[Special Thanks to Sean Dwyer for contributing this entry into the Doomsday Marathon, which is also currently published as a Forgotten Films Entry over at FilmJunk]
One of the lesser known classics of the genre, L.Q. Jones’ A Boy and His Dog, is based on the novella by Harlan Ellison. The movie takes place in the year 2024, after not one but two additional world wars have been initiated by humanity — the latter of which leaves the Earth devastated by nuclear missiles. As a result, a large part of the movie presents a familiar desert wasteland setting that has come to be associated with post-apocalyptic tales over the years.
A young, pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson stars as Vic, an 18-year-old nomad who lost his parents in the war and now must forage for food to survive. His only companion is a highly intelligent, telepathic dog named Blood… yes, that’s right, a telepathic dog.
As cheesy as it might sound, the relationship between these two is quite compelling; Vic is young and impulsive, while Blood is wise yet cynical. Their witty rapport is enjoyable to watch, and works in large part thanks to voice actor Tim McIntire (who also composed the score for the movie). Rumour has it that James Cagney was originally considered for the voice of Blood, but was eventually ruled to be too recognizable.
Nowadays a movie like this might have used CGI to create mouth movement on the talking dog, but the fact that Blood communicates only through voice over actually has an element of believability to it. Blood’s telepathy is a result of genetic experimentation, which is only mentioned in passing in the film. His sole communication link is with Vic, but I guess we’re supposed to assume this type of thing is fairly commonplace since none of the other characters in the film really find it that hard to believe. (Another feasible interpretation is that Vic is actually crazy and only thinks he can talk to the dog, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Ellison intended.)
An amusing bit of trivia is the fact that Blood is played by Tiger, the same dog who appeared on The Brady Bunch. His performance is intriguing in and of itself, as this is one of the few movies I have seen where a real animal is given human character traits with actual depth and almost seems to be emoting at times. This makes it easy to forget that this dog is just responding to simple commands off camera. It also makes it that much more disturbing to later see a fight scene involving two dogs that seems relatively real and pretty harsh by today’s standards.
Also somewhat disturbing is the fact that the main plot involves Vic seeking out women to rape with the help of Blood’s keen sense of smell. A Boy and His Dog has been accused of being misogynistic even by Ellison himself, but on the other hand, the movie was made back in 1975. There aren’t many movies nowadays that would dare to put their hero in such a vile light. Still, this is a pretty dark and grim story to begin with and the world is an unforgiving one.
The movie does not rely on special effects and visuals, and in fact, almost seems to make it a point to show as little as possible. For example, horrifying mutants called “screamers” roam the countryside, and although Vic and Blood have a close call with them, they are never shown on screen. This may be one reason why it still holds up today, but it’s also why the movie may not play well to fans of big budget sci-fi films like Transformers and The Matrix.
The story takes a weird turn in the second half when Vic decides to follow a woman down into a fallout shelter, where the last remnants of civilization are living under strict totalitarian rule and wear creepy mime makeup. This section of the movie plays out a little like A Clockwork Orange meets Hell Comes to Frogtown, and asks the question: which form of society is actually more savage? As with many science-fiction films from back in the day, there is a rather sinister twist ending, and although it strays from the original source material, it seems to fit the tone of the film.
Ellison continued the story in a graphic novel called Vic and Blood, illustrated by Richard Corben (Heavy Metal), and claims that a movie sequel may happen one of these days. L.Q. Jones has never directed another movie since this one, only an episode of The Incredible Hulk TV series.
A Boy and His Dog was also released under alternate titles that included “Apocalypse: 2024″, “Psycho Boy and His Killer Dog”, and “Mad Don”, which is interesting because this movie actually informed Mad Max, not the other way around. Deserving of its cult status, A Boy and His Dog has influenced many other post-apocalyptic yarns over the years including I Am Legend, the recent video game Fallout 3, and perhaps even The Road. If you are an enthusiast of science fiction, I recommend tracking down the DVD, which is currently available from First Run Features.