Zoltan: Hound of Dracula
U.S.A. / 1977
Directed by Albert Band
Starring
Michael Pataki
Jose Ferrer
Reggie Nalder
Color / 87 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
3
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
One of the silliest Dracula movies ever made.
    Though efficiently helmed by veteran director Albert Band (I Bury the Living), Zoltan's goofy plot is guaranteed to provoke more laughs than chills. Vampire dogs are one thing... but vampire puppies? Just too cute 'n' cuddly to be scary, even with the 'glowing eyes' effects and extra-large fake fangs. There's simply no way the filmmakers could've taken a moment of this seriously... Yet they did.
    A pre-titles sequence takes place in Romania, at the time a communist Warsaw Pact nation behind the Iron Curtain. Conspicuously long-haired Soviet military engineers are doing some blasting when they uncover an unknown tomb of the Dracula family. One unlucky soldier is assigned overnight guard duty at the tomb. An earth tremor dislodges a coffin in which the soldier finds a body wrapped in cloth, with a wooden stake protruding from it. For absolutely no reason whatsoever the soldier removes the stake
certainly something one would want to do in Dracula's tomb, right? He looks on in fascination as the cloth-wrapped form begins to stir. (Extremely dumb move # 2.) Suddenly a huge black dog springs from the coffin and attacks the soldier, biting him in the neck and draining his blood. Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, lives again.
    To provide some backstory to Zoltan's origin as a supernatural creature the dog actually has a flashback. (I'm not kidding.) Many decades earlier Zoltan was bitten by Count Dracula himself (played by Michael Pataki in what looks like a Wal-Mart Halloween costume) while the King of the Undead was in bat form. In need of a human servant as well, Dracula also put Zoltan's owner, a farmer named Veidt Schmidt (Mark of the Devil's Reggie Nalder), under his control. Schmidt is turned into a sort of quasi-vampire, without the thirst for blood and able to move about in daylight. (You still have to stake him to kill him, however.) Apparently Schmidt was such a loyal servant to the Dracula clan that he, too, was buried in the family crypt. The now resurrected Zoltan pulls Schmidt's casket from a niche in the wall, opens it, and removes the stake from the corpse's chest. (Good doggie!) Schmidt is revived, and together he and Zoltan set out to find a new master to serve the last living descendant of the Dracula line.
    The location of this Dracula heir is inadvertently disclosed when Schmidt eavesdrops on Inspector Branco (The Being's Jose Ferrer), Romanian police detective and vampire expert. Branco is brought in by the Soviet authorities to investigate the tomb and the guard's mysterious death. He knows that the last of the Dracula line is an American, one Michael Drake, who was taken to the United States as a child and raised there oblivious of his heritage. Branco, worried about the two empty coffins in the tomb, asks for authority to travel to California and warn Drake that he's in danger. But Schmidt and Zoltan get there ahead of him. Not knowing that the deadly duo is stalking him, Drake (also played by Pataki) packs up his wife, children and the family dogs
including a litter of puppies for a wilderness vacation on the coast in their RV. Meanwhile Schmidt steals a hearse and, with Zoltan resting in his doggie casket (!) during the day, trails the Drakes to their camping ground. Can Insp. Branco reach Drake in time before Schmidt and Zoltan destroy his family and convert him into a vampire?
    Pretty tame stuff for a late '70s horror, Zoltan: Hound of Dracula will have you snickering with laughter when you're not bored by the interminable driving scenes (the Drakes in their camper; Branco tooling up the California coast in his rented convertible) or annoyed by the lame TV show-quality music score. There's only one gory scene in the movie, in which an innocent camper is torn to bits by Zoltan for noticing Schmidt's hearse parked in the woods. (Still, it only barely merits EC's 'Blood 'n' Guts' icon. Otherwise the flick is strictly PG material.) Though Zoltan himself is played by a fairly intimidating (and obviously well trained) pooch, director Band relies primarily on Reggie Nalder's scarred, skull-like countenance for chills
I couldn't begin to count the number of shots in the film focused solely on Nalder's less than handsome face as he mugs villainously for the camera. The Austrian-born Nalder (1911-1991), who apparently suffered terrible burns sometime in his life (a World War II wound, perhaps?), is damned creepy looking, but his sinister appearance isn't something you can build a film around. Except for a few spoken lines during Zoltan's flashback (I still can't get over that!), his dialog consists entirely of telepathic voice-overs to the dog: "No, Zoltan, no!," "Yes, Zoltan," "Zoltan, it is is time", etcetera. The rest of the cast performs gamely despite the ridiculous dialog, particularly Pataki (Sidehackers), a veteran TV and film character actor who must look back with a measure of chagrin that this was one of his few starring roles.
    As mentioned, Zoltan himself is a pretty fierce looking beast; he would've made a great Hound of the Baskervilles. But the notion of a vampire dog having to sleep in a coffin is rather silly, as are the scenes in which Zoltan hypnotizes other dogs preparatory to biting them. (He forms his own 'Blood Pack' of vampirized canines!) How Jose Ferrer
Best Actor Oscar winner for his celebrated performance in 1950's Cyrano De Bergerac was able to keep a straight face while driving stakes into dogs I'll never understand.

For an Anchor Bay title the Zoltan DVD is an atypically bare bones affair, with only the theatrical trailer as an extra. (An audio commentary with Pataki and effects creator Stan Winston would've been interesting.) Picture and sound quality are very good, however; the mono audio track is particularly strong and clear. The widescreen (1:66.1) transfer is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. 2/08/03
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