ROTTWEILER

2004

Cast: William Miller (Dante), Irene Montala (Ula), Paul Naschy (Kufard), Paulina Galvez (Alyah), Cornell John (Dongoro), Zeus (the rottweiler)
Director: Brian Yuzna
Producer: Fantastic Factory (Spain)
Screenplay: Miguel Tejada-Flores, from a story by Alberto Vazquez Figueroa
Music: Mark Thomas
Running time: 95 minutes

 

    

In the latter stages of his career (eg, MUCHA SANGRE, ROJO SANGRE and here) Naschy is giving some of his best acting performances and ROTTWEILER benefits immeasurably from his presence....

Mike Hodges reviews ROTTWEILER

Review: It will probably come as no surprise to anyone to hear that Brian Yuzna’s ROTTWEILER is unlikely to become an enduring genre classic, even within the ranks of its "B-movie" brethren. However, in spite of some narrative and artistic shortcomings, it does possess a certain "guilty pleasure" appeal that’s quite compelling. The film is both entertaining as a trashy sci-fi horror comic, and, thanks to Javier Salmones’ stylish cinematography, visually good to look at.

The plot manages to be simultaneously contrived and fairly basic, but the script, adapted by international best selling author Alberto Vázquez Figueroa from his own novel EL PERRO, opts for a non-linear narrative approach which succeeds in creating a certain degree of intrigue--or incoherence, in the opinion of some less forgiving critics. Certain topical social concerns, such as massive illegal immigration, the state’s curtailing of civil liberties, and the alienating effect of opulent consumer societies, are extrapolated to a near future scenario, though merely as a crude springboard from which to launch the story.

Following the dynamic opening credits, which consist mainly of animated storyboard sketches of a running man chased by a dog, to the accompaniment of a gritty, "industrial metal" style title theme, the film opens at what turns out to be a point midway through the story as a long haired, stubble chinned, twenty-something convict named Dante (William Miller) makes a desperate bid for freedom. The opportunity arises as soon as the truck conveying him and other companions in misfortune stops at its destination. A subtitle informs us of the time and place: “2018, Prison Camp, Immigration Control Zone, Southern Spain." On descending from the transport, one of the captives is stung by a black scorpion. The critter puts in several appearances throughout the movie, supposedly symbolizing Destiny, (a word which gets a tiresome workout; "That is my destiny," "I don’t believe in destiny," ‘It’s our destiny," "You cannot escape your destiny," etc). The unfortunate man’s screams cause a distraction and a black Muslim con named Dongoro (Cornell John) does a runner. Dante has no choice but to follow, being handcuffed to the fellow. The pair are soon intercepted by Rott, the titular cyborg dog, and Dante’s companion is savaged to death, his arm conveniently ripped off at the shoulder, allowing the protagonist to make good his escape, trailing the bloody limb behind him. The gore effects, which are spread liberally throughout the movie are provided by Pepe Quetglas. The dog itself, a trained Rottweiler named Zeus which previously appeared with Naschy in ROJO SANGRE, looks appropriately savage and menacing. An animatronic Rott was built by Vincent Guaristini Productions and the slo-mo close ups of the hound’s massive head, with bared steel fangs dripping gore, eyes glowing an eerie electric blue as it chomps down on human flesh are pretty impressive.

Having escaped from his captors Dante sets off on a troubled odyssey in search of his girlfriend Ula (Irene Montalà, seen in FAUSTO 5.0).The portrayal of his quest is punctuated by flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations. The movie’s early scenes play rather like a spaghetti western, as Dante is pursued through some spectacular sierra scenery by Rott and a snakeskin-booted bounty hunter (Lluis Homar, whose "colaboración especial" billing tips us off that he won’t be around for too long) eventually stumbling across an isolated prefab cabaña in the wilderness. This cross genre impression is heightened by the frequent "south of the border" style Spanish guitar cues along with portentous tolling bells à la Leone included in Mark Thomas’ soundtrack music. Although Homar’s character is listed in the credits as "Guardian Borg," this would appear to be a Scandinavian surname and not a reference to any bionic hybridization, since there’s no indication that he’s anything other than ordinary flesh and blood, as graphically demonstrated when Dante blows him apart with a shotgun. It has been suggested that "script consultants" Mike Hostench and Angel Sala tinkered extensively with Vázquez Figueroa’s screenplay, so there’s always a possibility that Homar’s character was at some point intended to be a man/machine but that the idea was later dropped. Indeed, a great deal of what’s on show here seems to consist of non-sequiturs and half-baked ideas expressed with less than crystal clarity, although this vagueness does unintentionally lend the picture something of the unreal, nonsensical quality of a nightmare.

After giving his pursuers the slip, Dante's tribulations continue as he’s robbed by a trio of vagabonds, raped by the ex-prostitute (Paulina Gálvez, seen in LA MONJA) who dwells in the cabaña, witnesses the woman being torn apart by Rott in the presence of her 8 year old daughter Esperanza (a nasty scene which would have been more harrowing had Yuzna managed to coax a little more conviction from young debutante, Ivana Baquero) and forced to flee with the little girl in tow, stowing away in the same truck from which he’d previously escaped. At this point there’s a fumbled attempt at pathos which falls woefully flat as Esperanza tearfully fingers a flower given her by her mother just prior to her death and Dante tries to make out what the kid’s saying--he has a limited command of the Spanish tongue and the ensuing guessing game comes across like a parody of the old TV show GIVE US A CLUE. This supposedly touching "highlight" is the nadir of Miller’s charisma free performance and he’s not aided here by little Baquero’s inexperience. Through a combination of Miller’s constant grimacing and the dialogue he has to deliver, Dante himself comes across as petulant, self-centered, insensitive and none too bright. At one point he stupidly stands up and yells a challenge to the unseen beast stalking him "Hey, ghost dog! Come and get me!" The beast instantly leaps on top of him from the undergrowth, and the man only manages to survive thanks to the pair falling in the fast flowing river where the dog is carried away by the current.

The best thesping comes, not unexpectedly, from genre veteran Paul Naschy, giving an effortlessly evil turn as the sinister Kufard. In one of the numerous flashbacks it’s revealed that Dante and Ula had boarded a boat, carrying illegal African Immigrants from Morocco to Spain, as part of a high risk "infiltration game." As the crate approaches the Spanish coast, the unlikable Dante ridicules an old African’s premonition of evil as a thick fog closes in and then we witness another uninvolving scene as the young couple profess their undying love for each other in TV teen soap opera style. Luckily this embarrassment is cut short when the boat is machine gunned by a patrol vessel. (In fact the film is saved on several occasions by well timed action scenes which deftly distract attention from uninspiring and cliché riddled play acting.) The two protagonists reach the shore at Puerto Angel, a melting pot of vice and corruption apparently peopled exclusively by whores, pimps, pushers and junkies and "ruled" by Kufard and his private army. The place is effectively and economically depicted as a couple of neon lit city streets wreathed in rising steam and thronged with lowlifes (think BLADE RUNNER on a shoe string). The first appearance of Kufard, as he confronts and interrogates the hapless pair, provides a highlight of menace and suspense and Naschy plays it for all it’s worth. His casually intimidating, superficially urbane manner is far more sinister than any amount of madman’s ravings, but something in his expression tells us that this man is a really nasty piece of work. On learning the reason for the couple’s presence among the Africans, Kufard reflects "So, privileged children playing dangerous games." His eyes narrow as he chillingly leers "I like games…."  In the latter stages of his career (eg MUCHA SANGRE, ROJO SANGRE and here) Naschy is giving some of his best acting performances and ROTTWEILER benefits immeasurably from his presence.

Dante finally ends up back at the place he started out (we knew he would--it’s his destiny!) and, as the last remaining pieces of the backstory finally fall into place, events catch up with the antagonists in a three way showdown involving Rott, Dante and a hysterically vindictive Kufard ("You hurt my dog!") aboard an airborne helicopter. The film ends with explosions, a shower of gore, a disinterred rotting corpse and a surreal vision of Rott’s metallic skeleton (rendered by ropey CGI) rising from the flames to claim its last victim. Though the movie will never win any prizes for originality or great acting, it's technically polished, easy on the eye, packs enough flesh ripping action--and, incidentally, contains one of the most hilarious throwaways ever filmed as a curious rooster suddenly comes face to beak with the monster dog. ROTTWEILER quite simply delivers what it promises in the title--no less and, for indulgent fans, maybe just a little bit more.

Copyright 2006 by Mike Hodges