Impulse Buy Theater - Zoltan: Hound of Dracula
We've actually been getting some movie suggestions here at the Cat. Kinda surprising actually. Anyway, one came in that, after doing the due diligence on the film, came as a no brainer and a perfect fit for Impulse Buy Theater...and all I need to say is two words:
I'm gonna say it again.
Seriously, if that doesn't light at least some fire in your belly to track down Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, then you are on the way wrong website. Close your browser and slowly walk away.
For those of you still here [Is there EVER anyone here? - Ed.], sure, the concept of vampire dogs is cool and all...and it certainly gets you in the door...but you have to have more than just an awesome concept for a successful film...so let's take a look at the pedigree of this cinematic animal. First up, we've got the co-writer, co-producer and director Albert Band. While his credits as a director are somewhat limited, his producer credits show him as one of the forces behind some of the more memorable B-movies in the 80s and 90s including Troll, Ghoulies II, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn and one of my favorites, Robot Jox. Most notably, though, his son, Charles Band, is the founder of Full Moon Features...so, you know, solid B-movie bona fides there. Next up, of all people, we've got Stan Winston on make-up effects. Yup...Aliens and Predator Stan Winston. I'd wager that this had to be one of his earlier gigs...and one he didn't particularly want to be associated with as you'll find it conspicuously missing from his Wikipedia page. Lastly, we have the Padishah Emperor himself, Jose Ferrer as vampire hunting Inspector Branco. How they landed the Oscar and Tony award winning Ferrer...I'll never know.
Because right off the bat we’re shown just how B this B-movie is. You see, the film is supposed to open as Russian troops are excavating a Romanian tomb. Ah…the Warsaw Pact. You notice very quickly what’s missing. Not a single Russian accent. None. I mean, come on guys, at least fake it…give us your best Yakov Smirnoff. [I don’t think he was a thing yet. That was the 80s dude, this is 1978. – Ed.] Even Ferrer’s Inspector Branco…given that he needs a visa to go to America to track down Dracula’s last living ancestor…nope…which proves interesting given the caliber of actor he is. I’ve gotten a little bit ahead of myself, so let’s backtrack a bit. Right, Russians tomb raiding. So they post a soldier to stand guard of the site and wouldn’t you know it, a plot-convenient earthquake knocks loose two coffins from the mausoleum. Private Dumkoff not only opens one but, upon seeing that the shrouded corpse inside has been staked, opts to remove said stake. Let’s pause here a second, because I know you know what happens next. Each one of these graves is labelled…and all of ‘em have the same last name: Dracula. I cannot for a single instant think of any reason why this idiot would pull the stake out. [But they were labelled in English…not in Cyrillic alphabet, so maybe that’s it? I know, I know, I’m reaching. – Ed.] So, yes, stake out, body reanimates, dead Private Dumkoff. The vampire responsible is not what one would typically think…and yet is totally given away by the title of the film. Yes, up springs forth our vampiric hound (or in this case, Doberman Pinscher) Zoltan. Upon his resurrection, he looks up at the earliest tomb there, that of Igor Dracula (sigh…we’ll get to that) and reflects.
Yes, dammit, dogs have flashbacks! It turns out that Zoltan waaaaaay back in the day wasn’t the dog of Dracula (as this title or the film’s alternate title, Dracula’s Dog, would have you believe) but instead the loyal friend of an innkeeper, Veidt Smit. In the days of yore, Zoltan, as dogs usually do, has a barking fit, sensing something his owner does not. Smit releases the dog to chase his fancy, where he comes to a stop outside of the open window of a maid about to receive the Dracula treatment. Zoltan continues his barking and ends up waking up Drac’s prey…and in a move that’s…well…surprising and more than just a little out of character, Drac flees…instead of, you know, covering her mouth and feeding anyway like all the GOOD Draculas do. [That’s what you get with Igor – Knock-off of Dracula. – Ed.] I mean, come on, Christopher Lee’s Dracula wouldn’t have stood for that kind of shit. But no, this guy, he turns into a bat, flies out the window and feeds on poor Zoltan. Ta-da…vampire dog. Zoltan, now under the thrall of Count “I’m apparently new at this vampire thing”-ula, leads his new master to his old one, Smit…and vampire #2 for the night is made. Well, kinda. See, Smit gets turned into a…part-vampire? He gets the immortality, not the bloodthirst and can walk in daylight to scout out targets for his master. Oh, but the immortality is Drac-dependent. You see, in order for his immortality to work, he has to be in service to Igor or another Dracula descendant.
Don’t look at me man, I’m just reporting this stuff…I didn’t make it up.
Did I mention the telepathic connection with Zoltan? Yeah, he has that too…which the film shows by having the incredibly creepy looking actor, Reggie Nalder, creepily looking into camera. Not a bad mechanic, in all honesty, the film’s only crime is overusing it or being overly reliant on it.
Right, so with the flashback over and everyone explained, we come back to the future where Zoltan proceeds to open the coffin housing his former master (Smit, not Drac…because screw that guy). He pulls out the stake and there you go, Smit’s back among the living-ish. Okay, fine, undead is probably a better term. Still, the underlying point to the flashback: Dracula is a dick. Even to dogs. But we’ve set the plot into motion: Smit and Zoltan need to find the last living descendent of Dracula and turn him into a vampire to ensure their continued un-life. In their way is the aforementioned Inspector Branco. Inspector of what, we don’t know. All the viewer really needs to know of him is that he’s our ‘Van Helsing’ type for the film. There’s no real backstory for him, only what we can derive from the opening scenes where he’s working hand in hand with the Russian Military. To round out our introductions, we get to Michael Drake, played by Michael Pataki (who also plays his ancestor Count Igor Dracula…we’ll get to that…), and his family…a wife, a son, a daughter and two German Shepherds that just recently had a litter of pups. And, typical horror movie setup, they’re going to camp out in the woods in their RV for vacation. You can see how this is going to go.
If we look at the film based strictly on its plot, it’s nothing spectacular…kinda standard stuff for the late 70s and early 80s. You have to give props for the unique angle of having the main menace being vampire dogs…wait, did he say dogs? Yup…plural. Zoltan, like any other vampire, is more than happy to share his dark gift in order to attain his ultimate goal. And there is a pretty damn good sequence when Branco and Drake are holed up in a hunting cabin as a pack of vampire dogs try to force their way in. It harkens back to the old farmhouse and the claustrophobia therein from Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead.
But here’s why you NEED to watch it. With the abundance of movies that focus on vampirism or Dracula himself, sure there are some that stumble over or completely err on established lore here and there…but very few ever get EVERYTHING completely wrong. Well, except for the Twilight films, but we here at the Cat try to remind ourselves that they don’t truly exist…sometimes that’s the only way we can trick ourselves out of the bed each morning. Zoltan, as a film (not the dog), stumbles over or completely disregards nearly every single fine detail…not only in vampire lore but even within the logic of its own universe.
And this is why I say you NEED to see it, because I am convinced that this movie will make a perfect, get you blitzed like there’s no tomorrow [And if you consume that much alcohol, there probably won’t be. – Ed.] drinking game. Just take a shot whenever there’s an onscreen screw up and I’d wager within 15 minutes it’ll be game over. Let’s start with the one I’ve been picking on for a while now…Igor Dracula. Sigh. Vlad. It’s Vlad. You know it, I know it. Igor is usually the assistant. Okay, actually it’s Renfield for Dracula, maybe Igor for Frankenstein but more often than not, if a monster has a sidekick, he’s Igor. Second, typically vampires are sterile. After all, they’re not alive…they’re undead. [And since vampires typically don’t have pulses, thus no blood flow, pretty difficult to keep any ova or sperm viable. – Dr. Ed.] If we trace it back to Stoker’s analogy for VD and the inherent Victorian values in place at the time, then we’re looking at the condemnation of sexual activity outside of the purpose of procreation. So the matter of descendants is…well, let’s just say off. But even if we give the movie a pass for this, and I hate to step on the toes of the fine folks of How It Should Have Ended over on YouTube, if Zoltan’s looking for the last descendants of Dracula…he’s not looking for Michael Drake, he’s looking for his kids…of which there are two. And it would be SOOOOOO easy. Kids love dogs (and these two are included given how they fawn over their Shepherds and pups), Zoltan’s a dog. And there’s even a scene where the kids are sleeping outside the RV! All Zoltan’s gotta do it creep on over and give ‘em a quick bite…the end. Mission accomplished! Yeah, the Shepherds might give him some shit, but that could simply be interpreted as volunteering for blood donation if you know what I mean and I think you do. At one point there’s a picture of Igor (ugh) with Zoltan (vampires can’t be photographed). Moving outside of vampire lore, one big thing the movie does wrong is that…well…Mike just isn’t very sympathetic. You get some hints that he’s kind of a douche but it really doesn’t show up until Branco shows up and reveals Michael’s ancestry. Mike’s response? “I’m gonna sue every single one of these guys making these Dracula movies…I’ll make a fortune!” You know, sadly, that line of thought remains valid to this day.
But we’re not here to offer social commentary, we’re here to tell you to check this film out. Why? Because it’s bad for all the worst reasons and thus…all the best reasons. It’s a solid B-movie with an A-list actor wondering why he’s there. It has a fairly original core concept, that of a vampire dog. All wrapped in the velvety trappings of late70s/early 80s B-movie-ness…a fine example of the genre prior to the 80s VHS B-movie boom. There are a few scenes that prove to be good, including the aforementioned cabin scene, and Stan Winston’s effects work, while not terribly extensive, does keep everything grounded and keeps the vampire hounds from looking silly. Okay, that’s not ENTIRELY true, there is one scene at the end that is VERY noticeably a puppet…but other than that he’s good. If you find it on the cheap or for free, definitely check it out…and it’s certainly worth a rental. I grabbed my copy from Amazon for just shy of $20…which might be just a bit too much for this canine epic. But I have to admit that I came away from the film feeling like Zoltan belongs up there with the other fabled dogs of cinema…Lassie, Benji, Rin Tin Tin and his horror-brother, Cujo.