You know what’s great about Final Girl? No, silly, I mean besides all the Charles Nelson Reilly pictures and my liberal use of the F word. The comments are great, that’s what! I like the discourse and yes of course the compliments but wait there’s more! I love the recommendations. You guys are like my own personal “If you like this, then you’re sure to like this!” squad, and it rocks. I mean, without a random comment somewhere from reader Bill, I may never have sought out Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978)- and then where would I be? Just where would I be, hmm? Would my life be as complete? Would my life have nearly as much meaning?
Yes, of course it would. But I wouldn’t have seen Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, so there’s that. Now, before you get all “Excuse me? "Hound" of "Dracula"? Since when? Dracula didn’t have no dog. For reals, y’all”, let me just say that if Superman and Batman and Paris Hilton can have dogs, then Dracula can have a dog. And besides, it’s kind of not even Dracula’s dog anyway…gah! I’m getting ahead of myself.
The movie begins as some unnamed armed forces blast open a crypt. Rather than exploring much, however, it’s decided that one soldier will stand watch and everyone else splits for some reason. Soon enough, the soldier is examining the names in the crypt…there’s Frederick Dracula…Mikhail Dracula…Bocephus Dracula…ok, I made that last one up but the point is, this is the Dracula family crypt! Not cool.
Suddenly, there’s an earthquake…or something. Whatever it is, the crypt begins to shake and out pops a coffin onto the floor. The soldier decides “Eh. When in Rome…” and opens the coffin. Inside, there’s a shrouded figure with a large wooden stake protruding from the chest. The soldier then does what any rational person would do: he pulls out the stake.
Now, I know this had to happen to further along the plot, but I couldn’t help but think- what kind of person would, under normal circumstances (meaning, this isn’t a grave-robbing expedition or what have you), open a coffin and play with the body inside? Put yourself in the soldier’s shoes for a moment- what would you do? WWJD? WWJJD? WWJJJD?* See what I’m sayin’? Word.
Anyway, dumb soldier = good horror movie plot device, so yes, out comes the stake. The shroud begins to move, and then up jumps a dog! A dog who then clamps onto the stupid soldier’s neck in a biting fashion! Zoltan, thou art loosed!
After feeding, Zoltan manages to dutifully revive his master, Veidt Smith (Reggie Nalder). Smith immediately (and conveniently, for us) thinks back to when he was but a humble servant and Zoltan was but a humble Doberman. After a visit one dark night from Dracula himself- a rather bitey visit- both Smith and Zoltan fell into service for the vampire. Dracula is now dead however, so Smith and Zoltan must find themselves a new master.
Later, the army returns to the blast site and they’ve brought Inspector Branco (Jose Ferrer) with them. Branco notices that two of the coffins are empty and, spying the family name, immediately insists that all the remaining corpses are burned. When the sassy Major (Arlene Martel) is all like, “Say what?”, Branco tells her about Smith and calls him a…I don’t know, it sounded like “something something labia” which in retrospect probably isn’t correct but I’d had some Magic Hat #9 and “something something labia” was the best I could make out. Regardless of a title or a label, Smith is only a half-vampire. This means he can withstand sunlight and he has no real thirst for blood, but he must always serve a master. Back at his library headquarters, Branco deduces that with Bocephus Dracula dead, Smith must travel to Los Angeles to find the last remaining member of the Dracula family line- mild-mannered attorney Michael Drake (Michael Pataki, aka The Poor Man’s Judd Hirsch). The Inspector hops in the Brancomobile, hot on the trail of the dastardly duo.
Unaware of the canine terror headed their way, Drake and family have just begun a vacation- dad, mom, the kids, their two German Shepherds, and a box full of puppies pile into an RV for a little off-season camping near Big Bear. Smith and Zoltan follow, Inspector Branco follows them, and Zoltan: Hound of Dracula gets kind of odd, kind of boring, kind of awesome.
The film gets odd and boring when Zoltan surprisingly becomes a sort of siege movie- a vampire dog siege movie as Smith sends Zoltan off to do his bidding and Drake and Branco hide from him. This is an okay conceit in small doses, but in actuality we get instance upon instance of Smith’s pinched-old-lady-smoker-mouth face as he telepathically communicates with Zoltan. He intones in a voiceover “Go Zoltan. Go now!” and then we see Zoltan…err, go.
This happens over and over AND OVER and if I was Zoltan, I would totally be like “Umm, excuse me, pucker face, why am I doing all the work? All you fucking do is sit around all day and glare while I have to run around and bite everyone and I am DONE WITH IT. Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh, I’ve got a new attitude.” And then I would leave, and probably pee on a bush. Then I’d drink out of a toilet and hump someone’s leg. While this wouldn’t really be such a drastic lifestyle change for me on the surface of things, it would garner me much less staring from uptight squares, for I would be engaging in these activities as a vampire dog. Why it’s okay for vampire dogs to just go and do whatever they want but when I go and do whatever I want there’s talk of “indecency” I’ll never know…but whatevs.
It is in fact awesome, however, that ever-so-slowly Zoltan builds a little army of vampire dogs. He bites the Drake family Shepherds and another camper’s hound, and all the dogs turn grey and get all mean and chompy.
The AMAZING thing about this movie- the thing that makes the entire affair pretty much worth watching is undoubtedly…the vampire puppy. YES, I SAID THE VAMPIRE PUPPY! See, Zoltan dispatches one of the Shepherd pups and when the Drakes find the body they bury it. As we’ve seen in horror films since the beginning of time, it doesn’t take long for the dirt to move as a body scrambles out- the fact that it’s an undead vampire puppy scrambling out, however, makes the sequence feel as fresh as a Summer’s Eve. There is nothing quite like seeing a puppy emerge from the grave as a vampire to make one’s day joyous and complete. In the film’s closing moments, right when you think it’s all over, we’re treated to the snarling, glowing-eyed puppy looking all menacing and cute. If only the film had continued for just a little while longer!
Alas, a final freeze-frame is the only vampire puppy action we get. Zoltan: Hound of Dracula isn't a very good movie- a shocking declaration, I know. It is, however, prime late-night drive-in fare- I mean, who doesn't love vampire dogs? Only jerks don't love vampire dogs.
*Jesus, Joan Jett, and J. Jonah Jameson respectively