The Best Killer Dog Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week's column is going to the dogs.)

This weekend's theatrical offerings include two heavy hitting sequels in the form of John Wick: Chapter 3 and A Dog's Journey. The two don't share much in common plot-wise, but both feature scenes of dogs viciously attacking gun-toting baddies. Probably. I haven't actually seen A Dog's Journey, but I am pretty darn good at making educated guesses.

Dog attacks are a common enough occurrence in both real life and cinema, but there really aren't that many films making the dogs, the attacks, and the threat of attack the key focus of the movie. When you think "dog attack" flicks you most likely land on one of the big dogs of the subgenre – the foolish dogs who dare stand against Joe Don Baker in The Pack (1977), the racist mutt in White Dog (1982), the pitiable canine in Cujo (1983), or the Terminator-like pooch in Man's Best Friend (1993). These are all solid movies, but they're not the only ones to find terror at the wrong end of our four-legged friends.

Keep reading for a look at the best killer dog movies you've probably never seen!

To Kill a Clown (1972)

A young married couple enduring some bumpy times leave the city behind for a summer-long stay in a beachside rental, but instead of reconciliation they find only terror. Their landlord is a Vietnam veteran with little patience for hippies, and in addition to a serious attitude he also has a pair of highly trained and clearly deadly Doberman Pinschers at his command. The couple isn't going anywhere.

Regular readers of this column know I like to occasionally cheat, and this early 70s drama is this week's bit of naughtiness. The dogs, while vicious and responsible for some third-act attacks, don't technically kill anyone here. They're still mean and do damage, though, and their presence makes up a good portion of the film so I'm including it! Granted, it's mostly because I want more people to see it so I have someone to debate it with because the film's themes bleed over into a fairly fascinating commentary on blind patriotism.

The film stars Alan Alda (!) as the sadistic war vet and a young Blythe Danner in her feature debut as one half of the soon to be victimized couple, and it's quite the odd bird. The vet grows increasingly irritated by their casual nature and begins to torment them through physical labor, imprisonment, and mind games. It works well enough as an increasingly tense thriller, but it's most interesting as a character piece about the vet. Authority and obedience are his mantras, and while he uses the dogs as weapons and tools he's every bit as trapped in that rigid existence as they are.

To Kill a Clown is not currently available.

Dogs (1976)

A small college town in Southern California is shaken by a series of mysterious attacks leaving farm animals slaughtered and half-eaten, and it only gets worse when human victims start turning up too. A visitor from the UK suspects it might be family dogs running amok and planning coordinated attacks on townspeople, but no one listens until it's too late.

The 70s were the best for fans of animal attack movies – although admittedly not always ideal for the animals themselves – and this canine creeper takes almost all of its plot cues from Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975). It can't touch that masterpiece, obviously, but there's fun to be had as familiar sequences play out with fluffy pups rather than a large shark. Our hero warns people but they don't listen, and when another scientist joins him the guy in charge chastises them for wanting to start a panic on the day of the big dog show of all things! Come on, it's fun.

David McCallum is the biggest name here, but you'll most likely recognize both Linda Gray and George Wyner too. The main draw, though, and the reason I'm including this otherwise mediocre animal attack movie on the list, is its fairly epic body count. The kills start with people being picked off here and there, but it builds to a night of terror that sees everyone on the campus slaughtered en masse by roughly fifteen family pets. It's nonsense, but it's my kind of nonsense.

Dogs is available on Blu-ray/DVD.

Baxter (1989)

Baxter is an unhappy bull terrier, and the boring old woman who owns him is mostly to blame. He much prefers the lively young neighbors, and after orchestrating the old woman's death he finds temporary joy with the more demanding couple. That changes, though, with the arrival of their newborn baby, and the lack of attention once again forces his hand.

This is easily the most atypical of the bunch here for a few reasons, and chief among them is that Baxter narrates the tale with observations on life and the people around him that are a bit disturbing at times. Of course, they're also mordantly funny as the dog is something of a grump with his commentary. Think Man Bites Dog (1992) and you'll have a sense of the comedy and tone at play here, but then imagine a talking terrier at its core instead of a serial killer.

As "fun" as the film is, though, it's probably only suited for less than five percent of the population because it gets fairly nasty. The back half takes some increasingly dark and grim turns as our beloved Baxter winds up in the hands of a budding sociopath and Nazi. The dog loves it at first as a firm master is all he's longed for, but the boy's interests grow more vile and cruel by the minute – both towards the dog and others – leading to one final act and a downer of an ending. It's not merely a depressing finale, though, it's also a sad commentary on humanity.

Baxter is not currently available.

The Breed (2006)

Five college friends head to a remote island where some of them vacationed as kids, but the vacation isn't nearly as relaxing as they would have liked. A pack of wild dogs has turned the place into their own private game reserve, and the humans are just their latest prey.

I've seen a lot of "killer dog" movies in my day, and this unassuming little thriller is easily among the best. There are a few reasons why, but chief among them is the dog action that never looks less than real. Editing, animatronics, and even a little CG go a long way here, but most of the credit goes to the extremely well-trained dogs and a clear effort to have the cast interact with them and without stunt doubles where possible. It's filled with intense sequences, thrilling attacks, and dogs that know their marks better than some actors. And no, that's not a dig on a cast that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Oliver Hudson, and Taryn Manning.

The script is surprisingly strong too as with only a single exception you won't find yourself yelling at the characters' stupidity. (And even that one instance is easily excused.) Rather than be a fast slaughter these characters put up a smart and strong fight – Hudson takes out several of the killer canines through wit and brute force – like real people would, and they don't start biting it until nearly the third act. It's played straight too with Rodriguez's stone-faced, pre-kill quip "Give Cujo my best" being a rare dip into silliness. The film is legitimately suspenseful at times and even manages some stunts, and the practical nature of it all makes for a terrific ride.

The Breed is available on DVD.

White God (2014)

A teenager and her mutt Hagen are sent to stay with her estranged father for the weekend, but like too many others Lili's dad is no fan of the mixed-breed dog. He drops it at the edge of town sending Hagen on a violent adventure to reunite with Lili. It's a journey fraught with suffering, but things are due for a change when Hagen and hundreds of other abused dogs decide they're not going to take it anymore.

This Hungarian drama is an at-times breathtakingly beautiful film with a simple and effective commentary at its core. Humanity can stand to do a lot better as a species. It's a gorgeously lensed allegory for man's treatment of those beneath them, whether human or otherwise, and it's ultimately an exciting adventure about the desperate need for understanding despite differences. Think the heartwarming reunion from Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco meets the flesh-rending carnage of Cujo, and you'll be in the ballpark.

While its allegory can be applied in numerous areas, its most direct and intentional target is the most recent wave of nationalism and anti-immigrant arguments. Characters here despise the mutts for not being purebreds, and the symbolism is unmistakable. The clash grows increasingly violent and builds towards an inevitable confrontation, but the film allows for a note of hope between "sides" that's both emotionally affecting and wholly optimistic. If only the real world shared the same screenwriters.

White God is available on Blu-ray/DVD and to stream.

The Pack (2015)

A family struggling to make ends meet on their rural Australian farm finds a different kind of fight when wild dogs come looking for prey. Cut off from outside help, the family of four are forced into a nightmare as the animals bust into their house with savagery on their minds.

Yes, this is a second killer dog movie called The Pack, but this time the mutts are Australian! While its predecessor from the 70s pairs its terror with a strong commentary on human behavior, this Aussie effort is far more straightforward. Gone is any semblance of a backstory or explanation, and instead, the focus is on the family's problems and split desires. They can't afford the place, the teen daughter hates it there anyway, etc., and time spent getting to know their dynamic in turn helps viewers care more once they're under attack.

As the most recent film on the list you might expect the animal action to be accomplished via CG to avoid exploiting or endangering animals, but while it doesn't go that route it instead is very particular in its editing. We get plenty of atmosphere and wide shots taking advantage of the landscape and approaching beasts, but with only a couple exceptions the attacks are almost exclusively close-ups. It works well enough, though, making for a fairly intense little thriller.

The Pack is available on Blu-ray/DVD and to stream.

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