When you decide to watch a movie called Zoltan… Hound of Dracula, the only thing that could throw you is Zoltan starting the way it begins, like a war picture, which is not what you think of when you think of Dracula’s Dog. Director, Albert Band, quickly sets your mind at ease again, though, and as soon as one of the soldiers says, “Stop blasting. We’ve uncovered a tomb,” you know you’re in the right place after all.
The tomb they’ve uncovered is Dracula’s family tomb and, as John Harrison puts it in his commentary track with fellow film historian, Lee Gambin, the soldier on watch clearly “…hasn’t seen the same movies we have.” That means when an earthquake knocks one of the coffins out, he opens it and pulls out the stake inside. Instead of a human vampire, a vampire dog jumps out, and that Doberman’s name is Zoltan.
There’s always going to be an audience for movies featuring dogs, but Zoltan writer, Frank Ray Perilli, doesn’t rely on that and actually makes the relationship between pet owners and their animals an integral part of the story. Zoltan, like a lot of dogs, is protective of his owner, so while the situation is supernatural, his behavior stems from a real bond. Even Dracula’s name in this movie, as noted by Harrison and Gambin, is a combination of master and servant – Igor Dracula.
Pets, it turns out, are Dracula’s soft spot. “I will not deprive you of your dog,” he tells Veidt Smith (Reggie Nalder) before turning him into a half vampire. Dracula may have a heart when it comes to man’s best friend, but when Zoltan has a chance to wake up the rest of his family, he only wakes up Smith, letting the other Draculas in the tomb burn when Inspector Branco (José Ferrer) shows up.
Considering Smith and Zoltan spend the rest of the movie trying to find Michael Drake (Michael Pataki), the last, living, direct descendent of Dracula, this isn’t a small decision Zoltan makes. If he knew they couldn’t survive without a master, why didn’t he wake the old one, rather than spend the movie trying to turn a new one in time? Whatever Zoltan’s motives, Zoltan… Hound of Dracula has a lot of bite and a great score by Andrew Belling, where the same song will be used more than once but sped up or slowed down, for a completely different tone.
There might have been more tension if Perilli had given an exact time, for how long they could survive without a master, and the assault scenes, where Drake and Branco hole up indoors and the vampires try to get in, lose their steam after a while, but if you know your vampire films than you’ll appreciate the ways Zoltan continues certain traditions, like the inviting of a vampire into your home (or in Zoltan’s case a convertible). Harrison and Gambin also discuss Zoltan in terms of movies where vampires wake up in modern times and in which Dracula has a family.
Zoltan… Hound of Dracula is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting October 22nd from Kino Lorber.