DIRECTOR: NICK STROPP. RUNNING TIME: 83 mins. DVD: BRAZEN FILMS. PRICE: £12.99. CERT: 18.
Another attempt to recreate the Italian exploitation movie formula in the UK, Dogs on Drugs owes an obvious debt to Frederico Prosperi’s 1984 animals-on-the-rampage effort The Wild Beasts. Indeed, like its Italian inspiration, Dogs on Drugs has a former documentary maker in the director’s chair. Nick Stropp’s belated attempt at a British Mondo movie, Mondo Suburbia, with its ‘specially re-enacted for the cameras’ footage of supposed wife swapping parties in Woking, (which include the attendance of a supposed alien couple who can pleasure with their tentacles), and supposed human sacrifices in Surbiton (in order to ensure that the town’s municipal flower displays bloom spectacularly so as to win the regional heat of the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition), was met with ridicule upon its 1996 release. However, the ability to stage utterly ludicrous scenarios in a straight-faced documentary style served Stropp well when it came to making this tale of a town’s pet dogs getting a dose of hallucinogenic drugs and turning homicidal.
The film includes all the sequences you’d expect from such a scenario – dog walkers torn apart from their pets, a dog sitter engulfed and devoured by the pack of pooches she is meant to be looking after, school children terrorised by a pack of crazed labradors which have invaded their school. All filmed with grainy realism and the sense of detachment you’d expect from a documentary. Another effective scene sees the participants in an illegal dog fight fall foul of the contestants – two particularly vicious pit bulls. Some scenes are less effective: a policeman who laughs at the threat presented by a snarling Yorkie finds himself castrated when the furious ball of fur leaps at his groin, (although the testicles the dog is subsequently seen eating look alarmingly real) and a scene where an old lady is attacked by Dachshund is fatally undermined by the fact that she is clearly a stunt man in drag wrestling with a draught excluder. Both of these sequences underline one of the fundamental problems with the film: that whilst things like German Shepherds, Rottweillers and big dogs generally, can be made to appear threatening, most breeds kept as pets in the UK simply look comical when supposedly driven wild by ingesting drugs.
Moreover, whilst Prosperi got to shoot The Wild Beasts on the streets of Frankfurt, Stropp had to settle for far less glamourous Leighton Buzzard. Sadly, a scene of a pack of dogs lolloping down a main street in Leighton Buzzard, tongues hanging out and tails wagging, lacks the impact of the Italian movie’s enraged elephants stampeding down shopping streets, crushing cars and strangling motorists with their trunks. Credibility is further undermined by a bizarre sequence purporting to show the ‘acid trip’ being experienced by one of the affected canines: humans are transformed into joints of meat and giant bones float across the sky before a giant cat appears to terrorise the dog. Clumsily staged and its comedic tone jarring by contrast with the grim goings on elsewhere in the film, Stropp has always maintained that the sequence was added post-production by the distributors, without his knowledge, in an attempt to appease the British Board of Film Censors by adding some comic relief.
Structurally, Stropp follows his faux-Mondo formula of cutting between a series of violent but apparently unrelated scenes of dog attacks and a few dull and mainly woodenly acted expository scenes. The whole things is linked together plot-wise, through following the stories of heroic municipal dog warden Barry (former Eastender Dean Gaffney sporting a Burt Reynolds ‘tache) and dog-phobic post lady Linda (former Page Three model Brandy Melons), whose daughter is one of the menaced school children. The two finally cross paths when Linda finds herself chased down the High Street, whilst riding her Post Office bicycle, by a drug crazed greyhound. Witnessing the chase, Barry pursues the greyhound in his van, attempting to shoot it with an air pistol, but succeeding only in running it over. (Much of dog lover Barry’s story line involves him being forced to kill the animals he has devoted his life to saving. Sadly, Gaffney is unable to adequately indicate the trauma this is meant to cause his character). A tense climax sees the pair first besieged in a butcher’s shop, hacking several dog’s to death with meat cleavers and butcher’s knives – the scenes of mutt’s being decapitated are highly realistic, although Stropp has always claimed that no animals were harmed in the making of the film) – before escaping to try and rescue Linda’s daughter from the school. The second part of the climax sees Barry leading the dogs away from the school with a string of sausages salvaged from the battle at the butcher’s, onto a nearby railway line, where the animals are run over by a train. Again, the realism of the sequence belies Stropp’s protestations that no animal cruelty occurred during the film’s making.
A ludicrous, yet strangely entertaining film, Dogs on Drugs makes little sense in a traditional narrative sense, (the ‘drugging up’ of the dogs is perfunctorily ‘explained’ as being the result of a batch of dog food delivered to a local supermarket having been spiked with hallucinogens by radical animal rights protesters posing as factory workers), but, like all great schlock movies, often makes the viewer feel as if they are experiencing someone else’s fever dream. The whole thing has a slightly unfinished feel – it ends abruptly with the effects of the drugs wearing off and the dogs reverting to their normal, docile, selves, whilst a coda shows a group of homeless people who have been eating dog food turning homicidal, just as the streets of Leighton Buzzard seem to be safe again. Denied a UK cinema release after threats of prosecution by the RSPCA over the alleged animal cruelty inflicted during its making, Dogs on Drugs is finally available (in slightly edited form) on DVD in the UK thanks to this Brazen Films release. Perhaps not a ‘lost classic’, but certainly an entetaining piece of British exploitation which ranks up there alongside Confessions of a Sex Murderer and The Twelve Lays of Christmas.