Spectrum Culture staff plumb the depths of currently streaming titles for this column, lowering the bar of filmed entertainment as far as it will go. Yet by that diminished standard, this week’s entry resembles a relatively decent movie. Be assured, however, that its creator had no such illusions about its quality.

Director Curtis Harrington, perhaps best known for the eerie 1961 thriller Night Tide with Dennis Hopper, made a series of TV movies in the ‘70s. He was the first to consider them hack work. In his 2013 memoir, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood, Harrington confessed that, ”I was forced to take on projects that I had neither the aesthetic vision for, nor the slightest intellectual interest in.” He calls the last of his made-for-TV movies a “monstrosity” and “an embarrassing disaster.” This may well be true, but by contemporary VOD standards, there are much worse.

Devil Dog: Hound of Hell was originally broadcast on CBS on October 31, 1978. Richard Crenna, who filmed the teledrama just five minutes from his house in Encino, California, starred as Mike Barry, a father who sees his entire family corrupted by an evil force: their German Shepherd. Crenna told the press at the time that “When you’ve grown up in a small downtown Los Angeles hotel and met the characters I’ve met, devil dogs don’t scare me a bit.” The director agreed, calling the film “laughable rather than scary,” and television audiences may well have felt the same way. Still, the movie has the not insignificant charm of a ‘70s made-for-TV-movie: bare-bones filmmaking and outdated period fashions and décor (like the wall-to-wall mustard-colored shag that makes the Barry family home look like it was built on partially-groomed mud).

The Barry family, along with Mike’s wife Betty (Yvette Mimieux), and their children Bonnie (Kim Richards) and Charlie (Ike Eisenmann) are celebrating Bonnie’s birthday at home, though it’s a sad occasion because their family pet has just died in an accident. Suddenly, a mysterious vegetable vendor (R. G. Armstrong, who played a similar role on the “Friday the 13th” TV series), drives up to the Barry home offering, along with fresh produce, a litter of newborn pups that happen to have been sired by Satan.

Who could resist a cute little doggie? Satan depends on weak humans who are helpless before a furry newborn pup, and are willing to overlook the strange things that happen after they bring the pup inside. Lucky, as the kids call their soon-to-be master, draws the suspicions of a neighbor’s Great Dane and the Barrys’ maid Maria, each of whom is dispatched of in short order by the powerful newcomer.

When Lucky gets Mike alone in the front yard, the dog tries to telepathically force him to put his hand into the whirring blades of an overturned lawn mower. Mike, the only member of the family who can resist this new evil, barely shakes off the spell, but the rest of his family isn’t so lucky. The children (and note that Richards and Eisenmann both starred in Escape from Witch Mountain and other kid’s movies of the era) are the first to fall, turning from sweet kids to spoiled brats. But it is Lucky’s dominion over Mrs. Barry that provides the movie’s most curious sequence.

Betty is sitting in her living room reading a magazine when Lucky appears before her, getting closer and closer every time she looks up from her reading. As Lucky moves nearer, the neckline of Betty’s nightgown reveals a little more of her décolletage, as if she’s subconsciously seducing the dog. Suddenly feeling threatened by Lucky, Betty gets up and heads for the bedroom, chased down by the devious canine. What happens next is off-screen, but the next time we see Betty she’s smoking a cigarette, as if basking in the afterglow of animal rape.

The movie doesn’t sustain this interspecies sexual tension, nor does it sustain much other interest. Looking for a way to rid his family of this four-legged evil, Mike travels to Ecuador to meet a shaman (unlikely character actor and one-time Coast Guard boxing and wrestling champion Victor Jory).By the time Mike returns home for his final battle with the devil dog, Harrington had left the production. Nevertheless, until its unsatisfying final act, the movie is entertaining enough, especially if you have an unusually high tolerance for glowing-eye dogs that kill. Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell can be streamed in full on YouTube, or if for some reason you want an alternative, Daily Motion. There are many other and far worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life on a streaming animal movie.

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