The Plague Dogs (1982) — bad doggie, go play dead

“I can’t stand the water anymore. When I shut my eyes, the water comes back.”

Justin’s rating: I had the plague once. Let me tell you something: Never trust a door-to-door monkey. It’ll only bring you sorrow.

Justin’s review: Psst! Hey, you! Yeah, you, the vaguely attractive internet-savvy reader hunkered in a dimly lit room! How would you like to get… depressed! Bummed out! Trippin’ the light craptastic! Then have I got a movie for you: The Plague Dogs! It’s full of death, despair and hopelessness — that’s right, just like your teenage years!

While The Plague Dogs has some serious underground cred backing it up, this is not a family fairy tale, nor is it recommended viewing by those manning a suicide prevention helpline. I can only imagine that some slightly oblivious parent might lead their child down the racks at a video store (back when they had them), and the youngster latches onto the sight of happy running dogs and think “The Incredible Journey!” and the parent misreads the title as The Prague Dogs (thinking it’s some foreign version of All Dogs Go To Heaven). They go home, pop it in for a good family viewing, and then Timmy and Baby Sue need weekly therapy for the rest of their lives.

Based on the novel by Watership Down’s Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs is another story of talking animals going on a journey to the great unknown. However, unlike Watership Down, there is no real upside to the tale, no charming musical numbers, no sappy-happy ending. It begins in an animal testing facility, where dogs are routinely drowned, lobotomized, and incinerated — and only gets bleaker from there.

A “hit you on the head with our Message” film, The Plague Dogs spotlights man’s indogmanity to canines. Snitter (John Hurt) and Rowf (Christopher Benjamin) manage to escape one of the most harrowing and frightful laboratories in the world only to find themselves in the British countryside without help, foo,d or nice Masters to take care of them.

A large chunk of the film is their wanderings around, nearly dying at every turn, and deciding to become feral creatures who feast on the innards of the local sheep. Oh yes! Sheep innards! Thought you weren’t gonna fall into the trap of renting another movie with those in them, didn’t you?

They pair up with a crafty fox named The Tod (James Bolam), who schools them in the ways of the wild, and find themselves on the end of an ever-increasing ire of the locals, who view them as pests, and the laboratory, which wants them back. The lab eventually releases a statement saying that the dogs were exposed to plague-carrying fleas, and the army is called in for the hunt. Apparently, Great Britain merged animal control with their armed forces back in 1923.

Whoever suggested this to us on the forums promised, crossed-their-heart-and-hope-to-die, that this wasn’t another Grave of the Fireflies, a film both Sue and I found too depressing and disgusting to actually finish watching, yet everyone seems to praise like it’s the second coming. This promise was a lie. I forgive this person without their asking, but this is seriously one of the biggest downers of the movie world I’ve ever seen.

It got so ridiculously morbid as the dogs speculated what it’d feel like when the buzzards started eating their flesh that I just went ahead and made the decision to laugh my way incredulously through the rest of it. There’s one scene in particular that’s so over-the-top macabre (spoiler: It’s when Snitter finds a friendly human, overjoyed to be welcomed… and then accidentally steps on a shotgun trigger, blowing the man’s face off.) that it became impossible to surrender to the pathos of the film any longer.

Doggy, go fetch me a better movie and a better pun.

One comment

  1. I haven’t seen the movie (I’ve not been able to find it on D.V.D. + am clueless about downloading such things), but I very much enjoyed the book. That said, I read the version with a happy ending tacked on.

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