Originally released into theaters in 1977 as "Dracula's Dog"; "Zoltan- Hound of Dracula" is one puppy that should have been left at the pound to be euthanized. Director Albert Band ("I Bury the Living") sleepwalks his way through this dog of a film, while Michael Pataki ("Grave of the Vampire") and Oscar winner Jose Ferrer ("Cyrano de Bergerac") struggle to make Frank Ray Perilli's script remotely entertaining. Luckily, eternally eerie Reggie Nalder ("Salem's Lot") provides constant unintentional hilarity.
For no explainable reason the Tomb of Dracula is unearthed by the Russian army, it should be mentioned that this is by no means your average Russian army. This is a Russian army that not only speaks perfect English, but does so with American accents, and these comrades drive vehicles with U.S. Navy identification on them. This is not at all surprising since "Mother Russia" looks like a half dead vacant lot outside of Burbank. Once the Russians realize what they have discovered they search out their Major for instructions, leaving behind one lone guard to watch over the tomb. An earthquake hits and one of the caskets is dislodged from its final resting place, spilling open and unveiling its contents; a body wrapped in a sheet with a huge wooden stake sticking out of it. HORROR FILM POP QUIZ: W+X/Y=Z Where W represents Dracula's Tomb, X is one dispensable Russian soldier and Y is a body with a giant freaking stake protruding from its heart, what is the value of Z? Don't forget to show your work. For those of you that answered Z= A dead Russian soldier with two holes in his neck, you get a gold star and an additional reward of not having to watch the rest of this film.
Once the soldier removes the wooden stake from the sheet covered body, Dracula's dog Zoltan returns to life and attacks the officer's neck with a set of fangs created by Academy Award winning special effects designer Stan Winston. Zoltan is Winston's earliest attempt at makeup effects and shows absolutely no sign of the genius that catapulted him into fame. Which is not entirely his own fault, with the exception of vampire dog fangs, the only other effect in the film is a standard hippy mauling which leaves little room for the originality that would bring Winston the acclaim he won on films like "Terminator 2" or "Aliens".
After disposing of the soldier Zoltan turns his sights on an unmarked tomb that contains yet another sheet wrapped body complete with the giant stake. After much struggling Zoltan succeeds in removing the hunk of wood and his original master Veidt Smit returns to life. For reasons unknown, Smit and Zoltan flee the scene together without even trying to reanimate any of the other members of the Dracula family, leaving them behind to be burned by the Russian army. Arriving on the scene is Jose Ferrer clearly slumming it in his twilight years as Inspector Branco, a police detective/vampire hunter. While introducing yourself as a vampire hunter here in America might garner some strange looks, in Russia nobody even bats an eye. Branco reveals that Smit was Zoltan's original owner and that both he and the dog were made into undead slaves with no wish other than to serve their master Dracula.
During a flashback scene we see Dracula in the form of bat feeding off of Zoltan turning him into Dracula's dog. It is a scene that I'm sure was intended to illicit a sense of fear from the audience, but is handled so horribly by Band that it can't help but fill the room with laughter. In order to make it seem as if Dracula was feeding off the dog, a bat was placed on the back of a rightfully confused looking Zoltan. The resulting scene looks less like it came from an R rated horror flick and more like the opening scene of "Homeward Bound 666: The Incredible Journey to Transylvania".
Inspector Branco informs the Russian Major (the only Russian army member without an American accent, hers is British?!) that Smit and Zoltan have gone in search of Dracula's last living descendent Micheal Drake who relocated to Southern California. One long and boring boat ride later Smit and Zoltan arrive in Los Angeles to seek out the Drake family who are at home getting ready for a camping trip. While packing up all the regular camping necessities like tents, flashlights and marshmallows, Michael Drake (Pataki) reminds his wife to pack what he describes as "an absolute necessity when camping", a gun. Where the hell does the Drake family camp, the Thunderdome? In addition to the gun and kids Michael's wife decides to bring along their two dogs and box full of very young puppies, because what says camping like an open cardboard box of curious puppies.
The next morning with the Winnebago fully stocked with guns, kids, puppies and liquor the Drakes are off into the world of the happy musical travel montage. This is a world where nothing bad can happen, a world full of puppies, happy children and a sweet, whimsical Casio beat. But unknown to the family, Smit and Zoltan have followed them to their camping spot in a stolen hearse, and are parked in the brush nearby, where they plan their late night attack. Shortly after the Drakes set up camp the puppies escape and end up on "the Zoltan buffet", along with one of the puppy's parents and some local fisherman's hunting dog.
Later that night, Zoltan and his "muttley crew" surround the camper van and attempt to overtake the Drake family. Luckily Inspector Branco shows up with the power of his urgent musical travel montage behind him and the sheer force of his driving Casio beat runs Zoltan and his band of hounds off into the night. Branco tells the Drakes of their horrible linage and the family eats it up without batting an eye. The Drake family is sent home in the Winnebago as Micheal and the Inspector use Branco's car and their combined musical montage powers to meet Smit and Zoltan head on where only one team will survive the night, and nobody in the audience will care enough to tell about it.
"Zoltan- Hound of Dracula" has few redeeming qualities, and as much fun as it is watching Nalder mug to the slowly zooming camera with his eyes wide as saucers while hearing "Soon Zoltan, soon!" it gets old after the sixty-seventh time. The only other reasons I can suggest sitting through this failure of a film are for fans of old car commercials and the unveiling of its "shocking surprise ending". But the only person that would be willing to sit through this piece of dog crap just to see an old Cal Worthington television commercial and 30 seconds of vampire puppies, is the type of person that watches "Old Yeller" for the happy ending.
"Zoltan" has a Widescreen Presentation of 1.66:1, and while the daytime scenes tend to be a bit washed out, the night footage is quite crisp. But once the camera finally finishes zooming in on Nalder's face full of burn scars you might wish the transfer wasn't as clear as it is.
With the Dolby Digital mono track the dialogue can be a bit muffled at times and is constantly overpowered by the hilariously fake dog sound effects. The unusual sounds selected to represent a dog are about as realistic as the lion-like roar the shark emits after being shot by Lorraine Gary in "Jaws: The Revenge", unfortunately "Zoltan" is no where near the cheesy fun represented by the fourth "Jaws" flick.
Besides the Theatrical Trailer that's actually far more entertaining than the movie itself, the only other "extra" included is a French language track. The lack of behind-the-scenes footage or commentary tracks are not that surprising since the majority of the cast and crew of this 1977 film died before the DVD release, the surprising thing is that they all died in 1978 from shame.
It's sad to see the once great Oscar, Tony and Emmy award winning Jose Ferrer working for a paycheck in a film like this, but Pataki just shuffles through his role as he has in his countless television appearances. It's hard to find fault with Pataki who has been in everything from "Star Trek" to "The Flying Nun", whose most memorable role was voicing the character of George Liquor on "The Ren & Stimpy Show", but Ferrer was the definitive Cyrano with the accolades to prove it. While Band would go on to direct equally horrible films like "Ghoulies 2" and "Prehysteria" it's a shame that he was never able to recapture the subtle terror he inflicted in his earlier films like "I Bury the Living". Never entertaining and rarely worth keeping your eyes on the screen for, "Zoltan- Hound of Dracula" is one of those movies that's so bad it's good…that I don't ever have to watch it again!