Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978, Albert Band)

Zoltan

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Note: This film’s original title when released in the US was the more prosaic Dracula’s Dog.

Setting: In this slice of trash cinema, we begin in a land that goes unnamed (‘the old country’), though it’s fair to assume it’s Romania. Then after a voyage across fogbound seas, events play out in Los Angeles and near a lake in San Bernardino County, California. The bulk of the story takes place in the modern day, though we also see brief flashbacks to a few centuries earlier.

Faithful to the novel? No, not at all. This film is set many years after the events of the book. (Stoker’s novel is not mentioned, but one character refers to ‘all those Dracula pictures’ made by Hollywood.) As we get underway, an army bomb-clearance team accidentally uncovers the Dracula family tomb. We see stones for Count Igor Dracula and Countessa Eva Dracula among others. A dopey soldier then pulls a stake from a long-decayed corpse and resurrects… not Dracula, but Dracula’s dog! The vampiric pooch – a Doberman pinscher called Zoltan – then removes the stake from another coffin’s inhabitant and reawakens his owner, Veidt Smit (the craggy-faced Reggie Nalder). Together the pair set off in search of the last surviving descendant of Count Dracula… That turns out to be an American called Michael Drake (Michael Pataki), who’s currently on a camping holiday with his wife, two kids and their brood of dogs. (That’s right: the ‘last surviving descendant of Count Dracula’ has children. Think that one through, movie!) Meanwhile, a Van Helsing-type investigator called Vaclav Branco (played by a slumming-it José Ferrer) is on the case and follows Smit’s trail to America, where he locates Michael and imparts lots of vague exposition.

Best performance: Michael is played by Michael Pataki, a kind of cut-price Darren McGavin who later appeared in slasher films such as Graduation Day, Sweet Sixteen and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. His character comes across as a decent, affable family man.

Best bit: When awoken from his coffin, Zoltan has a flashback to when he was mortal, a soft-focus sequence that brings to mind that time Bouncer the dog had a dream in Australian soap opera Neighbours. Count Igor Dracula is angry when Zoltan gets in the way of him attacking a sexy woman, so he morphs into a bat and bites the hound – turning him into a vampire dog. The movie doesn’t seem to have any clue how ridiculous any of this is.

Review: The B-movie producer Albert Band had a CV that includes such tantalisingly hopeless titles as Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, TerrorVision, and Zarkorr! The Invader. For Zoltan, Hound of Dracula he also slid into the director’s chair and the result is predictably sloppy, crass and forgettable. Made by a team with a greater sense of irony, this could have been campy fun. Instead, it’s a straight-ahead horror flick that’s not ‘about’ anything in the slightest. The rotten-to-the-core storytelling soon gets muddled up in its own absurdity, the flat line-readings become tiresome, and despite a cute trick of reflecting light into Zoltan’s eyes the film is never scary or even unsettling. (Even when snarling, in fact, you can see the dog looking off-camera for approval from his trainer.)

Four berets out of 10

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