Man’s best friend slips the leash and goes on the attack in this ‘Jaws with Claws” flick that is actually a clever canine, reworking of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.”
The action is centered on a college campus in Mar Vista, California. The movie begins at a rather dull Campus Faculty party in which the staff are introduced to new Biology teacher, Fitzgerald. He comes off as a bit of a nerd who favors polyester suits and new theories about pheromones. We also meet our main protagonist, Harlan. He is more of an action biologist . He rocks a British accent, a he-man beard, and is prone to sports shirts and sarcasm.
The scene also introduces our conflict with one professor remarking on how he was nearly assaulted by a student’s seeing eye dog. We are also treated to a hint of Government interference(which is later abandoned) when a power outage is blamed on the local military lab which has been wreaking havoc with the college’s power supply ever since they turned on their ‘particle accelerator’.
Harlan bids a hasty retreat from this killer soiree when the sheriff arrives and asks for his opinion on some slaughtered cattle. He takes a look and decides to re-examine the carcass in the morning but now it’s time for more beer. Meanwhile a an attack on a local man reveals(to the audience) it is indeed dogs doing these deeds but the characters take some time figuring that out.
The carnage escalates , including a chilling display of bad behavior at an amateur dog pageant. The incidents motivate Harlan to team up with Fitzgerald. The pair do well thanks to Fitzgerald’s smarts and Harlan’s ability to take action while half in the bag. Unfortunately they split up during the intense finale which finds Harlan protecting his gal pal while Fitzgerald tries to save the entire student body armed only with an unloaded rifle. You would’ve thought that action biologist should have taken the campus gig but so be it.
This is as good as ‘nature’ horror gets. The dogs are well trained and do lots of cool stuff like jump through windows , sit and look menacing, and bark menacingly as if you hid the ‘Milk Bonz.” The humans are also on target and include David McCallum(NCIS) as the hard drinking Harlan. George Wyner(who viewers will recognize from a host of Mel brooks movies) makes nerds cool again as Fitzgerald. He has quite a few good moments such as his reaction to seeing his first dead body. Linda Gray(Dallas)also shows up as a frigid professor who strips down for a hot shower before her date with death.
The ending is a tribute to Hitchcock’s masterpiece with scattered reports of more attacks coming in over a car radio make it questionable that escape is truly possible. The final shot is also a classic with another domestic critter showing up for its close-up. “Cats ” was planned but never made however you can always check out “Strays” in which Kathleen Quinlan does battle with a pack of tabbies.
Bets Lines: “Romans is meant to be enjoyed. Not endured.”
“Now you want to tell them they will be eaten by their poodles?”
“You mean , I might be releasing odors that tell others what to do?”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.