Kino Lorber. Region A.
Feature: 87 mins. Aspect ratio 1.66:1.
There’s more to the legend than meets the throat! (Original poster tagline.)
Zoltan – Hound of Dracula (1977) begins with the uncovering of a tomb by soldiers in an unnamed European country. This is no ordinary underground vault; it is home to the Dracula family, including ‘Count Igor Dracula’, 1680-1927 (it’s pronounced ‘Eye-Gore’). One earth tremor opened coffin, and stake removal later and the titular vampiric hound is unleashed into the world. A soft-focus flashback shows how the pooch was turned into a vampire: Zoltan’s annoying barking cockblocks Dracula (Michael Pataki) during a nightly feast and the vampire retaliates by turning into a bat and putting the bite on the bad boy. Back in the present day, the hound reanimates the dead Count’s servant Veidt, played by a memorably cadaverous and craggy Reggie Nalder, a couple of years before appearing as master vampire Barlow in Tobe Hooper’s TV film of Salem’s Lot (1979). Together the undead duo heads off in search of Drac’s descendant. In hot pursuit is vampire hunter Inspector Branco (José Ferrer, gamely trying to add gravitas). Veidt and Zoltan hitch a ride on a ship to America, where the last human descendant of Dracula is living, one Michael Drake, also played by Michael Pataki.
Zoltan is in the tradition of films like Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) that attempt to transpose the vampire legend to a then-contemporary setting. The movie splices this aspect with the ‘nature runs amok’ subgenre to produce something quite unique in the horror genre. As such it’s reasonably successful but unfortunately, after a decent opening, the screenplay takes the Drake family on an RV camping trip and the bulk of the film takes place on a campground in the woods. This leads to Zoltan prowling around camper vans and campsites putting family dogs to the fang. The film has what is to my knowledge cinema’s only sequence of an undead puppy pushing up through the earth Plague of the Zombies-style to rise from its grave. For this and other sequences of vampiric canines loping and running around, the film gets high marks for originality but it’s all rather silly stuff. But the movie is played almost completely straight, which unfortunately turns much of it into unintentional comedy. On that level, it’s enjoyable enough as straight kitsch, with a brisk pace and poppy ‘70s music score.
The most impressive aspect of the film is the superb handling of the dogs, which elicits naturalistic performances from the animals. At no point do the dogs look like they are being directed offscreen. This adds realism to the movie’s notion of a roaming pack of feral, vampiric canines and connects Zoltan to fellow nature-run-wild, eco-horrors like The Pack (1977) and Grizzly (1976).
The movie is directed by Albert Band, a prolific filmmaker who is probably most familiar to genre film aficionados from helming the Twilight Zone-esque chiller I Bury the Living (1958) and for founding Empire International Pictures in the ‘80s with his son Charles Band. Notable films produced under the Empire banner include Trancers (1984), Ghoulies (1985), Reanimator (1985), From Beyond (1986), and Dolls (1987).
Band bought Frank Ray Perilli’s script in 1973, a screenplay apparently based on a short story by Perilli, though no confirmation of the publication of this story could be found. Perilli began his career as a standup comedian in Chicago and later wrote comedy for Don Rickles and Lenny Bruce. Interestingly, Perilli wrote the script for the 1976 horror opus Mansion of the Doomed which was directed by Zoltan star Michael Pataki. Perilli is also credited with the story for Alligator (1980), co-written by John Sayles.
The film was photographed by Bruce Logan, who also completed special effects photography for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars (1977). Logan doesn’t impart a particularly notable look to the film, as colors are flat and the picture has the appearance of a TV movie from the era. The scarce but serviceable makeup effects are by Stan Winston, whose first horror makeup credit was 1974’s Bat People. Winston went on to become a major makeup effects artist; among his credits are The Terminator (1984), Predator (1987), and Jurassic Park (1993).
Zoltan was distributed in the U.S. by Crown International Pictures, a film studio, and distribution company that was founded in 1959 and became known for its roster of low-budget grindhouse and exploitation films like Hellcats (1967), Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), and The Pom Pom Girls (1976). They also released stop-motion monster film The Crater Lake Monster (1977) and the supernatural thriller The Hearse (1980).
There is some confusion about the release date of the film. Many sources list it as 1977, but the AFI Catalog has a Los Angeles opening on May 25, 1979 and a copyright date of April 22, 1980. I saw the first ten minutes of the film on BBC 2 as part of their famous ‘horror double bills’, where it was broadcast on July 4, 1981. So either 1977 or 1979 is plausible for its release year.
The transfer is a new 4K master and it looks as pristine and well-preserved as the undead. Colors are vivid, darkness is deep black, fine details and surface textures are visible, and there is no print damage in evidence. It’s frankly amazing that it looks as good as it does. I just wish that Bruce Logan’s photography was more artful or vivid.
Audio commentary by Lee Gambin and John Harrison – Gambin and Harrison are authors and film historians who provide an enthusiastic and knowledgeable commentary.
Radio Spot and Theatrical Trailer
Though the disc is light on extras, fans of ‘70s B-grade horror will get a kick out of this edition of Zoltan – Hound of Dracula, which makes this slight but unique and enjoyable slice of hokum look ridiculously good.