You can't help thinking, as you watch "The Pack" that if only some alert human would confront one of the 34 deranged pooches running wild on a vacation island, point an accusing finger and say. "Bad, bad, bad dog," they'd all come to their sense and stop eating the tourists.
But nobody does. And so it becomes a dog-eat-person world pretty quickly.
"The Pack," now at 47 area theaters, isn't so bad for what it is, but we've already had too much of what it is. It's the dog "Jaws," just as "Orca" was the whale "Jaws," and "Grizzly" was the bear "Jaws" and "King Kong" was the oh-you-big-ape "Jaws." There are enough humans running in terror on movie screens these days to delight Nero and Mother Nature as well. But the novelty value of it has long since dropped to near bottom.
Robert Clouse, who wrote and directed this thing, obviously feels that nuances are lost on action audiences, so in "The Pack" there are barely any. Why do a bunch of dogs suddenly become high-profile carnivores, gobbling up horses, women and old blind men with beards? Because, we are told, tourists who'd brought them to the island as pets abandoned them at the end of the summer.
No demonology is attached to the dogs' personality switch and, in fact, the whole group together lacks the ominousness of that single devil's doggie in "The Omen." Karl L. Miller trained the dogs to snarl and menace, and did it well, but the assortment chosen by the casting department is notably short on imposing specimens.
While standing still and growling, the dogs do look pretty scary, but when the camera follows their romps about the island, they give every appearance of being pussycats who are responding to nothing more sinister than a cry of "Come, home Spot," or maybe "Gravy Train."
Clouse handles the attacks fairly effectively, and the violence is the PG kind-nothing on an "Exorcist" level and much less bloody than "Jaws." The director does pick the strangest moments to employ the slow-motion cliche, as opposed to all other cliches he exploits. What in the world made him think it would heighten the suspense to show dogs running in slow motion, when it's crucial to the threat that they be fast on their feet?
And what possessed Clouse to capture in slow motion the spectacle of a fat man running through a field? It looks like "Elvira Madigan" for chubby-chasers.
Joe Don Baker, inexpressive perhaps, brains more to the role of the wits-about-him hero than the script supplies, including effortless authority. Hope Alexander-Willis, whoever she is, plays his girlfriend Millie. Each has a young kid by a previous marriage, and the script toys with the idea of feeding the boys to the dogs, but then backs off. Perhaps that's just as well.
As it is, most of the victims in the picture-which was shot, ironically enough, in Bodega Bay in northern California, where Hitchcock's brilliant "The Birds" was set-are feckless or contemptible enough so that the audience doesn't much care if they get gobbled up. It's this kind of movie: at a local showing Wednesday night, when one of the two-bit actors appeared on screen in a solo shot, a little boy in the audience shouted out, "You're next!"
We have still not seen the last of nature's revenge cycle. Preceding "The Pack" was the similar but more violent "Dogs." An episode of the short-lived NBC/series "Tales of the Unexpected," now in reruns, used the same premise as "pack" but did it more artfully, really. Other upcoming films will feature other marauding beasties.
There were possibilities in "The Pack" for an allegory about mob rule, the dogs finding courage and recklessness in numbers. Clouse ignored such possibilities, so it's up to the audiences in the theatres to supply them. Sad to say, they all too willingly do.