I’ve said it several times in other posts, but will repeat it again. In contrast to the 1970’s and 1980’s, the 90’s was a relatively disappointing period for horror. Certainly, several horror classics were released in the decade of flannel. Candyman, Jacob’s Ladder, In The Mouth of Madness – just to name a few examples. Before Wes Craven re-invigorated the genre with Scream, Hollywood studios contentedly offered middle-of-the-road fare for cineplexes. Among these forgettable flicks was 1993’s ‘killer dog’ movie, Man’s Best Friend. Stephen King made dogs scary in Cujo – could this 90’s upgrade add some bite to the same concept?
Small-time journalist Lori Tanner’s latest story leads her to EMAX laboratories. The facility and its scientist, Dr. Jarrett, are rumoured to be conducting unethical genetic experiments with animals. Desperate for a big break, Tanner breaks into the laboratory and inadvertently frees ‘Max’, a large Tibetan Mastiff. After Max saves Lori from a mugger, she decides to take the dog home. But unbeknownst to Lori, Max is a deadly and unstable genetic hybrid. With Dr. Jarrett tracking her down and Max ticking like a time-bomb, Lori quickly discovers that has put herself and her loved ones in grave danger.
Man’s Best Friend is All Bark, No Bite
New Line Cinema probably thought they had another Cujo on their hands. Instead ‘The House That Freddy Built’ got an Rated-R Air Bud. Simply put, Man’s Best Friend lacks scares and suspense. On the one hand, director John Lafia (Child’s Play 2) didn’t make a boring movie. At just under 90 minutes, Man’s Best Friend clips along at a decent pace. Just enough happens on screen to keep your interest. And Lafia is a competent, if not workmanlike, filmmaker. On top of these small favours, the movie looks good.
Horror fans won’t even find a decent or contrived jump scare.
Yet in spite of the movie’s production values, Man’s Best Friend just isn’t scary. Horror fans won’t even find a decent or contrived jump scare. Cujo wringed out a surprising amount of tension from its simple premise and limited setting. You may not be bored watching Man’s Best Friend, but you won’t be watching with one eye closed either. The lack of chills is even more problematic considering that Lafia’s movie takes itself very seriously. Perhaps if Man’s Best Friend had opted for intentional camp, it might have proven more memorable.
Decent Special Effects and Lance Henriksen Not Enough
Arguably, the big winner of Man’s Best Friend is Kevin Yagher’s makeup effects. Let’s face it, ‘Killer Animal’ movies are a mixed breed. No pun intended. Audiences can only suspend their belief so much. Sooner or later, the movie needs to show its ‘beast’ in action. For every Jaws or Cujo, there’s a Grizzly or Tentacles that fails to convincingly unleash its natural horror. Fortunately, Yagher’s practical make-up effects largely work. Watch for a stand-out scene where ‘Max’ swallows a cat whole like an anaconda. It’s too bad that the movie didn’t include more of this type of over-the-top horror fun.
…Henriksen does what he can with the silly material.
For what’s essentially a slick-looking B-movie, Man’s Best Friend has a decent cast. Former ‘Brat Packer’ Ally Sheedy headlines the movie, but horror fans will stay for genre favourite, Lance Henriksen. Though he’s not nearly in the movie enough, Henriksen does what he can with the silly material. As expected, he grimaces and shouts at the camera, playing it straight from start to finish. A lacklustre script ensures we also get some strange character choices, including a ridiculously stereotypical Italian police officer. In addition, there’s a couple of ‘comical’ dog-catchers that seem to think they’re in a very different movie.
Man’s Best Friend Forgettable ‘90’s Horror
If the ‘90’s had a horror problem, it was probably the tendency of major studios to play it too safe. After the boundary-pushing of the 1970’s and the gratuitous blood and nudity of the 1980’s, studios seems to settle for the generic. Not surprinstly then, Man’s Best Friend joined other 90s fare like Brainscan, feeling safe and pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad movie, but that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement either. If you’re a die-hard collector and grew up in the 90’s, Shout Factory recently re-mastered Man’s Best Friend for Blu-ray. Everyone else can probably just take a pass.