Forgotten Films: A Boy and His Dog

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Forgotten Films is a semi-regular feature on Film Junk where we explore interesting movies that have fallen off the radar or slipped through the cracks over the years.

With all the post-apocalyptic movies that have been coming out lately, I thought it would be a good time to look back at one of the lesser known classics of the genre, L.Q. Jones’ A Boy and His Dog. 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 influenced 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’re a fan of sci-fi, I recommend tracking down the DVD, which is currently available from First Run Features.

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  • I saw this movie about a year ago and loved it, but not as much as I loved the comic by Ellison and Richard Corben. Corben is my favorite comic artist and was the perfect choice to illustrate the book. Have you read the comic, Sean?

  • I have not, but wouldn’t mind checking it out at some point.

  • kyriakos

    I hate when people say a comic or a book is better than a movie..

    By the way sean i ve been trying to watch this movie for a week now but i keep falling asleep..

    Maybe something is wrong with it..

    i guess i ll have to try again tonight…

    ..God i wish i could had sex instead…

  • i just saw boy and his dog on a bill with jerry lewis’ the nutty professor. wonderful!

    Lx

  • I love this movie. I love the voice of the dog. And I love the ending that Ellison apparantly hates.

  • When I was a kid Trekkie, I kept on reading about how great this adult movie was and how great an adaptation it was. And then I managed to see it in my mid-twenties and I was really disappointed. I saw it again in my thirties and I was still disappointed. I guess I expect it to be visceral, but it seems rather tame.

    Sheepdogs don’t seem intelligent to me. Sean seems to think it does a great “acting” job, but I don’t recall it seeming that intelligent. I didn’t like the dog’s “voice.” It seems too characteristically human to me, the way C3PO’s voice does.

  • I really liked this movie, which was available at some point on Netflix’s Instant Watch option. I liked the relationship between Vic and Blood, and I really liked the ending. It showed that Vic didn’t bite the hand that feeds him, so to speak, and picked hs friend and mentor over a passing fancy.

  • drewsifer

    alright next step is telling us where we can find this little gem, if you’ve got a link to a site or something i’d love to check this out. Post Apoc-films are the shit, love em all, Danmnation Alley, Dawn of the Dead, The Omega Man, The big Lebowski

  • Check out the Amazon link at the bottom of the post.

  • Faatbologna

    FINALLY! A movie Reed DOESN’T like! I thought for sure he loved EVERYTHING! I was starting to think he was like Harry Knowles, giving a pass to any ol’ piece a’ crap with some geek cred just to be cool! :)

  • Brian

    Kind of a picky correction, but supposedly, the dog was not responding to commands off-camera. According to LQ Jones in the commentary, the dog trainer transferred control of the dog to Don Johnson. This kept the dog focused on Don instead of glancing off camera. He talks about it when he’s raving about how great the dog’s performance was. I only mention it because I always thought that was cool.

  • That’s pretty cool, thanks for the info Brian!

  • Mason

    I liked this movie when I saw it about 2 years ago. I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it for it’s weirdness and its originality. It’s got a cool sense of humor to it too, and I wonder if it influenced Alex Cox (Repo Man, Walker) in any way. The underground sequence seemed somewhat Gilliam-esque, and this is clearly the role in Don Johnson’s career that I’ve enjoyed the most. This movie comes to mind whenever anyone asks me to recommend anything “different”.

  • Jaime

    speaking of post apocalyptic – there was a trailer going around a year or so ago – set in modern day LA, there has been a huge “dirty bomb” let off and people are asked to seal their houses and not open the doors to let anyone in – trouble is the “guy” is home alone until his wife returns to the house in a panic wanting to be let in, he doesn’t – self preservation – and then things get really crazy. Anyone have any idea of what this film is called? JB

  • Right At Your Door.

  • Dan Henke

    I liked it when Blood said Vic had good taste with women.

  • Tom

    Here you go…a link to the movie you can watch online. Enjoy fellas…

    http://www.megavideo.com/?d=ZZRPEP90

  • Trisomy21

    Actually this movie and the Mad Max series were the main influences for the Fallout series of PC games. Even in the 3rd game you’ll meet a companion Blue Heeler by the name of Dogmeat. And while he doesn’t sniff out women, he does find ammo and weapons for you.

    I would love to see a newer post apocalyptic movie. I’ve yet to see The Road but hear it’s pretty good…But I seriously doubt it’ll amount to much.

    Watch this
    The Quiet Earth
    Mad Max 2 & 3
    Dawn of the Dead and
    The Day After.

    Cheers.

  • Stelper

    I’ve always liked this film. It’s an understated psychological piece that goes where no film would dare today. I used to have the VHS of the original version (in the eighties the nuclear-explosions were tacked onto the beginning as well as the opening credits in an attempt to remove the film from public domain). It’s Don Johnson’s best work although the dog’s voice is hard to get used to – it sounds like it was recorded over CB radio. It’s one of those films that’s a bit confusing on first viewing but then subtle elements come through on the next watch (the screamers, the settings, etc.)

    BTW Sean, in the original novella, it was explained that the dog could communicate because it had “dolphin spinal fluid”.

  • Tom

    This movie — like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and some others — is hard for latecomers to appreciate in the same way as those that saw it at the time of its release. What’s always impressed me most about it is that L.Q. Jones is its auteur. I knew him well from roles like Strother Martin’s ‘gutter trash’ compatriot T.C. in ‘The Wild Bunch,’ and I would never have imagined something like this being in his mind. I’d put it among the 20 or so films that are the most memorable for me.

  • Al Green

    The entire movie is centered around rape. The first scene of the film depicts a woman being brutally raped (we are only privy to her screams) and then Vic finds her in a bunker where she lies there DYING after being slashed up and down. Vic looks at her, unfazed, and says (this is a direct quote) “Well, they didn’t have to cut her up. She could have been used three or four more times.” I feel like this calls for a stronger critique than being “somewhat disturbing”…