The animal attack film is the most enduring horror sub-genre, as straight-ahead slashers fall and and out of fancy. Man’s Best Friend is an overlooked 90s entry, in a time when even natural horrors looked like they were losing steam.
Put out by New Line Cinema, “the house that Freddy built,” this one is a nightmare of another sort: a Fido lab creation run amok after escaping a research facility.
Ally Sheedy is ingénue-journalist Lori Tanner who gets an inside scoop from an employee of top-secret lab, EMAX. The tipster turns up dead, so Lori along with her producer gain access to the facility and unearth nefarious animal experiments. Lori bonds with the title character, a hulking Tibetan mastiff with anthropomorphic quasi-human eyebrows, named Max, whom she lets out of his cage and lets live with her.
We get a taste of the creature’s capacity for blood-lust when it tracks down a mugger, leaping over shopper carts with Westminster Dog Show abandon. Lassie, this ain’t, and soon the beast is ravaging even humans who don’t deserve, like the poor local postie, as well as Lori’s live-in beau.
Researcher Dr. Jarrett (the perma-scowling Lance Henriksen) lets cops know that a notable lab animal is missing. Jarrett is the founder of EMAX and the creator of this particular pooch, which has bear, tiger and even chameleon DNA spliced into its genetic makeup. It’s Max’s genetic mods which provide the film’s darkest moments of pure hilarity (a large tree is no match for Max, who morphs into verticality mode to torment and then make a meal of, another local pet and yes, Max can camouflage himself).
As audacious and ridiculous as any of its beastly brethren, Man’s Best Friend holds up exceedingly well against some hoary (or is that hairy?) 70s animal attack flicks, like Grizzly or Day of the Animals.
***1/2 (out of 5)
[Listen to our discussion of Man’s Best Friend on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]