Zoltan's not just a pet...he's part of the family! As the title so subtly hints, Zoltan's cravings go beyond chasing squirrels and wolfing down Snausages. Thankfully, Zoltan and his famous fanged family have long since been staked by some gutsy Romanian townsfolk and subsequently buried in an underground tomb. Their resting place is unearthed by the Romanian army for no discernable reason. Despite the surname "Dracula" being plastered on most every surface in the tomb, one enterprising soldier takes it upon himself to remove the stake from the cloaked corpse in one coffin. Dracula's dog, after chomping on the neck of his rescuer, then frees Veidt (Reggie Nalder), his master's obedient servant. Veidt, it's explained, has the immortality of the vampire without the craving for blood, making him the perfect servant.
Rather than attempt to revive the dusted members of the Dracula clan within stake's reach, Veidt makes the journey to America to visit the last member of the bloodline. Enter Michael Drake. He's a successful psychologist planning to journey to the middle of nowhere with his beloved family for an extended camping vacation. With two dogs and a pair of puppies in tow, Mike and family head out, wholly unaware that the undead Veidt and his pernicious pooch are close behind. Vampire hunter Inspector Branco (Josť Ferrer, doing his best Donald Sutherland impression) catches up with Mike and brings him up to speed. For the convenience of the plot, Mike buys his story, and the two wait in a cabin deep in the woods for Veidt, Zoltan, and some newly-turned doggies to make their move.
With a title like Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, most viewers would probably go in expecting some horrendously low budget flick with awkward special effects and just enough of a smattering of the red stuff to appease rabid young gorehounds. They would, of course, be right. The film's theatrical trailer boldly proclaims that Zoltan is "the most terrifying creature to ever walk the earth!" Nothing in Zoltan works as intended. Even its weak attempts at jump scares -- and I'll shamefully admit that I fall for most cheap scares each and every time -- fall flat. Movies like this are really only good for being mercilessly torn apart by camp-craving viewers, and on that front, Zoltan: Hound of Dracula is wildly successful. Much of what happens is nonsensical, incoherent, repetitive, and inept, and that's what makes it so much Gosh-darn fun. If someone can gaze upon the final shot hinting at a possible sequel and not burst into hysterics, then that sad individual has no soul.
Zoltan: Hound of Dracula has all the right talent behind it. The screenplay was penned by Frank Ray Perilla who would further explore animals with a taste for human flesh in 1980's Alligator. Zoltan was helmed by Albert Band, the father of Full Moon head honcho Charles Band and low-budget composer Richard Band. It would mark one of his final directorial efforts, followed only by Ghoulies II and a handful of Full Moon flicks, often joined by Charles in the director's chair. The score by Andrew Belling (Azaka, the God of Vengeance; that's a movie he worked on, not his secret identity) mixes chirpy synthesizers and hysterically dated drum work. The IMDb claims Stan Winston contributed some special effects work, though I'm too lazy to sift through the credits and verify. Zoltan: Hound of Dracula must be to Winston what Octaman is to Rick Baker. There's really not much in the way of makeup effects that I can remember. The only really visually memorable attack is when Veidt orders Zoltan to take out any men that could possibly come to Mike's rescue. A hapless fellow finds himself brutally torn to shreds at the hands...errr...paws of Zoltan, but other than that, the film is relatively bloodless and doesn't require much in the way of special effects. The most the crew goes for aside from that are shoving little dog legs through the cabin siege to make it look as if the animals are punching through windows. As well trained as the dogs were for most of the film, the attack sequences don't impress in the quite the same way. For the most part, the actors grab the dogs by their heads, lock onto the animal's bodies with their legs, and rassle. This isn't effective even with as quickly and frequently as Band cuts away from the action.
I don't understand the point of having a character like Veidt Smith. The promotional blurb on the keepcase describes Reggie Nalder in this role as "mega-creepy". Though I'm hesitant to precede any adjective with "mega", I feel that "mega-effeminate" or "mega-cadaverous" would be more descriptive and appropriate. Band is prone to giving Nalder lingering, expressionless close-ups, providing many of the movie's most unintentionally funny moments. Veidt also makes cat sounds whenever he fights, I guess to provide stark contrast to the number of canines around him.
Veidt is immortal for all intents and purposes, though he doesn't have to worry about tearing open victims' throats for sustenance and accordingly doesn't directly pose much of a threat to anyone. He has the ability to communicate with Zoltan telepathically, and Zeidt even seems to enjoy the hypnotic abilities of his long-dead master. I guess what I'm wondering is -- what's the point of being a vampire when someone can be whatever sort of creature Veidt is? He has all of the benefits of being a vampire without any of the drawbacks.
I already complained about this in the plot summary, but Zoltan and Veidt are both revived when stakes are plucked from their lifeless bodies. If Veidt was so eager to serve a Dracula, why not reach over and yank a stake from any one of the number of members of the family scattered around the tomb? It would've saved him an intercontinental trip, and his centuries of servitude would probably wind up being better appreciated to boot. Also, as soon as the Romanian officials discover the presence of the Dracula coffins, the bodies are immediately placed in a pyre. Why did the Romanian townsfolk originally bury the Draculas, leaving some window for their return, instead of burning them from the get-go?
Veidt has a lot to learn about impressing the new boss. Sure, taking the trek from Romania to L.A. is sure to net him some brownie points, but it's generally considered bad form to try to kill the boss' daughter, especially before you have a chance to properly introduce yourself. Inspector Branco mentions several times how Michael Drake is the object of Veidt's affection because he is the last of the Dracula bloodline. Drake has a son, though, so not only would he serve just as well as a master, but young Steve would almost unquestionably make for a much easier target. Maybe Veidt just wasn't interested in serving an eight year old. "Nooooo, Zoltan...! The Master loathes macademia nuts! Don't disobey me again!"
The movie takes care to mention that Michael is a psychologist. Normally in bad movies, such notes made early in the film serve an important purpose in the obligatory climactic showdown. For instance, take Wishmaster (please! Ha!). Alexandra makes a goofy speech to a pre-pubescent WNBA hopeful about how "stillness" will allow her to better focus and accomplish her goals. In the movie's final moments, with the fate of the world resting in Alexandra's hands, she predictably relied on the telegraphed "stillness" to come through in the end. I kept expecting Mikey's psychological background to come into play, hoping he'd deftly tunnel into Veidt's mind or get Zoltan in touch with his inner pup. No dice, I'm afraid. I would also expect that if I were a psychologist, I wouldn't be so blindly accepting when told that I was the last descendent of Dracula and that a bloodsucking dog and an undead Igor wanted to transform me into the master of the undead.
So, to summarize: a boy and his dog and Dracula. Actually, Dracula isn't in the film, but his spirit is in the dog. Starring Donald Sutherland and lots of dogs...a must see. Three stars.
Video: Zoltan: Hound of Dracula is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The great majority of the film looks spectacular, boasting strong colors and an incredible amount of detail. The inconsistent presence of film grain is a minor nuisance. The first glimpse of the tugboat is the only shot in which the grain is overwhelming, and that only lasts for a couple of seconds. Veidt's visit moments later to a neatly-packed Zoltan in the ship's cargo hold is somewhat grainy, as are the camper montage and the siege on the cabin. A nighttime exterior of Veidt and Zoltan skulking about around twenty minutes in is noticeably softer than the rest of the film. A couple of the moments in the woods with the Drakes are rather murky, such as the puppy burial and a conversation around the 37:50 mark about Samson's mad dash.
As many examples as I may have rattled off, those comparatively less attractive moments comprise maybe 5-10% of the movie's runtime at most, and they're still a far cry better than what I was expecting going in. I'm obligated to nitpick, but Zoltan: Hound of Dracula really has been given an excellent presentation on DVD.
Audio: Mono: Track of Audio! The monaural Dolby Digital soundtrack has its feet firmly planted in the late 1970s. Dialogue suffers the most, low in the mix and easily overwhelmed by background noises and various bits of foley work. The volume of the dialogue seems to flutter slightly from sentence to sentence, and every line up until we first meet up with the Drakes is severely muffled. The incessant barking of Zoltan and his canine cohorts quickly becomes unbearable, and it also tests the limited fidelity this track has to offer. If any background hiss was present, it was sneaky enough to not attract my attention. I did spot a couple of pops in the tugboat scene, though perhaps that was an intended part of the film's soundtrack and I'm too daft to realize it.
Along for the ride is a French mono dub for Ze Traquez Du Dracula. There are no subtitles in any language, and unless I'm completely overlooking the telltale Closed Captioning logo on the packaging, the hearing impaired are out of luck.
Supplements: Though the cover art looks like a quickie Photoshop job, an insert card with the theatrical poster art (under the Dracula's Dog title) and details on the disc's 21 chapter stops fits snugly inside the keepcase. The only extra on the DVD itself is an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer that runs a hair over three minutes.
Conclusion: If you think you might like a movie called Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, you're probably right. The movie practically has "watch it once and shelve it" plastered across the cover, so I'd recommend saving Zoltan for a rental.