If genre films were all about good cinematography and atmospheric music, Italian cinema of the 1970s and the 1980s would be the most popular in the world, for even the dreariest Italian genre films from the era can offer some great visuals and a decent score (and often also impressive gore and some over-the-top stunts). Yet to make a quality film you also need a screenplay, and this is where the spaghetti horror’s weak spot has always lain.
The majority of Italian independent genre films we’re pre-sold on the strength of a catchy title and a hyperbolic poster, and once the producers secured a sale, the film would have to be delivered in a matter of weeks, which left no room for finer aspects of storytelling. Prolific scriptwriters – Ernesto Gastaldi (mainly known for penning scores of giallo films), Dardano Sacchetti (every genre under the sun, wrote for Bava, Argento, Margheriti but is best known for his works on Lucio Fulci’s zombie films), Piero Regnoli (everything from early Renato Polselli films to Fulci’s swan song Voices from Beyond, not forgetting Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City and Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground) would be called in to deliver scripts to impossibly tight deadlines. Unsurprisingly, the storylines they came up with would often involuntarily take on surreal dimensions, with the characters behaving in a decidedly casual manner in the freakiest of situations or, on the contrary, bursting into fits of near-homicidal rage with no apparent motive.
Gigantic plot holes notwithstanding, a good number of these hastily written scripts, when given to a skilled director and with at least some financing, would result in genre classics. It was not uncommon to have a feature written in the course of a single weekend – no wonder that even the finest examples of Italian genre cinema are woefully lacking in the dialogue department. The 1984 horror Monster Dog is no exception. This small-scale horror film from the director of Zombie 4: After Death oscillates between entertaining stalking scenes and agonizingly bad dialogue interludes.
Written by Claudio Fragasso (Bruno Mattei’s partner in crime throughout the ’80s), Monster Dog was made around the same time as Rats: Night of Terror, a post-nuke exploitation rehash of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Set in the US but shot in Spain, Monster Dog is the only feature film to have the legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper in the lead role. Cooper has appeared in supporting parts in a good few films (John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness among them). Cult actor Ricardo Palacios (Blood of Fu Manchu, The Ark of the Sun God) appears as the sheriff.
Monster Dog boasts some half-decent bloody scenes, with clunky animated monster head popping out of the bush or bursting through doors at pleasantly brief intervals, plus two exclusive Alice Cooper songs (Identity Crisis is a personal favourite). For such a low-budget film, the cinematography is well-executed (and highly reliant on blue-tinted lighting, so popular in ’80s horror), with an occasional shot looking like it could belong in a more upmarket production. When the monster dog attacks, Fragasso treats us to some moist closeups of gore, something the director would later perfect in Zombie 4:After Death. Had it not been for such head-achingly bad dialogue, Monster Dog could have been a minor classic. As it stands, the film is enjoyable enough, but its daftness is likely to make you cringe now and then.
P.S. some trivia: Monster Dog was produced by Carlos Aured, responsible for an over-the-top 1973 horror film Horror Rises from the Tomb starring Paul Naschy.