Man’s Best Friend

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!]

Raising Cain

With his affinity for odd angles, maybe Brian De Palma could’ve been a billiards champ. Here, he brings those gradients and kicks his Hitchcock aspirations into high gear with a largely forgotten, though underrated 90s thriller, Raising Cain.

John Lithgow plays multiple roles (and multiple personalities), as unhinged child psychologist Dr. Carter Nix, who is skirting regulation and probity trying to procure kid subjects for his unethical research project.

De Palma is a filmmaker smart enough run another subplot counter to that one, and here Nix is being cuckolded by his oncologist wife, Jenny (who in audacious fashion, hooks up with the widower of a woman she’d been treating for cancer — with make-out sessions on her bed too, while she’s falling in and out of consciousness!).

De Palma is also savvy enough not to delve into details about exactly what kind of child research the maniacal doc is up to.

Genre fans will get a kick out of Gregg Henry (Body Double/Slither/Guardians of the Galaxy) as a cop hot on Nix’s tail, and to a lesser extent Gabrielle Carteris (“ON”drea from Beverly Hills 90210). Lithgow is as per usual, really darn good. Later, he’ll explore the role of a devious sociopath living the veneer of a doting suburban dad as Dexter’s top competition, The Trinity Killer (a bit like real-life Kansas butcher, BTK).

While Raising Cain doesn’t hold up entirely, marred by 90s Lifetime Movie histrionics, you can’t help but be impressed by the narrative vision. The obvious nods to Psycho are forgivable too.

Of note, a much more coherent fan-cut made its way onto the Blu-Ray, and amazingly, De Palma admitted it adhered much more to his initial vision than the muddled mess of the original release. The Raising Cain re-cut is, to say the least, “a dramatically different viewing experience.”

***1/4 (out of 5)

[For a more in-depth discussion about Brian De Palma, check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Raising Cain]