Zoltan Hound of Dracula 1977: There’s much fun to be found in this shaggy vampire dog story, says guest writer RICHARD MARKWORTH
TITLE: Zoltan Hound of Dracula
DIRECTOR: Albert Band
CAST: José Ferrer, Michael Pataki, Arlene Martel
I first encountered Zoltan Hound of Dracula AKA Dracula’s Dog 1977, as an impressionable twelve-year-old when it featured as part of BBC2’s Horror Double Bill season. Many years have passed since my last viewing, so I thought it high-time to re-visit this cult offering as a somewhat less impressionable fifty-something.
Zoltan Hound of Dracula 1977 begins in Communist Romania where Soviet troops, sporting suspiciously Western hairstyles and accents, are conducting a blasting exercise for unspecified purposes. Work halts when explosions uncover a previously buried tomb, proving to be nothing less than the Dracula family vault.
A lone soldier, left on guard overnight, finds his vigil interrupted by a series of earth tremors. These disturbances cause one of the ancient coffins, containing the titular Zoltan, an undead Doberman Pinscher, to be dislodged from its resting place. For some inexplicable reason, the guard removes the stake from the occupant’s body. Suffice to say, he becomes a dog’s dinner.
The faithful Zoltan unsuccessfully attempts to reach his master, Count Igor Dracula’s, coffin. Instead, he reanimates Dracula’s half-vampire, half-human servant, Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder).
In flashback, we learn Zoltan originally belonged to innkeeper Smit but paid the price for interrupting the infamous Count’s attempt to feed on a female victim, rousing her from slumber by barking an alarm. Dracula, in bat form, bit the hound turning him into his vampiric canine companion. Well, he could hardly have gone to Blue Cross! The Count added Smit to his entourage on the same night.
The morning after the landslide, Major Hessle (Arlene Martell) greets vampire expert, Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer), at the excavation site. A concerned Branco orders the occupants of the tomb, along with the remains of the unfortunate guard, be burnt.
Branco swiftly deduces one of two empty coffins belonged to Veidt Smit. However, the missing occupant remains a mystery as all Dracula clan members were accounted for. Branco is convinced Smit cannot survive without a master and must search for the final living member of the Dracula family with the aim of transforming him into the Count’s undead heir.
Branco’s speedy research reveals Michael Dracula (Michael Pataki), the last of the line, was taken to America as a young boy. The race is on to reach Michael, now living under the surname “Drake” before Smit and Zoltan can turn him into their new master.
As the unholy duo reach the Drake’s neighbourhood (Smit’s having been dead for centuries seemingly not hindering his passport application) Michael, wife Marla (Jan Shutan) and kids Linda (Libbie Chase) and Steve (John Levine) are preparing to head off to a lakeside beauty spot in their Winnebago along with Alsatians Samson, Annie and their puppies.
The pair follow the family in a stolen hearse and Zoltan gradually recruits a pack of undead canine helpers as they make various attempts to vampirise Michael before Branco arrives to assist.
This is low-budget, drive-in fare featuring vampire puppies, a somewhat ludicrous plot bearing many inconsistencies and Pataki seemingly sleep-walking through dual roles of Count and Michael Dracula.
However, director Albert Band keeps the action moving, providing several moments of genuine suspense and spookily effective shots of the black/grey Zoltan, eyes glowing menacingly in the darkness, framed against a full moon. Nalder, possessing facial scars and cadaverous appearance, is an unsettling presence throughout. It should be noted the special effects are provided by Stan Winston who later produced acclaimed work on Aliens, Jurassic Park and others.
While Zoltan Hound of Dracula is no Hammer or Universal classic, there is much fun to be found in this shaggy dog story if one can suppress any cinematic snobbery. My inner twelve-year-old still loves it.
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