Friday, January 30, 2009

Killer Mutant Mammal Week: Man's Best Friend (1993)

Horror movies, especially the much maligned Slasher, are often guilty of creating memorable villains, then asking the audience to identify with a pack of vacant teenage husks. Who could possibly sit through a Friday the 13th sequel and not end up rooting for Jason. Most of the "actors" could easily be replaced by their Savini designed Mannequin doubles and none of us would notice.

At first it might seem a little embarrassing for the cast of today's Killer Mutant Mammal Movie, Man's Best Friend, to be completely and utterly upstaged by a simple, non-celebrity voiced dog, but after seeing the genetically engineered ultra-pooch in action, there is no shame in ceding him top billing. A handsome Tibetan Mastiff, Max the super dog is both a surprisingly talented actor and probably the coolest canine character this side of Rowf & Snitter. Benji, Old Yeller, Cujo, Marley, Lassie, Dogmeat, Winne-Dixie, and the dog from Fable II aren't fit to sniff Max's (probably enormous) stools.

Contrary to the cover artwork's shameless Terminator cribbing, Max is in no way a robo or cyber-dog, but is in fact a chimeric experiment by mad scientist and ubiquitous genre heavy, Lance Henriksen. He's half cheetah, half jaguar, half chameleon, and yet somehow all dog. When a fashion reporter seeking carrier advancement (Ally Sheedy) breaks into the lab for a scoop, she inadvertently adopts the superdog, who thinks she'll make a totally sweet master, but hates everyone else and will go completely bonkers at the end of a indeterminate ticking clock if his evil creator doesn't give him his doggy mood-meds.


In the meantime, Max gets into all sorts of PG-13 to R rated mischief in order to show off his massive arsenal of canine superpowers. When the neighborhood kids goad him into chasing a cat, he reveals retractable claws, climbs a tree after the feline, and swallows it whole. When a trigger happy mailman sprays him with mace, he rips the guys throat out and hides the body. When he hears the barking of an attractive, un-spayed collie, he breaks into her master's house and makes passionate love to her. (Whether or not this was a consensual act is up in the air. Frankly neither would surprise me; Max is a rebel.) When his new master's boyfriend escapes his wrath and tries to feed him poisoned steak, he chews through the guy's break lines. For Max, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

You has a flavur

Henriksen spends most of the movie looking creepy and sulking around, pausing occasionally to dart someone with his trademark tranq-gun with laser sight. Eventually he figures out who took max, but is beaten to the punch by the police, who are slowly following the trail of bodies. When they try to take him down, Max shows off some of his other abilities, such as somehow knowing what police sirens mean, and being able to run faster than automobiles. The chase is joined by a pair of overeager dog catchers, who fall prey to Max's least probable power yet: invisibility.

Click for Doggy Detail

All right, now the filmmakers are just pulling things out of their ass; why bother giving him the power to turn invisible if he's only going to use it in one scene that involves no other main characters and has no bearing on the plot. Also, last time I checked, chameleons could change the color of their scales, not turn invisible Predator style. (Maybe splicing "ability" genes from random animals into a dog without somehow turning it into a helpless abomination that can only prey for death causes said genes to amplify.)

I can getz mah dik wet?

While I'm making jokes at the expense of director John Lafia's vague idea of how Science! works, (apparently it gives animals magic powers, makes them mean, and occasionally blinds people) what animal did they steal genes from in order to give Max his most awesome (and arguably least useful) power yet: Acid Pee!

You can just barely make out the smoke

Does he always pee acid, or can he turn it on and off? How strong is the acid? Does he have a separate organ for acidifying his pee, or is it a byproduct of his mutant digestive system? Is there a specific type of grass I can plant in my yard in case my dog develops the ability to pee acid? The mind just reels.

3-Star Wanted Level

Eventually there is a showdown between Max and his creator, as well as a game of cat and mouse between him and his new master (he forgives her in the end), but by now the movie has run out of ideas and things are pretty rote. How it ran out of ideas is a mystery, as it is obvious that the director was just asking his 11-year-old nephew to think of powers and activities for Max. (Maybe it was passed his bedtime at that point.)

Ur mace iz delishus

Near the end of Man's Best Friend, as Max finally turns on the heroine, an attempt is made to divest him from the audience's sympathies. A seedy junkyard proprietor (William Sanderson, minus his brothers Darryl), in an attempt to turn Max into vicious guard dog, gives his face what-for with an acetylene torch before being promptly mauled. Now partially abjected, Max can be a true villain for a minute before his inevitable redemption. (Also, T2 style half-messed-up faces were all the rage in the early '90s)


The problem is that the viewer just spent an hour slowly learning the extent of Max's total badassery. It's going to take a lot more than monster makeup before I stop yelling "Go for the throat, Max!" at my TV. Of course he has to die in the end, but if there is anything John Lafia cannot resist in his movies, it's an easy setup for a sequel.


Max's Powers:
1. Super Strength
2. Super Speed
3. Retractable Climbing Claws
4. Enhanced Senses
5. Invisibility
6. Can swallow a housecat whole
7. Knows more about cars than I do
8. Adorability
9. High Sperm Count
10. Can go from wet to dry instantaneously
11. Acid Pee!!

Max's Weaknesses:
1. Jealousy
2. He has the crazy
3. Close range shotgun blasts to the face

I can has mah paychex?

That Son of Man's Best Friend never got made is a downright crime against B-moviedom. Also, I really, really want a Tibetan Mastiff now.


Check back tomorrow for a much larger Killer Mutant Mammal from a much larger director.

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