Monday, October 3, 2016

The Pack (1977)




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Not too long ago on TCM Underground, they showed a “rabid dogs” double feature. I was saving them for October, with Zoltan already mentioned, and a new “killer canines” film from the golden age of the 70s, “The Pack” from 1977. Who better to serve as human protector than marine biologist, Joe Don Baker, in one of his early lead B-movie roles? Seal Island (Bodega Bay, California, offering us a nicely idyllic location, with its late summer/early fall seasonal flavor, rainstorms, and gusts of heavy wind) has been a home to Jerry, assigned to study shrimp, having fallen in love with a divorcee, Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and her two boys. He is a naturalist who eventually must help defend a small group of tourists (arriving on the island to fish and enjoy the scenery) and friends against abandoned dogs (vacationing families seemed to drop them all off) following a “mixed mongrel gone bad”. Sherry DeBoer is a cutie who makes a valiant effort to get to know Paul Willson (the barfly at Cheers always wanting to be part of the group), a rather pathetic son of Richard O’Brien who continues to try and get the boy hitched and out of his house (he is not exactly the easiest conversationalist although DeBoer tries to comfort O’Brien who is just exasperated with his son, a bit pitiful and just rather disinterested with growing up it seems). Willson goes off into the woods, with DeBoer following behind as moral support, as the dogs choose them as victims worth pursuing early in the film. Willson actually leaves her behind, falling off a cliff, while DeBoer crashes down a hill into a pond, eventually finding herself in a barn where the mutts were spending their nights. O’Brien goes after his boy, trying to run over the dogs, stumbling out of his truck, suffering a mauling for his stupidity. These animals attack movies often feature human stupidity or cowardice, panicky behavior and acting on impulse without thinking clearly. You see a boat coming towards the island, Ned Wertimer just flies out the door, leaving it wide open while the others sleep away inside, running right at the end of the dock, only to see them gleefully leave in the other direction while he turns to find the pack growling right at him. Joe Don Baker and Richard B Shull often spend time shaking their heads and enduring frustration as circumstances where they try to keep everyone safe but continue to suffer loss complicate matters. Robert Clouse, the prolific B-movie director, doesn’t try to overcompensate with the simple, straight up plot, just allowing the dogs to snarl and pounce, blessed with a good location and fun enough cast as only the 70s could provide. Besides Baker, Shull, and those already mentioned, you have a particularly opinionated and barmy misanthropic RG Armstrong as the local fisherman with rather snide comments towards anyone and everyone (he isn’t one to mince words) and lovely Bibi Besch as tourist, Marge, asked at point by O’Brien to kill him. There are some really good animal stunt sequences where the monstrous canines lunge at and undauntedly go after the humans. The pack is presented as they should be in these kinds of films: look out or you’re shit outta luck. Baker is a sturdy anchor: he looks the part of someone who knows how to handle himself when things get out of hand, and he is a man of action. The Volkswagen scene, can’t forget to mention this, was intense! Millie, bless her heart, is trapped in the car as those dogs surround it, with no keys (of course) to start it and drive away. Just about to tear away the padding of the material on her convertible roof, the lead dog about gets her before Baker emerges to scatter them. The hermit with the pet that can’t help him gets ripped apart as his house’s windows and screen door are no match for the pack. I have to say that as of the first three days, “The Pack” is the early October newbie gem. This could be a summer or fall annual view for me. Considering I’ve seen some stinkers in the “when animals attack” genre, this one knows what its doing and has the talent to turn the screws on the audience when man’s best friend becomes man’s worst nightmare.

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