By Brian Lafferty
October 12, 2011 (San Diego) – The 1950s spawned a then-novel horror subgenre. Many of these movies involved everyday animals and insects attacking entire cities after being transformed into giants (usually thanks to atomic testing or laboratory experiments).
After years of dormancy, this subgenre made a comeback in the 1970s, only this time the animals tended to be their normal sizes. However, they were just as deadly. Films of this kind included Frogs (1972), Grizzly (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), and The Pack (1977), the latter of which is now available from the Warner Archive Collection.
The Pack is a sad story, a cautionary tale that warns us of what happens when vacationers abandon their beloved pet dogs on a remote island. Over the years, these dogs have formed a pack, have gone hungry, and are vicious enough to literally tear a human to bits. After a storm knocks out all communication with the outside world, a group of vacationers led by Joe Don Baker are forced to defend themselves against the ferocious beasts.
The Pack probably looked scary to writer and director Robert Clouse as he penned the screenplay, which was adapted from a novel by David Fisher. Dogs can make scary horror villains in theory. Like Cujo, the rabid St. Bernard that trapped Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro in their Ford Pinto.
I could see what director Clouse (director of Enter the Dragon) was going for when he cast the dogs. I believe he was going for breeds that a traditional family would normally own. In real life an abandoned family dog can turn vicious under the circumstances portrayed in this film.
But sometimes it’s not best to strive for realism in horror films. I’m not saying the entire pack should have consisted of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and St. Bernards. But Dalmatians? Collies? Golden Retrievers? Almost all of the dogs in the pack are breeds that we don’t normally view as aggressive.
It is stereotyping, I know. Dalmatians, behind their black-spotted white fur, are in reality aggressive. Rottweilers, if properly trained, can be a docile family pet in spite of their attack dog reputation. The difference is that Rottweilers have a menacing and aggressive image. Dalmatians, Collies, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers don’t. A couple of aggressive breeds are thrown in, but the pack as a whole was too hard for me to take seriously as a threat.
It isn’t scary except for a few scattered close-ups of bared teeth and a sequence reminiscent of the phone booth scene in The Birds. But it is certainly is bloody and somewhat gory as one by one the vacationers perish violently. In between the attacks are banal dialogue and scenes that are nothing more than filler.
The Pack has been remastered by the Warner Archive Collection. There’s plenty of good grain and the remastering job cleans up the image while retaining its 1977 B-movie quality. Even though the sound is 2.1, the mix is clear, booming, and loud. It emphasizes the loud barking and the gusty winds.
Despite the large absence of thrills, The Pack isn’t a total failure. It actually works better as a cautionary tale than as a horror film. At first the thought of people abandoning their dogs on an island is senseless; one of the first scenes, in which a family deliberately leaves their dog, seems nonsensical.
Then I remember that over the last few years people have done the same thing when their homes have been foreclosed upon. In these tragic cases, they can no longer take care of their pets and there’s nothing they can do. If you really think about it, it’s not unlike that in The Pack.
Released in 1977, The Pack is very timely, but unless you’re a huge enthusiast of the genre, you’re better off finding something else to spend your money on.
The Pack is available only through manufacture-on-demand from the Warner Archive Collection. You can order it here.
A Warner Archive Collection release. Director: Robert Clouse. Screenplay: Robert Clouse, based on the novel by David Fisher. Cinematography: Ralph Woolsey. Original Music: Lee Holdridge. Cast: Joe Don Baker, Hope Alexander-Willis, Richard B. Shull, R.G. Armstrong, Ned Wertimer, Bibi Besch, Delos V. Smith Jr., Richard O’Brien, Sherry Miles, and Paul Wilson. 99 minutes. Rated R.