Case Number 07853

FRIGHT PACK: MAN'S WORST FRIENDS

The Cat O' Nine Tails
Anchor Bay // 1971 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Anchor Bay // 1977 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
The Black Cat
Anchor Bay // 1981 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Parasite
Anchor Bay // 1982 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Rats: Night Of Terror
Anchor Bay // 1984 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Slugs
Anchor Bay // 1987 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 21st, 2005

The Charge

Lions, and tigers, and bears...and slugs, and cats, and dogs, and parasites, and rats, and...sexually confused killers, oh my!

Opening Statement

They say that a dog is man's best friend. They say that people don't own cats, but that cats own their so-called masters. They also argue that butterflies are free, that mares eat oats and does eat oats, but little lambs eat ivy, and if you take away their wings, the birds will have to walk to get around. Animals and man have such a longstanding species peace treaty that to see it turn violent and ugly is not very pretty -- entertaining and eerie, maybe, perhaps even a bit sinister and shivery. But overall, humans and their four-legged (or webbed, or segmented) friends are happier when they all just get along. Still, the horror genre is filled with films where the little critters of the land decide to get back at people for stealing their milk, domesticating their wilder instincts, and forcing them to feast on ersatz nourishment like Gaines Burgers (or the dreaded, meat "by-product"...ewww!). Thanks to Anchor Bay and their ongoing box-set scheme, we get a six-pack of nature gone nutty (well, a five-pack plus a Dario Argento giallo) that reminds us that sometimes, the beasties of the backwoods are not our pals. On occasion, they can turn into Man's Worst Friends.

Facts of the Case

* Parasite (1982):
To paraphrase that classic speculative sci-fi film, Strange Brew, it's Earth, about a billion years after World War III, and a Peter Allen impersonator is wandering around a post-apocalyptic laughscape trying to capture a runaway leech. Seems this supersonic internal sponge was requested by the government as some manner of newfangled weapon. Sadly, our inventor used himself as a guinea pig, so he must steal the remaining tapeworm to cure his own inner irritations. He ends up in a one-horse town overrun with rejects from the Galleria version of The Road Warrior. If he's not careful though, the burgh will be bursting with one pissed-off Parasite. Score -- 50

* Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1977):
When a crappy communist construction crew uncovers Dracula's family plot, one of the digging doofuses pulls the stake out of the Count's favorite cur. As if by macabre magic, the dog is reborn, and he finds a way to get his pickled prune of an owner -- also undead -- to help him scrounge a bowl of Kibbles-'n'-Blood. Next thing you know, the pair are on a slow boat to California, where they hope to hook up with a direct descendant of their vaunted vamp. Too bad this clueless cad has decided to take his family on a camping trip. Zoltan: Hound of Dracula doesn't cotton to the great outdoors, especially during the day. Score -- 45

* The Black Cat (1981):
A psychic scientist who claims to speak with the dead has a small English town in a tizzy. They mock his mentalist claims, so he gets back at them via systematic slaughter. But instead of doing the deadly deed himself, he gets a black cat to spray and slay. That's right, its time for the world's first kitty serial killer as our felonious feline runs around the U.K. countryside suffocating carnal couples and setting old sows on fire. It will take a dedicated U.S. photographer and an inspector from Scotland Yard to uncover the truth about the puss-'n'-boots badass known as The Black Cat. Score -- 82

* Slugs (1987):
When a small town suddenly finds itself overrun by slimy savages with a penchant for people, it is up to the Head of Sanitation and his compadre in civil service, the Health Inspector, to save the day. While they were trying to figure out how to stop these slaughtering snails, the citizenry find themselves up to their arses in escargot scat. The mutant mung bugs just can't stop scarfing down the various locals, and the Mayor and Sheriff seem oblivious to all those residents resoundingly kicking the bucket. Thanks to a British scientist with a clear chemical clue, our brave bureaucrats will try to rid their idyllic city from its problematic plague of Slugs. Score -- 80

* Cat O' Nine Tails (1971):
When a series of brutal killings occur at a top-secret research lab, a reporter and a blind crossword puzzle typesetter become embroiled in the case. The sightless man overheard some information one night that might be of importance, and the journalist just knows that this incident is a clue to discovering who is behind the crime. As they dig deeper into the science conducted by the facility, they learn of bizarre genetic testing and psychosexual experiments. Someone obviously wants their association with the clinic covered up, and will go to great links -- even kidnapping and murder -- to keep their identity clandestine. Score -- 90

* Rats: Night of Terror (1984):
Again with the post-apocalyptic landscape. A group of ragtag outback ruffians saunter into a set from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time In The West and discover that its been overrun by super-intelligent nuclear rodents. These miscreant mice are starving for human flesh and our Capt. Walker wannabes will fit the dinner bill nicely. As our title pests perpetrate killings of incredible corniness, the clueless cast of Band of the Hand run around pretending to be frightened of guinea pigs painted with filth. Just when you think the nightmare will be over, a twist ending right out of Planet of the Apes arrives to slowly send your mind into meltdown mode. Score -- 55

The Evidence

Sometimes, when you're saddled with a collection of below-par motion pictures, you've got to find something to keep your cinematic spirits up. Bad films can foul your mood worse than an excess of sugar or a lack of caffeine (or any combination thereof). If you're not careful, they can undermine your very belief in the benefits of movies as entertainment. That is why the "Saving Grace" was invented. It allows for schlock film fans to cuddle up to even the most repellant cesspool of celluloid and walk away with most of their sanity intact. Though the six films in this set offer differing levels of lethalness (and a couple couldn't kill a fly if they tried), this review will still provide a calming charm for each movie. Remember them as you dive into the impending idiocy, or use them as a kind of logic life preserver when your tolerance for irrationality and inanity has worn out. They may be able to save your filmic soul, even if your principles are parched along the way. Let's start with one of the most worrisome wastes in the box:

* Parasite
(Saving Grace: A Pre-Breast Job/Ashton Kutcher Demi Moore)
It's hard to say what is worse about this half-baked Alien ripoff -- the horrendous acting, the less-than-stellar cast, or the future shock stool sample that passes for science fiction in this underbaked balderdash. Without ever indicating that we are in a Mad Max-style post-nuclear Hell, director Charles Band (one of the greatest B-movie hacks EVER!) just starts tossing in the archetypes (proto-punk gang, wholesome normal girl, sage shopkeeper, eccentric actress) and hopes it's all a Barter Town Buck Rogers movie. But since the setting is a one-half stallion burgh that makes the hotel in Bagdad Cafe look like a major metropolitan nerve center, we don't get a real sense of Armageddon like End Times. Instead, we keep checking our watches to see when the film will call it quits.

For those who fancy Demi Moore, she is indeed here to turn on the titillation. But be warned: this is the frail -- and decidedly flat-chested -- St. Elmo's Fire version of the future vixen at play in this puke. Still, she is the only interesting thing here -- unless your idea of fun is seeing a great stage and screen star -- Guys and Dolls' definitive Adelaide, Vivian Blaine -- slumming away for scale. The effects are laughable (Troma's Penis Monster is more realistic) and the overall atmosphere replicates a kind of Six-Gun Territory version of The Deadly Spawn. This is no-budget bullspit at its most limited and lousy. When even your title terror can't pull off a decent death scene, there's no reason to stick around for this faux Futureworld foolishness.

* Zoltan: Hound of Dracula
(Saving Grace: A vampire puppy)
Let's get one thing straight right up front. This is a really, really, really bad film. Mega bad. Orca bad. Could have been directed by George Lucas bad. The characters are laughable, the narrative is annoying, and the entire premise predisposes that a Cujo with a craving for clots is more frightening than a typical vampire romp. Unfortunately, our proud pincher in the lead is saddled with a set of dentures that even Grandpa Simpson would find idiotic. Far too big, overwhelming the dog's classic features, we end up with something akin to those photo-enhanced smiling hounds you see littering up dog food ads. As Zoltan's master, some wrinkled artifact stands around with a glazed look in his eyes as a nattering voiceover narrative does all the expositional work. Before we know it, we start praying for the ASPCA to show up and close down the production. This is one of the few films that can boast a warning label that says, "MANY dogs were harmed during the making of this movie."

But one minor plot point almost singlehandedly saves the film. During the initial dog/Dracula material, our title hound snacks on a random puppy. The poor pooch is found and, since his undead status is unclear, he gets buried. Frankly, you haven't lived until you've seen a baby German Shepherd rising from the grave. As the ground moves and the infant furball's sound effects reverberate across the soundtrack, we get that classic scene from the time-honored monster movie tradition of the creature crawling out of the dirt. Naturally, it's a tiny little bundle of oatmeal-scented love, and it's absolutely hilarious. Later on, after the carnage is completed and all seems right with the world, we are treated to a return of the vampire puppy, and his closing shot is another certified scene-stealer. This obvious puppet, with a mouth full of jagged, snaggled teeth, gives the camera a full on close-up and as the eyes glow with demonic glee, our Hellspawn hound snarls with full fake-tongue action. It's aces. Too bad the rest of the film couldn't be this much crazy, campy fun. A vampire puppy is pure genius. The rest of Zoltan is utter garbage.

* The Black Cat
(Saving Grace: A Psychotic Killer Feline that's Cute as a Button)
Lucio Fulci sure loves lapses in logic. As a filmmaker, he can modify his mise-en-scene to reflect any kind of cinematic style he needs. From sword and sorcery to straight-ahead mysteries, the mad maestro has a chameleon-like ability to mimic almost any movie. The only constant in his canon -- besides his resolute love of bloodletting -- is his nonsensical narratives. The Black Cat is no exception. Based so loosely on the Edgar Allen Poe short story that Ethan Allen and Julian Po are both considering suing for indirect plagiarism, what we have here is a feel-good story about a mad medium, his uncontrollable rage, and the cat through whom he channels his killer instincts. The title tiger is a mean little cuss, carving up people with his non-neutered claws and spraying on victims when they're not looking (a fiend has got to mark his territory, you know). It's really hard to get a handle on what's more unbelievable here: that a 10-pound pussy can whip a 200-pound man's ass, or that everyone in the cast believes it can happen.

Fulci's flummoxing way with a storyline doesn't really rob this movie of its plentiful pleasures. Up to his usual tricks, the director devises several splattery death scenes with people finding their faces, hands, and bodies sliced open by little cat's feet. There is also a nasty bit of immolation, a moldering nude corpse, and a drunk doing a swan dive onto some construction spikes. As the mystery gets more and more muddled, Patrick Magee (of A Clockwork Orange fame) gets more and more Method, shivering and simmering under some of the rummiest eyes this side of Oliver Reed (if the guy didn't/doesn't drink, he should start). The rest of the cast (including a few Fulci faves) all play it straight, believing 100 percent that a kitten with a killing complex can actually turn adults into tender vittles. It may not pay off in a rational or reasonable manner (and the last minute bow to Poe's original tale is a stretch at best), but we sure do enjoy the ride along the way.

* Slugs
(Saving Grace: Belligerent City Officials Getting Eaten by Garden Pests)
Slugs is one sick movie. It is stupid and strange, and filled with some obvious thespian missteps, but when it comes to slime-drenched dreck, this film delivers in delightful oozy originality. Director J.P. Simon has crafted a strangely schizophrenic tale of corrupt city management, bad overdubbing, and unholy worms of hate. Had it been anyone else, we'd dismiss this delirium as the work of a moviemaking madman. But once you learn that J.P. is actually Juan Piquer Simon, the director behind the Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Pod People as well as the cheesy chainsaw epic Pieces, it all starts to make sense. The voices are odd because this is a Spanish production. The government gripes come directly from the European tendency toward graft. And the sinister slimeballs? Well, J.P. will have to answer that one for himself. Still, there is something abnormally satisfying about this one-dimensional dung heap. For every element that fails, there's another that's a fabulous disaster.

Simon offers up the most quarrelsome, confrontational set of characters in the history of a horror film. Every individual we meet has a chip on their shoulder the size of a sump pump, and can't seem to get over the fact that there are people with power over and around them. Like office politics gone potty, the Health Inspector hates the sheriff, the sheriff hates the Sanitation chief, both dislike the Water commissioner, and the Mayor ain't too happy with the lot of them. These pencil-pushing putzes argue incessantly among themselves as the citizenry gets chewed up by leeches with issues. Perhaps part of the problem with these peons is they are all saddled with gloriously unattractive shrews for wives. Our garbage man in particular has a spouse who looks 58 (as well as capable of taking him, two out of three falls) while a friend is hampered by a harpy with a constant Cognac buzz on. In many cases, the slaughtering slugs are godsends for the people they peel and eat. Add in some delicious gore (including a stellar exploding head) and lots of dizzyingly dumb dialogue ("Killer Slugs!!! What's next? Demented Crickets???"), and you've got a wonderfully warped view of gardening's grosser side.

* Cat O'Nine Tails
(Saving Grace: Dario Argento Doing His Giallo Thang!)
In only his second film, Italian director Dario Argento further expands the giallo genre by delving into some fairly controversial subject matter (sexual abnormality and genetic testing) and delivers one of his best early thrillers. Helping matters along is the expert casting. Karl Malden does a great job as the blind ex-policemen who overheard something that may be important to the case. He mixes ability with handicap effortlessly to make us care about and root for this sightless hero. While a little overdone in the machismo area, James Franciscus is very effective as the smarmy reporter who bends the rules to get results. Together they make a great team and, in Argento's capable and creative hands, we get a crackerjack bit of thrills and spills. Make no mistake -- this is not Profundo Rosso, Deep Red, or The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This is a young auteur spreading his wings and flapping them freely, seeing how far he can fly.

There are a few mistakes here and there. The character of the niece is kind of annoying, since she appears to have no other purpose than to provide a last act threat for the blind man to overcome. Also, the storyline gets convoluted along the way, especially with all the discussion about XX/XY chromosomes and the link to violent behavior. Individuals anxious to see Argento lay on the grue will be disappointed in the rather tame bloodletting this film offers. And the overall feeling is kind of forced, with the plot pushing along the individuals involved, not the other way around. Still, as the best movie in this box set, Cat O'Nine Tails deserves your attention. It shows a new artist getting a handle on his muse, and a pair of expert actors showing how it is done. It is easy to see why this film found the Mediterranean master labeled the Italian Hitchcock. Dario Argento is just that good.

* Rats: Night of Terror
(Saving Grace: Ummm...let's see...ummm...Mutant Rat People of Hate!)
Leave it to a paison to piss all over the good name maestro Argento just gave to that little European boot nation. Rats is retardation mired by the moronic, a one-note film that plays that particular sad sound over and over again, off-key and with decided dumbness. The first major mistake this movie makes is setting its scares in the future. Ripping off George Miller is one thing, but to borrow from the really bad mimicry that other amateur auteurs have already foisted on the Mad Max manner of moviemaking is insane. Apparently, once the great nuclear war occurs, the surface of the planet will be overrun by badly-dressed Euro-trash. No attempt is made to give these failed fashion models individual identities. They go by ridiculous nicknames -- Video, Duke, Lucifer, Chocolate -- and dress like rejects from the New Romantic era of The Village People (you remember that, don't you?).

And then there are the rats -- or the oversized hamsters painted up to look like gray turds. These beasts are not bad, they're adorable -- in a slimy, beady-eyed sort of way. They have to be thrown at the actors to fake angry attacks, and are so apathetic most of the time that the movie could be called Attack of the Killer Snow-Pea Pods and it would be just as scary. In a move atypical for director Bruno Mattei, there is minimal gore here. Sure we see a couple of mangled corpses, and one of our nomadic hoodlums burns up real good, but mostly, we are treated to red splotchy clothing and faces full of fake fur as the effects highlights. The ending will leave you scratching your head, the dialogue is the very definition of ersatz action scripting, and the performances range for over the top to hilariously hysterical. Sadly, this movie just can't manage to get itself over into the "so bad it's good" category of crap. Instead, it's an endurance test laced with many mouse droppings. The only future up for grabs in this dreary little drivel is your propensity to ever look at Italian horror films the same way again.

As a box set, this is a true 50/50 deal. Half the set is worth a look -- Slugs, The Black Cat, and Cat O'Nine Tails topping the list. The other half is terrible, junk that gives the concept of a cinematic compost heap a bad name. In reality, Parasite and Rats are about the same, so if you like seeing bad attempts at post-apocalyptic social commentary, or various unattractive actors and actresses running around like runners-up in the Loverboy costume contest, you may also get a hoot or two out of these films. Sadly, Zoltan is a true hunk of garbage, a smelly-dog flop that no amount of vampire puppydom can cure. If push comes to shove, a horror buff should pick up this set. They will have fun with more than 50 percent of the offerings, and the others can be pawned off on friends as holiday presents or personal bribes.

As for the overall tech specs, let's label them as sporadic and leave it at that. Specifically, Parasite is 2.00:1 anamorphic widescreen that truly looks terrible. That's because this was once a 3-D spectacular and the out-of-focus facets from that outdated gimmick really gimp up the picture. Zoltan is 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen and has a TV-movie-esque feel, flat and lifeless. Cat O'Nine Tails and Black Cat are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Tails is terrific, while Black has some scratches and dirt. Slugs and Rats: Night of Terror are 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and both look great. On the sound side, there is nothing outstanding to report here. Parasite is Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1; Zoltan, Black Cat, Slugs, and Rats: Night of Terror are Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Mono, and Cat O'Nine Tails is Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0.

If you're looking for added features, you are barking up the wrong box set. There are trailers on all six films. Only a few have anything more. Black Cat has a Fulci biography (text only), while Rats offers a nine-minute interview with director Bruno Mattei in which he discusses Rats and Virus (Hell of the Living Dead). Cat O'Nine Tails is the most fleshed out, with an interview with Argento, writer Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Ennio Morricone, trailers, TV spots, radio spots, radio interviews with Karl Malden and James Franciscus, and a Poster Art/Still Gallery as part of its package.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It needs to be said one more time -- Dario Argento's Cat O'Nine Tails does not belong here. The other five films have killer critters at their center. This movie just has a misleading name, and a connection to two other non-bestial entries in Argento's Animal Trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Gray Velvet).

Closing Statement

So the next time you think your ferret is giving you the evil eye, if the gnats buzzing around your head appear to be conspiring against you, and if the albino cat in your fish tank appears poised to strike at your jugular vein, perhaps you should see a psychiatrist. Or maybe, you could pick up a copy of the Fright Pack: Man's Worst Friends from Anchor Bay. There, you will learn that stopping a blood-hungry dog is as easy as driving a large piece of wood through its belly, that slugs hate scientists with forced British accents, and cats can't stand it when their master overacts. While these lessons may not help you the next time your raccoon gets his chainsaw going, they may aid in settling some of your worst nature-based fears. Apparently, no matter how high the odds are against it, man always seems to win -- unless, of course, you're talking about a post-apocalyptic landscape where mutant mice and oversized gut worms want you dead. That is one frigged-up future that no one can survive.

The Verdict

Okay, in a split decision, Cat O'Nine Tails, Slugs, and The Black Cat are all free to go. Parasite and Rats: Night of Terror are all held over for further action from the court. Sadly, Zoltan will be put to sleep, while his puppy will be placed in Hell Hound Foster Care. Court adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, The Cat O' Nine Tails
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 78
Acting: 95
Story: 88
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, The Cat O' Nine Tails
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Cat O' Nine Tails
* Interviews with Director Dario Argento, Writer Dardano Sacchetti, and Music Composer Ennio Morricone
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV Spots
* Radio Spots
* Radio Interviews with Karl Malden and James Franciscus
* Poster and Still Gallery
* Talent Bios

Scales of Justice, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 10
Acting: 55
Story: 10
Judgment: 45

Perp Profile, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Black Cat
Video: 89
Audio: 85
Extras: 20
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, The Black Cat
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Black Cat
* Trailer
* Lucio Fulci Biography

Scales of Justice, Parasite
Video: 78
Audio: 82
Extras: 10
Acting: 65
Story: 25
Judgment: 50

Perp Profile, Parasite
Video Formats:
* 2.00:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Parasite
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Rats: Night Of Terror
Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 25
Acting: 55
Story: 50
Judgment: 55

Perp Profile, Rats: Night Of Terror
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Rats: Night Of Terror
* "Hell Rats of the Living Dead" -- Bruno Mattei Interview Featurette
* Trailer
* Bruno Mattei Biography

Scales of Justice, Slugs
Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 10
Acting: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Slugs
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Slugs
* Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb: Parasite
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0084472/combined

* IMDb: Slugs
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0093995/combined

* IMDb: The Black Cat
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0080440/combined

* IMDb: Cat O'Nine Tails
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0065761/combined

* IMDb: Rats: Night of Terror
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0086176/combined

* IMDb: Zoltan: Hound of Dracula
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0077470/combined

* DVD Verdict Review of Parasite
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/parasite.php

* DVD Verdict Review of Slugs
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/slugs.php

* DVD Verdict Review of Rats: Night of Terror
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/ratsnightterror.php

* DVD Verdict Review of Fright Pack: The Devil Made Me Do It
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/frightpack1.php

* DVD Verdict Review of Fright Pack: Campy Classics
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/frightpack2.php

* DVD Verdict Review of Fright Pack: Walking Dead
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/frightpackwalkingdead.php