounds and it isn’t long before Vince has a run-in with the mangy mutts in question. To make matters worse, their video shoot is then rudely interrupted by the sudden arrival of a bloody corpse. The crew take this as a blatant sign that they’re not welcome and pack up their things to leave post-haste. However, that turns out to be a lot easier said than done as a mob of kill crazy locals seem determined to ambush the group at the first available opportunity just to compound their misery further.

It turns out that these rednecks were also responsible for gunning down his father in cold blood twenty years back and here is where the plot starts to thicken. You see, pops suffered from a rare heart condition that caused him to fly into a primal rage and turn into a werewolf. In addition, he had the ability to control the minds of any four-legged friends in the vicinity, using them to murder the townspeople on his behalf, and Vince begins to fret that this curse may be hereditary. His fears further deepen when one of the girls, self-confessed psychic Angela (Pepita James), admits to having lucid prophetic dreams that appear to corroborate that very claim. 

Monster Dog clocks in at a decidedly lean 84 minutes and barely has the time to outstay its welcome. However, long periods of inactivity make it feel considerably longer and it isn’t until the final third that things really start to hot up. It is left to Cooper’s acting chops to keep us invested, and while his perpetually glum expression makes him a fascinating subject to observe, the abysmal dub doesn’t exactly help his cause.

This is where Fragasso lends a hand as he throws the dry ice and blue smoke around with gay abandon, lending a bleak atmosphere which is nigh-on impossible to deny. The mansion itself winds up feeling like some distant outpost far away from civilization and this benefits the experience no end. Meanwhile, Vera does her level best as his beleaguered girlfriend and cannot be accused of not giving it her all.

Let’s be clear on something here – Monster Dog is not, and I repeat, not a good movie. But neither was Troll 2 and that doesn’t stop it selling out to capacity for screenings over thirty years after its release. The fact that this film is played 100% straight doesn’t help its cause any, but despite being poorly paced, riddled with plot holes, and sorely lacking in directorial flair outside of saturating the screen blue and letting the smoke machines go crazy, Fragasso’s well-meaning oddity is worth a punt, if only to watch Cooper lapping up every second of his screen time. Needless to say, expectations are best kept to an absolute minimum and anyone hoping for a werewolf flick are shit out of silver bullets as it barely even constitutes as lycanthropic. But one thing’s for damn sure – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 4/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Clearly Fragasso was working on a pretty flimsy shoestring here, as attested by the amusingly substandard transformation at the tail end. That said, Monster Dog does boast a reasonable body count and there’s enough injury detail on exhibit to sate the appetites of the less discerning gorehounds amongst us.

Read Troll 2 Appraisal
Read Howling II Appraisal
Read Howling III Appraisal
Read Prince of Darkness Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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