Brando’s Halloween Pick of the Month

Coming on the heels of a big screen horror flick, The Evil,  Richard Crenna signed on for director Curtis Harrington’s movie of the week that saw man’s best friend as an evil entity bringing death and destruction to Crenna’s on screen family.

The film opens with sexy ex-Hammer queen, Martine Beswick, shopping for a female dog to breed. There’s an evil glint in her eye and it’s no wonder. She’ll soon have the dog tied in the center of a pentagram as she and her hooded followers conduct a black mass. And I do believe I’ve spotted R.G. Armstrong among them, The winds rise and a POV shot gives the impression that a demon has appeared on the scene. Cut to Richard Crenna and his lovely wife Yvette Mimieux.

As Crenna and Mimieux approach their home they are devastated to discover their family dog has been the victim of a hit and run and lays dead in the street. Their neighbor George Frizzell who seen the incident swears it looked like an intentional hit. Not to worry because along comes old R.G. with a litter of shepherd pups gifting one to Crenna’s children. If this duo look familiar they should. The kids are played by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann. The pair had already played siblings in the successful Witch Mountain movies for Disney.

Strange happenings are about to plague the Crenna house. His neighbor Frizzell’s gentle Great Dane will be mauled to death and when Frizzell attempts to have the Shepherd put down by local law enforcement he has signed his own death warrant. While Crenna hasn’t become victim to the evil in his home, his wife and children have and quickly become rude, arrogant and self centered. Crenna can’t quite figure out what has changed in his marriage but knows something evil has descended upon them. When Mimieux openly admits she has seduced a family friend who stands against their son’s unsavory behavior in school, Crenna, in an act of desperation attempts to put the dog down who he has come to believe is the root of the evil doings.

When bullets don’t do the dog any harm, Crenna looks elsewhere for help.

Harrington’s movie is a bit of an Omen clone with a pup subbing for little Damien Thorn. Consider these coincidences.

A pup takes the place of the family’s first dog just like Peck’s new son did subbing for Lee Remick’s murdered newborn.

A maid is killed as was Damien’s nanny. Here it’s because the woman is uneasy about the pup and warns Crenna there is an evil presence versus the need to insert Miss Baylock into Peck’s home. In that respect our maid is a cross between the nanny and Patrick Troughton’s priest who was destined to be impaled.

A guidance counsellor who presses to hard into the family’s well being is eliminated as were those inclined to stand in Damien’s way.

Crenna like Peck goes to his very own Buganhagen only here it’s not Leo McKern but a shaman played by Victor Jory who will help Crenna rid the world of the evil that has come to live in his household. Or does he? We all know how Peck made out. Don’t we?

Hell, even the music takes on an Omen like score though it’s no Jerry Goldsmith classic. That one still freaks me out every time I revisit the Richard Donner box-office hit.

While I can’t say for sure if I saw this on it’s network premiere in 1978, I did see the film as a kid on a couple of occasions and went years until seeing it again. I’ve always had a soft spot for it growing up in the era of TV terrors of which there were plenty released as movies of the week. Following their debuts, they would become a staple of late night TV airings. Director Harrington was a genre director having turned out 60’s cult titles, Night Tide and Queen of Blood. He also directed the TV thrillers, The Dead Don’t Die and The Cat Creature among others.

Anytime I’m talking films with “regular folk” and mention Crenna’s name, you almost always have to throw in the Rambo films to get a “sure I know that guy” and that’s a shame. Crenna was a solid leading man who following the 1960’s turned out a large body of work that in many cases were made for TV movies. I’ve always enjoyed seeing him work on both the big or the small screen. Earliest memory? Mine is probably as McQueen’s commanding officer in The Sand Pebbles, a film I saw repeatedly as a youngster played in two parts on the four o’clock after school movie that I’d hurry home to enjoy on many a week day.

A fine choice to give little Brando a chill as Halloween approaches. I do believe I saw him hiding under his pillow with his favorite ball when the shepherd turned into the barghest, “a goblin like dog with huge teeth and claws.” Took a minute or two to coax him back out. You should have heard the resulting attempt at sleep last night. I’m pretty sure the Devil Dog was visiting the little guy in nightmares.

To give this one a look, give your very own best friend a call to the couch and secure a copy of the DVD from Shriek Show and see if you too think this is a variation on The Omen. And hey, didn’t R.G. Armstrong play the same basic role in Race With the Devil? Just a thought.