At the risk of turning off the Hall of Shame audience with an opening pun, Zoltan: Hound of Dracula is a dog of a movie. (Thanks I'll be here all weekend, don’t' forget to tip your waitress).
We open with some Russian soldiers in Bronson Canyon – er – Transylvania. I am not sure why there are Russian soldiers (in all their WW2 finery) in Transylvania, but hey, I didn't write this. They stop for the night in the castle of one Vlad Dracula and before you can "why am I watching this" a casket has flung itself out of the wall. Fortunately all the soldiers but one have left the immediate area, these are what we in the horror and cult film review business refer to as "the smart guards". The remaining dumb guard checks the crypt wall and sees that it wasn't Dracula's casket that leapt out, so he opens it and removes the stake driven into some hidden corpse.
Voila, Zoltan is awakened and immediately eats the dumb guard. Up comes the title card and we are indeed in the film Zoltan: Hound of Dracula.
Hilariously, the film continues with a doggy flashback to Zoltan's origin. See, he was the guard dog of a local peasant family and when Dracula came by in the wee hours to eat the peasant daughter he transformed into a bat and bit Zoltan who was chained up outside.
Once bitten Zoltan exhibits the main trait we'll see of him for the length of the film, his eyes will glow menacingly, and by "menacingly" I mean "as if he is staring at the headlights of an oncoming car". And, amazingly, the entire film is built around the idea that glowing dog eyes are somehow scary enough to warrant whatever the hell this is — anyway, Zoltan pulls out another casket and reveals an old man. He then removes the stake in his heart too.
The next morning the Russian soldiers get a visit from Dr. Branco (Jose Ferrer - no doubt wondering what the fuck he's doing in a sand pit with a bunch of guys dressed like Stalinists) who has come to investigate the crypt. He's also apparently famous as one of the fake Russians recognizes him and knows of his apparent archaeological work. The other soldiers pull out the body of dumb guard. Branco immediately recognizes the marks of Dracula on the man's neck.
So, he's, like the Van Helsing character. Got it. And, like the Van Helsing character in virtually every other vampire movie, he exists almost solely to spew exposition about vampires, plot points, dog facts, and blatantly obvious observations to the audience.
Dr. Branco admits that it couldn't have been Dracula that was released as all the vampire Draculas are long gone. But, his stunning research has proved that about 30 years ago John Michael Dracula was born in the United States. And if he's right and it was Dracula's right-hand man who came out of the now empty coffin, that he's searching for his master. That means that the undead guy that the undead dog freed (and the undead dog himself) are about to make a cross continental and oceanic voyage to find a guy who is related by blood to the original Dracula so they can serve him.
Branco tells us all of this then explains that he's going to America to beat Dracula's minions to John Michael Drake (that's what the Dracula name became in the US) and warn him of what's coming.
Well, what exactly is coming? A servant and his dog? Doesn't that imply that all he has to do is not say "Manservant, go kill that guy", and instead say things like "Manservant, go make the beds, then wash all these dishes, then write up a couple of emails to the bridge club and tell them I'll be late — ". A servant serves, undead or no, and as for Zoltan? He's still a dog, but you can only walk him at night.
But hey, I didn't write this, Frank Perilli did (He also wrote the old Starlog Magazine favorite Laserblast) and a host of other low budget stuff.
Cut to the docks where a couple of longshoreman are wondering what to do with the casket shaped boxes they just unloaded from a cargo ship. One of them is empty, as the manservant freed himself and mumbled something over the box containing Zoltan.
Manservant then frees the dog and the pair head off for Michael Drake's house.
It's time to meet our heroes, in this case The Drake family, their dogs Samson and Annie, and a box full of cuddly little puppies. The Drake's are about to head off on a camping trip (to Bronson Caverns no doubt). However, the night before the trip Manservant and Zoltan arrive at Drake's house. And in keeping with the idiocy of this film, rather than, say, ring the doorbell and announce that they are here specifically to serve the wishes of "the master" that being Michael, they sneak around the house and spook Annie and Samson.
Meanwhile Michael (Michael Pataki) and Marla (Jan Shutan) are alternating between getting into bed and packing for the trip. Michael wants to pack his pistol but Marla has hidden the bullets in the garage. So we've got a little conflict going between them. Michael argues that the pistol is a critical tool for their camping trip. Which, I suppose if you're in a pup tent out in the middle of nowhere is true, but I'll reserve judgment for now.
Zoltan prowls around the house while Manservant stands in the shadows. I am not sure but the film implies that Manservant can also see through Zoltan's eyes, but I can't tell if that's actually the case as the script and direction is so clumsy. For what it's worth (about ten cents) diretor Albert Band shoots Zoltan's scenes in s-l-o-w motion so emphasize his evil nature (muahahaha… ahem…) Zoltan manages to make some noise that gets Samson and Annie all riled up. Michael heads off to check on the dogs whereupon he meets Manservant who offers himself and Zoltan as unquestioningly loyal slaves who…
Oh wait, that doesn't happen. Manservant and Zoltan run off while Michael checks the dogs in the garage.
The next day they leave for their camping trip in a giant brand new RV. They are even bringing all the dogs with them, an act that seems much more easy in a ginormous rolling house. This also allows us to get a montage of "have fun RVing!" scenes until they arrive in the desolate veldt-like camping area (Bronson Caverns). And who has followed them? That's right! Manservant and Zoltan.
Manservant has managed somehow to apparently have a driver's license and the ability to not only understand, but rent, a station wagon, the Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula
They set up the campsite with some folding chairs and the great American vacation begins. Michael even says "This is the exact same place we camped last year, and we didn't even see more than four people then."
Wow, sounds like a blast, and people wonder why I camp in hotels.
The kids run off to play as does one of the puppies. The puppy wanders over to a little dock and a rowboat. Watching the family from atop the hill is Manservant. We cut back to the family and they are apparently unable to find the lost puppy.
Samson starts to snarl and runs off.
The family has now lost two dogs and they've only been camping for five minutes.
Manservant removes a casket from the back of the Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula. The actor playing Manservant tends to move in slow motion, sort of the way they film Zoltan the dog, only with more exaggerated Max Schreck-ian type movements. Thus, Manservant looks less like a menacing vampire accomplice and more like an effeminate wrinkled old mime.
Anyway, Manservant frees Zoltan from the casket.
Annie the dog runs off from the camper with one of the kids, Linda, in pursuit.
Meanwhile another camper, this one without an RV or tent, which I think renders him more of a hiker than a camper, but hey — Bumps into the Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula in the dark then jots down the license number.
Manservant looks on disapprovingly.
In the darkness back at the campsite, Zoltan is checking up on the Drake family who, for some reason, are all asleep in air mattresses outside their RV. Why sleep outside? I mean, what's the point of bringing a studio apartment out into the wilderness in the first place if you aren't going to sleep in it? Zoltan bares his fangs (curls his lips) while standing over Mike. But, Zoltan can't put the big bite on his soon-to-be-master because Mike wears a crucifix on a chain around his neck (and in stunning late 1970s style, it's slung down between his nipples amidst a frightening mat of chest hair. Honestly, Mike Pataki has more hair than the Franklin Park Zoo Primate Enclosure.
Zoltan runs off but manages to awaken the Drake family dogs, one of which, Samson, gives chase.
Zoltan returns to his RV where Manservant reproaches him for disobeying, but whatever he was disobeying was left on the cutting room floor.
Also, I might point out that for no good reason has Manservant not introduced himself to the family, even when he has ample opportunity to do so.
Back at the campsite, Mike and Marla are arguing. Marla wonders if the dogs didn't chase off a prowler, and asks if they shouldn't move to a more populated campground. Mike counters that they planned this trip for months to get away from civilization. He says this while stowing air mattresses in a fully equipped RV, the very definition of civilization on wheels.
Cut to Samson running around, then back to the campsite where Marla and Linda are washing dishes outside. Again, WTF? They have an RV with a goddamn sink in it!!! Why even have one of these mobile homes if you're going to use it like a car? I am not sure why this irritates me so much but it does.
Mike is out walking with the now returned Samson. He is joined by his son Steve (John Levin) and the pair find the dead puppy from yesterday inside the rowboat. Steve asks if the puppies could have been killed by the wolves that Samson and Annie were barking at last night? Dad says no, (rather than slap him for offering such a stupid suggestion) it looks like the puppy died of exposure.
Exposure? Exposure to what! The whole family sleeps outside under a blanket each. It's not like they are winter camping, AND the stupid dog still has a full coat of fur, right? Exposure! I hope Zoltan eats all of these people.
Steve asks what they should do with the dead puppy. Dad says that they'll give it a decent burial (I know, silly) and do. They then spread the news to the other members of the family.
Cut to the Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula where Manservant frees Zoltan again from his coffin. This time Zoltan has a job. Manservant never really speaks, his voice is dubbed in as if he's communicating telepathically with the dog, that said, Manservant tells Zoltan to kill the interloper! By this, of course, he means the guy who bumped into the Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula.
Zoltan does as he's told and attacks the hiker. The attack looks more like the dog and the guy are wrestling, but there are intercuts of some actually half decent gore. Zoltan wins and the hiker is eaten.
Meanwhile the puppy crawls out of his grave.
Zoltan then heads over to the camp of some hunters who have their own dog, Buster. No idea why Zoltan does this. The three hunters/hobos talk about how unusual it is for Buster to run off like that, then they go back to sleep. Zoltan now lures Buster over and bites his neck this creating a minion vampire dog.
Buster immediately runs over to the RV and breaks in (I kid you not). Everyone freaks out. Buster runs off. Michael scrambles for his pistol and gives chase. Buster and he wrestle briefly but Zoltan intervenes and chases Buster off. Zoltan bears his fangs then he too runs off with Michael shooting.
Strange. Neither dog died and Mike is sure he hit them. Could he be that bad a shot?
Cut to Inspector Branco renting a nice convertible Olds Cutlass. Why it took him ten times as long to arrive in America in pursuit of Manservant is never made clear. Maybe he took a steamship too —
He drives over to the Drake's house and learns of their location from the lady who is watching their home. Jose Ferrer, for what it's worth, looks like he's rather be licking the anus of a Bufo Marinus than spewing this moronic dialogue.
Also, he's dressed like a Parisian Mime and that just makes everything he says funnier.
Out at the entrance to the campground the rangers are no help and tell him that an RV full of people and dogs is bound to be out between the lake and some other place and if he just keeps driving he's sure to find then.
That night, back at the RV, Buster and Zoltan return to the camper and lure away Annie. This time Linda gives chase but before she can catch the German Shepherd, she's almost shot by the hunters who are out looking for Buster.
Wait a minute, hold everything. Buster disappeared last night, right? Wasn't that the whole point of showing Zoltan stealing the hunter's dog away? If so then why do Inspector Branco's daytime scenes appear bookended by these scenes at night.
Oh right, the editor wasn't paying attention, and you know neither was I really by this time in the film and I think one of the strengths of Zoltan: Hound of Dracula may be that it's impossible to watch for more than four or five minutes at a time before you start to dwell on things that are more intellectually stimulating (hitting one rock with another rock over and over again), visually interesting (look, beige paint), or exciting (Hmmmmm, golf!) so there's no way you can notice some of these inconsistencies in one view.
Me, I've had to watch this pig a couple of times and I see all the flaws now. It's almost a religious experience, like I've achieved some sort of cinematic nirvana, like I'm some reincarnated Buddhist tulka destined to do spiritual warfare with Steven Seagal, and I have Zoltan: Hound of Dracula to thank for this.
It's either that or Mrs. McLargehuge spiked my coffee and popcorn with PCP.
So, where was I? Oh, right! Nighttime —
The hunters ask Mike and Marla if they've seen Buster (they haven't) and hand Linda, now barely conscious, back to her parents. Mike says they are leaving tomorrow first thing because he's had enough. As if to punctuate this, Samson the dog runs off too.
The next day while packing, Inspector Branco arrives and introduces himself. Now it's time to play "how much redundant exposition can we spout in 5 minutes" hosted by Jose Ferrer. Inspector Branco brings Mike up to speed on everything, he even named Manservant, turns out the guy's name is Veidt Smith. Mike, being a practical American, immediately sees the money making potential of being the only non-vampire Dracula on Earth.
Sadly this is never explored because it would make for a fun little story.
Branco explains that they burned all the other coffins, but no one knows who was in the second coffin. He theorizes that it was an unknown family member.
Mike doesn't necessarily believe Inspector Branco, but he does agree to send his family home while staying with the inspector to find Veidt and stop the canine madness. Inspector Branco doesn't camp like a schmuck either, he has rented a nice cabin and stocked up on wooden stakes.
Both men settle down to wait for nighttime madness to start. And for the next ten minutes or so we get a siege picture where Branco and Mike fight off dog puppets that poke through the windows.
Making the dogs appear possessed by the spirit of Zoltan required spray painting them black and keeping up with the glowing eyes special effect. The soundtrack here has a multitude of animal noises all mixed together to give the appearance of demonic animals.
The dogs trash the cabin but the sun rises before Zoltan can put the final bite on Mike.
Veidt is pissed when Zoltan runs off.
The sheriff suggest that it couldn't have been wolves that trashed the cabin (no shit) but Branco suggests that maybe it was anyway based on the destruction. That night he and Mike will stake out (no pun intended) Mike's old campground and see if they can find Zoltan and Veidt. Branco figures since the campground was the epicenter of the attacks it makes sense if Mike can remember which way the dogs ran after the attacks ended.
Veidt explains to Zoltan that he has to bit "the master" so they can serve him and it has to be tonight. Zoltan runs off.
Branco heads off in the direction Mike points to and stumbles onto Country Squire: Station Wagon of Dracula and Veidt Smith. A short battle ensues, filmed as if each character was wrestling the cameraman, until Branco gets his stake into Veidt's heart.
Veidt dies uttering "rosebud…" Kidding!
Zoltan and the all hound army of the dead charge off after Mike who barricades himself in Branco's rented Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. Since we've already watched Zoltan and friends dismantle a camping shack, what chance do you think this flimsy convertible top has?
At least this bit doesn't insult your intelligence too much. The dogs tear pretty easily though the roof, but in the midst of the battle Mike recognizes Annie among the canine legion. He also spots Zoltan staring at him through the window and matches the dog to a picture in Branco's car. Mike remembers how a car works and drives off. This throws all the dogs off his wheels, he even manages a rubber burning hole shot while parked on the grass — impressive.
Mike stops and, in a moment of supreme idiocy, swings open the passenger door for Samson asking "Samson, where you been boy?"
Samson demonstrates where he's been by doing the glowing eye thing and attacking Mike.
Bad dog! Bad, bad dog!
Samson, for this scene, is played by "Stuffo: The Dog That's Obviously Not Real" available at your local Toys R. US (get one today!).
Zoltan arrives as Mike, in a low rent redo of Old Yeller, puts the stake to Samson.
Two hunters, the ones looking for Buster, (remember them?), arrive and enter the fight. Now it's three men vs. three dogs. Zoltan's army loses quickly. Branco shows up and starts staking the injured dogs (Euthanasia, horror movie style).
Mike has run off after Zoltan. He has a stake and it's time to Zoltan to pay. However, Zoltan has a trick up his sleeve, he has hypnotic eyes! (Yes, I know it's anti-climactic).
Mike has cornered Zoltan on the cliff edge. This seems way more awesome when I write it than it actually was. Mike stares down Zoltan who is now in full-on glowing eye mode and slowly unbuttons his shirt revealing the crucifix.
Zoltan leaps back, off the cliff, and impales himself on some surprisingly installed Viet Cong pungi stakes set at the bottom of the cliff. Mike staggers (why he staggers is unknown) back to the car where Branco and the hunters look over the corpses of the dogs). Branco says, "That was the last of them."
Then, panning down, and away right from where the men are standing, over the corpses of several headless rabbits, we approach the puppy (Remember him?) who whirls around and snarls at us with glowing eyes and terrible, horrible, cuteness.
End movie, blackmail Bob Barker in having yourself spayed or neutered, anonymously mail $50 bill to the local dog catcher.
Zoltan: Hound of Dracula while competently made (mostly) commits the worst sin of horror cinema, it's mind-numbingly boring. There are no scares, not even spring loaded cat/dog scares, which in film seem like they would fit in just about anywhere because there's no way a person who doesn't live in a special institution with structure medication time is going to believe the whole dog angle of this plot.
I can understand why this might have been considered a novel approach to the Dracula story, we've already have movies about his daughter, his son, his evil corporation (with Christopher Lee in the funniest bad movie ever made), his fight with The Wolf Man, his neutering by the Hayes Code where John Carradine steals the souls of victims with a ring instead of a bite, and Dracula's house (which featured Dracula). So it was only a matter of time, really, before someone thought to bring his pets into the spotlight and dog's, especially Doberman Pinchers are the logical choice for the late 1970s as Pit bulls hadn't made the scene in any numbers in the states yet.
This plot, in the hands of someone marginally competent, could have been fun but here it's just played so straight and earnest, like a made for TV movie, that any sense of fun is rung out of the idea long before the script was written. It's shot like a TV movie too, and doesn't even feature one dog's-eye-view, which was sorely lacking in my opinion, or anything else that might make you smile.