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!]

The Last Shark

If you squint, it’s Quint…The Last Shark, aka, L’ultimo squalo is basically Jaws minus Chief Brody and all elements intact (even if limbs are not). In his stead, an author (of all people) and a Robert Shaw-aping Vic Morrow are tasked with taking down the killer fish.

The town of Port Harbor is gearing up for a windsurfing regatta, and the denizens are treating the spectacle as if it’s hosting the Formula 1. It’s all anyone can talk about, and even radio blabbers provide traffic-and-weather-together-type updates about the big race in between songs.

When a surfer bum becomes chum, things get glum. That’s one way to put it. However, like Jaws, there’s a stonewalling elected official who wants the big race to proceed, damn the torpedoes, if you’ll excuse the mixed nautical metaphors. The horror author tries to sound the alarm, but the politico has aspirations of state governor and insists that it continue. And he’s got a plan in place to protect the beaches with extra patrols, netting, vigilance, etc.

Hence, the race is on.

From there, things don’t go too swimmingly for the bipedals as The Last Shark’s incredibly fake version of Bruce the Shark, starts making the townsfolk his waterlogged repast.

And what a shark this is. It’s been likened to a Macy’s parade float, but with it’s silly verticality resembles one of those Bozo the Clown pop-up punching bags.

Vic Morrow as Quint-alike Hamer chews the scenery like ballplayers do tobacco. It’s a dreadful performance and he vacillates between Irish brogue and what sounds like upset stomach Hungarian (and possibly Greek too, or maybe that’s just the cable-knit sweater/po-boy cap Corsican figure he cuts).

This is unquestionably a terrible movie. However, it holds up well as compared with other horror rip-offs from Italy’s boot (Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead, for example) and horror knock-offs more broad (Abby, the cheap-o Exorcist).

And word of advice: don’t dangle steak from a winch in a helicopter. Trust.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our Really Awful Movies Podcast episode of The Last Shark]