Welcome to Freaks of Nature, a monthly column devoted to creature features of all shapes and sizes. This includes eco-horrors, kaijū, cryptids, and everything else in between. If a film features a beast who strikes terror in the heart of man, I’ll be there, bestiary in hand and ready to bask in all that monster glory.
As someone with only a limited knowledge of classic hard rock, I am definitely the wrong person to talk to about Alice Cooper. I know next to nothing about him other than the fact he shares a name with a classic Archie Comics character, and he once delivered an unforgettable performance on The Muppet Show. Although, being free from any previous bias certainly helps when viewing a movie like Monster Dog; my perspective isn’t curtained by Cooper’s celebrity.
Returning to your roots is usually an ominous event in horror, and macabre musician Vince Raven (Cooper) is no exception — he’s back in his hometown so he can shoot his latest music video. His arrival is immediately met with trouble from both the locals and a pack of feral dogs roaming the area. As luck would have it, there’s also a vicious creature dubbed the “Monster Dog” lurking about.
Originally titled Leviatán, the film was shot in five weeks in Madrid’s Torrelodones municipality. Director and writer Claudio Fragasso, whose uncredited directorial work in Rats: Night of Terror impressed an interested producer by the name of Eduard Salui, co-wrote the movie with his wife. Alice Cooper was the film’s main draw and his paycheck “was the biggest part of the budget.” Cooper, fresh out of rehab and looking to see if he could work as a sober artist, simply wanted to be part of a sleazy movie that skipped theaters and went straight to video; he most certainly got his wish with an oddity like Monster Dog.
The biggest set issues during the filming of this blatant B-movie were special effects snafus — the large head prop for the titular beast instantly broke upon its first use — and a pack of trained dogs that had been starved for two days so they wouldn’t be gun shy during the attack sequences. As for the cast, they mainly just had to show up and put in the physical work; everyone was dubbed over in English or Italian with the exception of Cooper during the music sequences. His actual spoken English lines were handled by voiceover veteran Ted Rusoff.
Monster Dog was severely edited for its U.S. release — a good twenty minutes were excised, scenes were rearranged, dialogue was changed, and the movie ended with a music video montage. Fragasso was apparently upset by this, but the recent edition put out by Kino Lorber restores some of the director’s original work that was previously only available on overseas releases.
Claudio Fragasso found his calling in making chintzy yet stylish horror movies chock full of paper-thin characters and threadbare stories. To some, his magnus opus may very well be Troll 2, but he hits some right notes in Monster Dog. The Gothic imagery in this Spanish production is the most pronounced in the indoor sequences and third act. The glowing, sinister silhouettes in rooms teeming with smoke are a nice touch among a number of other more stock scenes that feel straight out of any haunted house flick from that era and region.
Monster Dog screws the pooch by evading overt lycanthropy in favor of more basic horrors like the pack of wild dogs and a mob of home-invading hunters. Again, filming hit a snag when it came to special effects so there’s some mercy regarding the utter lack of werewolf carnage. What we do see of the eponymous creature is mainly a big ol’ head that may as well be disembodied. Luckily, viewers at least get the standard and prolonged werewolf transformation — at the end, the lone survivor of the night’s terror watches in dumbstruck awe as someone she once cared for, slowly changes into a cursed lycan.
Even with all the editing issues here and there, the plot is straightforward enough. The obvious inspirations for this movie are An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, two of the most iconic ‘wolf horrors to come out of the 1980s. The creative inhalation from those films is mostly surface-level and aesthetic seeing as Monster Dog‘s story dwells on ancestral anxiety and destiny. Cooper’s character escaped and found his way to fame, but the pull of his unconventional childhood is far too strong. In a nutshell, we tend to go back to our homelands and places of upbringing because we want to understand the person we’ve become. In relation, Vince reveals to a friend that his father was afflicted with lycanthrophy and was ultimately killed by the fearful locals. His coming back to this place is a clear and unspoken case of fatalism.
Something like Monster Dog isn’t going to turn me into a proper Alice Cooper fan. He’s the headlining act whose name value was so important to the producers, but considering he and the other actors were dubbed over in post, it’s hard to get a grip on his or any of the other performances. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about Cooper’s desire to be in a movie of this caliber. That sort of career craving when you’re a recognized and sought-after celeb is practically unheard of nowadays; it’s downright endearing to any horror enthusiast.
Apart from my amusement with Cooper’s offbeat choice in roles, I wasn’t too keen on the scanty werewolf appearances, and I’m guessing that’s a sentiment other creature feature fans will likely share. The backend, liberal with Italianate influences and home to most of the film’s action, is a small point of light. Even though Monster Dog can’t be considered one of the decade’s best werewolf movies, it still has some bite to it thanks to campy entertainment value and nightmarish imaging.