There doesn't seem to be much love around for Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (US title 'Dracula's Dog'). It's always held fond memories for me though, and I remember being genuinely spooked by it as youngster.
I like Zoltan. Okay, so he’s a horrifying hellish hound and a vicious bugger, but he is obedient, faithful and a bit of a cutie.
I can’t help but feel if he attacked me all I’d need to do was give his chin a stroke and we’d be best friends forever.
Not the ideal way to think about the main villain when settling down to watch a horror film you might think. But Zoltan isn’t the scariest dude in this film. Here's Reggie Nalder as the diabolical Veidt Smith:
Here's a quick shot of Reggie without any make-up:
Veidt Smith then, is Dracula's recently resurrected henchman who, with the help of his beloved Zoltan, goes off in search of his dead master's descendant; family man Michael Drake, happily residing in the good old US of A and about to set off on his yearly camping trip with his sickeningly nice wife and kids. He's also bringing along Samson and Annie, his two cute dogs, and their little puppies. Something's going to happen to the puppies, isn't it?
Yes. One mysteriously drowns. Then that night, the family is attacked by Zoltan and a couple of his newly vamped-up canine accomplices. Shaken and upset, the family decide to head off home the next day.
Until up drives the wonderful Jose Ferrer...
... playing Inspector Branco, the Van Helsing-like character who has followed Schmidt all the way from Romania and has a plan to stop him! He explains everything to Michael Drake and quickly wins his trust.
"You leave in the caravan with the kids love, I'm going to stay in a fisherman's hut for the rest of the weekend with this old guy who I've just met." Michael explains to his strangely understanding wife, who packs up and drives off with the kids, never to reappear. This is unfair - I don’t think you should be allowed to just leave and head off home half way through a horror film. How disappointing would 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' have been if the potential victims were allowed to say "Sod this, I'm going home. This place is beginning to annoy me"...?
Anyway, the Inspector's plan is for Michael to be 'bait', and for the two of them to hole up in a nearby fisherman's hut and await the attack. The rest of the plan is unclear...in fact, I’m going to stop even referring to it as a ‘plan’ because it patently wasn’t. Making someone ‘bait’ to lure attackers is only PART of a plan. The bit that happens when the attackers attack is the OTHER part - most would say the most important part.
But when the Zoltan and co. attack that night what does the Inspector do? Basically just shrugs his shoulders and gives Michael a look that says ‘sorry, I didn’t actually expect them to attack.' Thanks Inspector, thanks a lot. So the pair simply wait in the shack, huddling together while the three dogs try and make their way in. Eventually Zoltan comes crashing through the roof and lands on top of the planless pair, knocking them both unconscious.
Zoltan couldn’t have aimed better if he’d tried, although they did make it a bit easy for him, huddled together in the dead centre of the shack like that.
Zoltan's about to vamp up Drake but would you believe it - here comes dawn! And so the devilish dobermann is forced to beat a hasty retreat.
For some strange reason it appears not to have dawned (no pun intended) on the Inspector or Michael that the dogs have anything to do with Veidt Smith. The fact that there were 'two coffins' though is beginning to register with the Inspector but bloody hell it's not difficult is it?
The Inspector's next 'plan' is to head back to the original camping ground. "I have a feeling that something will happen there." He says, which once again, isn't a plan in my book. Nevertheless, Michael agrees, and the two head back.
Not long left to the film now, which Veidt Smith underlines by reminding Zoltan that they "cannot survive without a master another night". This leads to a rather rushed and unsatisfying ending and it's over all too soon - an extra ten or fifteen minutes running time and another plot twist could have made all the difference. What about 'turns out that the wife and kids didn’t manage to escape but have been kidnapped by Smith, who has them holed up in a nearby abandoned spooky old house?'. That would have worked for me. “I don’t remember this abandoned spooky old house being here before.” Michael could say to the Inspector as they enter for an exciting final showdown.
But no, all that happens is that the Inspector finds Smith and after a quick fight, gives him a good staking. In the meantime Zoltan and his doggy disciples attack Michael, who takes refuge in the Inspector's car. But damn! It's a convertible, so the roof has to shut before he's safe. The fact that it's the slowest closing roof that I've ever seen in a car really racks up the tension. Maybe they could have made it even slower and added ten minutes to the film that way.
Michael notices his beloved dog Samson rushing to rescue him and lets him into the car. Big mistake, as Samson's eyes glow a hellish vampiric glow and he attacks!
All this is happening as the inspector and a couple of friendly hunters reappear. Much dog-fighting and dog-staking ensues. Michael kills Zoltan by flashing at him (with his crucifix). Zoltan backs off and falls over a cliff that appears from nowhere behind him. He lands on a fence spike. Game over.
It's the end to another successful night's dog killing, and everyone laughs, slaps each other's backs, packs up and heads off home. We just have time for the camera to pan slowly across the ground... to eventually reach Michael's lost pup, alone in the middle of the forest... with fangs and glowing eyes!