Now this inspires a terrifying question
did Joe Don Baker have kids?
When we found The Pack on the video store shelf, we were mentally sharpening our knives. A '70s nature-takes-revenge film with Joe Don Baker -- how could this movie possibly be good? Once we read the premise -- abandoned dogs on an island frequented mostly by tourists form a pack and begin to attack the inhabitants -- the jokes began to take shape in our heads. "Joe Don Baker in another dog of a movie." "A real howler." "Please clean up after your film."
Sadly, the jokes went to waste. The Pack is no prize pooch, but neither is it the mongrel of vintage video cheese that we'd hoped it would be.
The picture starts promisingly enough, with a Clint Howard lookalike abandoning his family's "summer dog" on the island as he, his wife, and young son end their vacation. Later in the film we are invited to imagine this scene taking place repeatedly across the island, setting the scene for a mass canine revolt. It is perhaps not the most plausible of scenarios, but it's not completely unbelievable.
Cousin Oliver begins to wonder
where it all went wrong.
Baker takes on the familiar role of the down-to-earth alpha male with a connection to nature. This time he's a marine biologist named Jerry who lives on the island studying shrimp. It is briefly explained that Baker's character has "been about everywhere and done about everything," but has since settled down with his second wife Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and their two kids (one each from a previous marriage) Guy and Paul. Everything is going great for Jerry: a hot new wife and a quiet life on an isolated island where he is building his dream house. It's the perfect setup for a situation that will quickly (ahem!) go to the dogs.
We're pretty sure this is the Platonic
ideal of an "old coot."
Arriving on the scene late in the tourist season are the requisite band of cannon fodder characters. Since the laws of b-movies dictate that the wild dogs must kill and eat someone while leaving the core group of sympathetic characters intact, the picture introduces some tasty treats led by Jim Dodge (Richard O'Brien). Dodge is a self-important buffoon whose main objective on the trip seems to be matching his nerdly son Tommy (Paul Willson) up with the ditzy Lois (Sherry Miles) -- which is not to say that he doesn't want to do some fishing in the meantime. The boorish behavior of Dodge and his cohorts relieves us of the burden of caring whether they live or die; thus we are free to imagine this group (the only recognizable member of which is Bibi Besch, pre-Star Trek II and pre-Lonely Lady) with Purina logos on their foreheads.
When "Fear Factor"
meets "The Biggest Loser."
What we found most interesting about The Pack was not its firm entrenchment in the '70s disaster flick scene nor its adherence to peculiar stereotypes (in which manly scientists survive by virtue of their wits and guts but portly intellectuals abandon their girlfriends and die in rash acts of cowardice), but rather the contrast to more modern films in the pace of its storytelling. The picture often takes slow, lingering seconds to establish the mood of a scene (a long shot of waves crashing on shore as fishermen cast lines into the surf) or the personality of a character (Baker's many scowling scenes as he responds to various idiotic questions), seconds that would be quickly excised in a movie today. Whether you consider this style to be laid back and enjoyable or merely tedious, it is characteristic of a time when movies were less about the relentless march of the story and more about atmosphere. To use Joe Don Baker as another example, compare the original Walking Tall (1973) to its 2004 remake to see just how differently motion pictures can be made over the course of a couple of decades.
Undeterred by the ponderous gait of the filmmakers, the dastardly dogs plunge ahead and begin to attack the island's residents -- picking off the weakest characters first, naturally -- beginning with an old blind man and his seeing-eye pooch (named, comically enough, "Zsa Zsa"). After that it's off to the races as one by one the humans fall prey to the gang of Rovers, ending with with the obligatory Assault on Precinct 13-type showdown at the end of the film.
You just know some poor schmuck
was in charge of "mad dog" makeup.
The worst crime committed by The Pack is its indulgence in the standard tropes of the day. There are some typical TV movie theatrics (including slow motion sequences of the dogs pursuing panicky people and some hysterics from Besch), a surfeit of atrocious '70s fashion (Baker is resplendent in plaid and brown suede), and an abundance of brainless characters who ramble on about nothing in particular for way too much screen time. That's really the worst of it, however -- unless you count the flirting banter between Baker and Willis, or the exceedingly schmaltzy ending in which Baker "rehabilitates" the last surviving dog with a packet of saltines. Hardly the kind of stuff, however, to make you roll over and play dead.