Color, 1994, 87 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by John Lafia
Starring Ally Sheedy, Lance Henriksen, Robert Constanzo, Fredric Lehne, William Sanderson, Trula M. Marcus
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Warner Bros. (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Imagine Man's Best Frienda Clinton-era cross Man's Best Friendbetween White Dog and C.H.O.M.P.S, and that might give you an idea of what to expect from this entertaining and often wildly absurd techno thriller via animal attack film. Cute canines have been used in plenty of horror movies before going back to films like Dogs and The Pack, but this one gives it a spin with a bloody but tongue in cheek approach from writer-director John Lafia, best known as one of the three credited writers of Child's Play and director of Child's Play 2.

At the EMAX Research headquarters known for its relentless animal experimentation, Lori Tanner (Sheedy) decides to sneak in one night after hours with camera-toting friend Annie (Marcus) capturing the suffering of the lab animals for all to see. Among the primates, wild cats, and bears among the test subjects, she discovers Max, a friendly Tibetan Mastiff whom she takes home after helping him escape. Her husband, Perry (Lehne), is apprehensive about having a new dog, especially when Lori keeps Max in the house at night and he can spy on the couple in their more intimate moments through a keyhole. (That's just as creepy as it sounds.) As it turns out, Max has been genetically bred by Dr. Jarret (Henriksen) to have a batch of extreme powers including regeneration, high running speed, and great strength, which Man's Best Friendalso make the canine an ideal killing machine. Soon no paperboy, cat, or mailman in the neighborhood is safe as Dr. Jarret tries to track down the missing killer experiment before a serious body Man's Best Friendcount breaks out.

Casting highly relatable '80s teen favorite Sheedy as the main character here opposite the more flamboyant acting style of Henriksen turns out to be a smart move here, even if the two only share a limited amount of screen time together. This was never intended as a film to change the art form in any way, but it moves quickly and trots out just about every gag you can think of when it comes to a homicidal, seemingly unkillable pup. Reliable puppet effects creator Kevin Yagher also comes up with some sparing but effective bits here, most notably an unforgettable tree-climbing scene with a sick punchline that caught a lot of eyes when it was spotlighted in Fangoria. The low budget and '90s aesthetic are evident at times including the fine but spare electronic-heavy score by the reliable Joel Goldsmith, and to this day it's a great party movie and a perfect entry in any killer animal movie festival.

After its initial run on VHS and laserdisc, New Line first released this film on DVD in 2005 as a flipper disc with widescreen and full frame options along with the theatrical trailer. It Man's Best Friendtook a while, but we finally got a Blu-ray in 2019 from Scream Factory promoting what's listed as a "2K scan of the original film elements." Whatever the exact source may be, it looks great and easily blows away any prior Man's Best Friendeditions with lots of fine textures and convincing colors on display. The dark and sometimes earthy aesthetic is very much of its decade (think other New Line films around that time like The Lawnmower Man), but fans should be very pleased with the presentation here. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 options are also included, with some fun separation effects scattered throughout with the music getting consistent support. Optional English subtitles are also provided. A new commentary with Lafia would probably be better described as a partial one since he collectively only talks for maybe a third of the film (lots of very long gaps between comments), but he's affectionate towards the film and talks a bit about his love of animals and his own "twisted" sense of humor. A theatrical trailer, teaser, and TV spots are also included.

Reviewed on April 8, 2019.