Saturday, April 9, 2022

Census Bloodbath: For The Dogs

Year: 1982
Director: Robert A. Burns
Cast: Terry Evans, Mitch Pileggi, Aldo Ray
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

Plot: The handsome and frequently shirtless blond Ken (Andy Tienann) moves into a... whatever you call a mansion run by Aldo Ray (Dark Sanity, Terror Night) where a different person lives in each room like a dormitory. He quickly befriends nebbish weirdo Jerry (Terry Evans), and while they both have a crush on non-weirdo Sharon (Catherine Molloy), their homoerotic tension distracts them enough that it doesn't become much of a problem. Then the boardinghouse is struck by a pair of tragedies. First, the vicious dog owned by militaristic weirdo Ike (Jonathan M. Ingraffia) is shot by slovenly weirdo Woody (Mitch Pileggi of Shocker and The X-Files) after attacking hippie weirdo Leon (Daniel Medina). Second, a prank goes horribly wrong, resulting in a death. Afterward, Jerry is haunted by dreams of the dog coming back as a ghost, and what do you know, people keep winding up dead, mauled to bits, the next morning.

Analysis: Mongrel was directed by Robert A. Burns, the art director for illustrious horror projects like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Re-Animator, and The Hills Have Eyes, plus less illustrious entries like Microwave Massacre. Hey, we all gotta pay bills. This was his only directorial feature, which frankly makes sense. Although it shows some early promise, it certainly wouldn't function as a calling card for other directorial gigs. The art direction also suffers from him not being present in that sphere, so you can't even point to that as a win.

As a Gay and a feminist, I do love when men are objectified onscreen (Is it ethical that this is the case? No, of course not. Is it satisfying? Hell yes.), and if you're in the same boat as me the first act of Mongrel will treat you real nice. The unmotivated shiftlessness isn't quite as pure or campy as something like The Majorettes, but it does underscore a nice bit of table setting as we get all our ducks in a row and meet all the characters. This first third of the film is also where Burns pulls off his two best shots. They are the only images in the film that might make one perk up, but they're among the best in their breed. One is a shot of Ken's arrival, refracted through panes of glass in an arrangement reminiscent of Almodóvar's The Flower of My Secret, and the other is a kinetic moment where a tranquil cityscape is interrupted by a figure lurching into frame, which provides a propulsive energy that the film sorely lacks elsewhere.

Unfortunately, once the film draws its Psycho influence to its natural conclusion and offs a lead character at the end of the first act, things begin to fall apart. Characters just kind of hang around being weird and gross, but not in the Tobe Hooper way that provides oodles of uncanny atmosphere. Luckily these characters are being brought to life by a better cast than this film deserves, but when they are brought to death, as slasher characters are wont to do, it's not particularly interesting. The film's gore budget is abysmal, and every kill - which all feature the same M.O., usually a demerit in a subpar slasher to begin with - takes place offscreen before the body turns up smeared in Caro syrup. The finale twist is reasonably entertaining, but the doldrums of the middle hour and change can't be erased quite that easily. Overall there is enough solid material bookending the film that I'm glad I came across it, but it's not really a diamond in the rough. Let's call it cubic zirconia in the rough.

Killer: Jerry (Terry Evans)
Final Girl: Sharon (Catherine Molloy)
Best Kill: A guy named Toad for some reason is impaled on one of those useful spikes you apparently have sticking out of the wall in a basement.
Sign of the Times: The ground floor of the boardinghouse boasts a super cool Deep Throat themed pinball machine.
Scariest Moment: Adult men giggle like children while pulling a prank that high school freshmen would deem immature. Straight people are terrifying.
Weirdest Moment: Woody's girlfriend Turquoise hums "The First Noel" while gardening in the summer sun.
Champion Dialogue: "Why don't you stick a dog biscuit up your ass?"
Body Count: 9
  1. Mongrel is shot.
  2. Ken is electrocuted.
  3. Puppy is gutted.
  4. Ike is mauled.
  5. Woody is mauled.
  6. Leon is mauled.
  7. Turquoise is mauled.
  8. Toad is impaled through the back with a spike.
  9. Jerry is shot.
TL;DR: Mongrel has a promising opening act, but fails to do all that much with its potential.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 781

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