White Dog Blu-ray Review

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Not quite as shocking as its ‘withheld’ status might presume, it is nevertheless very compelling viewing

by Simon Crust Apr 2, 2014 at 9:38 AM

  • Movies review


    White Dog Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £17.99

    White Dog Blu-ray Review

    Vicious, uncompromising and trained to kill. Also virtually unseen since 1982 when a nervous distributor withheld its release. White Dog is a curiosity that explores racial prejudice within a horror film.

    The story is remarkably simple – girl finds dog with which she bonds, dog attacks black people, dog undergoes re-training to reintegrate him. That is essentially it, but within this simple structure are complex layers that explore companionship, torture, brainwashing, racial prejudice, right, wrong, animal cruelty and fault. Based on the novel by Romain Gary, itself based on true events, noted director Sam Fuller took the script and made it into a horror thriller with all the concepts outlined above.
    The main protagonist, Julie, is shown to care for her dog against all odds, even when it commits unspeakable acts, because she ‘knows’ it’s not his nature, but the upbringing and training he has received all his life. Rather than have him destroyed she finds a trainer willing to take the killer animal and turn him into a normal playful dog; in what is an allegory for all bigotry. Fuller shoots his film by blurring the lines of colour (literally) while keeping the racial lines ‘black and white’, with some delicious and deliberate character choices; especially the dog’s real owner.

    The only real downer is the stylised filming which makes it look more like a ‘made for TV film’ rather than a theatrical release – ironic considering the film was withheld from release by Paramount due to pressure from race awareness groups. Nowhere near as radical as you might expect from his ‘withheld status’ White Dog does, nevertheless, have much to say and does so without being heavy handed.

    What is White Dog Blu-ray Picture Quality

    White Dog What is White Dog Blu-ray Picture Quality

    The disc presents a widescreen 1.78:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is Region locked to B.

    The clean-up given to this release has been very sympathetic to the source, which is clean, bright and well detailed. Detail is quite excellent, check out the dogs fur in close-up, or human skin texture, clothing weaves etc.; the close up of the trigger finger shows just how detailed the image can be with even the grime under the fingernails looking exceptional. Mid and distant backgrounds are just as well catered for, check out the Californian foliage, how sharp are the trees and grasses; even the sand of the training cage looks detailed enough to run through your fingers.

    Colours are very bold and bright, all the primaries get a good look in with reds being vivid, greens lush and blues suitably cool. Blood is of the darker red colour and looks nasty when pouring from the dog’s victims. Flesh tones have a typical eighties hue, i.e. somewhat pushed towards the pink, but for its age the film does look natural enough.

    The clean-up given to this release has been very sympathetic to the source, which is clean, bright and well detailed.

    Brightness and contrast are set to give some deep and frame pushing blacks, and the film does make some good use of night shoots to ramp up the tension; there is still plenty of shadow detail on show too: check out detail in Julie’s jeans right at the top when she first hits the dog at night, though this is not an isolated scene, the first dog attack is another prime example.

    Digitally there were no compression problems, or any edge enhancement and gradation of the colours was well achieved. The original print still had a few pops and nicks, but nothing of any real significance, there was a nasty tram line that lasted for a second as well, though the grain structure is well maintained. The whole thing is very garish though, reminded me very much of an eighties TV film in its look and not really cinematic. But this transfer is fine.

    What is White Dog Blu-ray Sound Quality

    White Dog What is White Dog Blu-ray Sound Quality

    Just the one track to choose, English LPCM 2.0 mono. This track has had a bit of clean up as well, as it’s just as clean and precise as the video. Dialogue is very natural sounding and clear, though slightly ‘thick’ in places showing up the looping. Morricone’s score is probably the highlight of the track with his ominously light hearted tunes being extremely well integrated into the mix. Bass is a little bit lacking throughout, though the dog’s growls are suitably guttural. Vehicle movements, animal noises and gun shots all benefit from some decent integration though there is little flair in the track, but one can’t expect much from a mono source; the two speaker delivery does help to open out the sound slightly. It never becomes shrill and the background hiss is only discernable at very high volumes. In all a perfectly serviceable track that delivers its information without any real issues.

    White Dog Blu-ray Extras

    White Dog White Dog Blu-ray Extras

    Booklet – A 45 page booklet accompanies this release containing a review of the film from 1991 by Jonathan Rosenbaum, and ‘interview’ with Sam Fuller and the ‘dog star’ of the film, plus a few notes on the film and its production by Fuller.

    Is White Dog Blu-ray Worth Buying

    White Dog Is White Dog Blu-ray Worth Buying

    What happens when a dog becomes a killer? Destroy it, or retrain it? What if the dog has only one specific target to kill? Is it worth saving? Or is the animal a ‘ticking time bomb’ ready to attack anyone it sees? These are just some of the questions posed by Sam Fullers controversial 1892 urban horror, White Dog – a film that had nervous distributors withhold it release indefinitely! The story follows Julie a lonely actress who happens upon a stray dog and bonds with it when it saves her life. Only when the dog shows its hidden nature, that of attacking, even killing, black people, she would rather have it retrained than destroyed, determining that its nature is not one of violence only its upbringing; in what is a clear allegory for all bigotry. Fuller adds in plenty of complex layering to his film which touches upon many aspects of race, nurture, companionship and the results of torture as well as having a quick swipe at the American legal system, all wrapped up in a fast paced horror about a killer dog. Not quite as shocking as its ‘withheld’ status might presume, it is nevertheless very compelling viewing, not least because of its shock ending.

    What happens when a dog becomes a killer? Destroy it, or retrain it? What if the dog has only one specific target to kill? Is it worth saving?

    As a Blu-ray set Eureka has produced a very good disc in terms of picture and sound; the picture is nicely cleaned up, detailed and bright, though it does suffer from looking like an eighties TV show (an artefact of the times, not of the transfer) while the sound, at dual mono, is serviceable enough. The only extra is the included booklet, which is a shame, as something about its tortured past might have gone down well. In all though a nice little set.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99

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