I remember not enjoying “Man’s Best Friend” too much back in 1993, and in 2019, it hasn’t aged very well at all. Unless you have a fancy for nineties horror with rock bottom expectations, John Lafia’s killer dog movie is a movie that’s confused in both tone and genre, quite often. I had a tough time developing the emotions during this experience, because nothing is ever really clarified for the audience. Is this a dark comedy or a horror film? Should we loathe Max or sympathize with Max? Is he the film’s villain, an anti-hero, or the victim of circumstances like Cujo?
Ally Sheedy plays Lori, a television news reporter who is trying to make a name for herself by investigating the happenings at the EMAX Research Facility. After sneaking in to the campus thanks to an informant, Lori begins investigating the labs even after said informant is mysteriously killed on the job. Discovering an animal testing lab, Lori manages to escape with a Tibetan Mastiff dog named Max that is being held in a cage. Escaping the clutches of Dr. Jarret, Lori escapes with Max and decides to keep him and falls in love with him. As Max builds a fondness for Lori, he begins competing with Lori’s boyfriend Perry for her affection. Unaware he’s a weaponized experimental animal with crossbred DNA, Max becomes increasingly aggressive and psychotic, and begins wreaking havoc on his tormentors and bullies.
“Man’s Best Friend” is never quite sure what it wants to be and what it wants to do with the film’s monster Max. Often times the writers seem hesitant to turn him in to a villain due to him being such an adorable dog, so he’s built as this sympathetic beast with a penchant for murder. One moment he’s stopping a mugger from hurting Lori, the next he’s crawling up a tree to maul a house cat. When we begin hating him for tearing apart a parrot, he’s then mutilating an abusive dog owner (Larry Fessenden) who torments Max by smacking him over the head with a shovel. Time and time again the movie tugs on our loyalties turning the whole film in to a jarring and unpleasant mess. Is this a comedy? A campy monster movie? Science fiction?
There’s also the recurring appearance of comically evil animal abusers, all of whom are so blatantly set up to die, it becomes kind of dull. There’s Larry Fessenden as the junkyard owner, the goofy pair of cops looking for Max, and of course the inept dog catchers that delight in caging small dogs. Why exactly did they engineer a super dog? Why just one dog? What did they plan to do with it? Were they under a military contract? And wouldn’t a lab producing vicious animal mutants have more than a few guards? In a decade of pretty strong horror entries, “Man’s Best Friend” is one of the more forgettable of its ilk. It never quite realizes its premise or concept, resulting in a muddled, silly mess.
The new Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory features a commentary track by writer and director John Lafia. There are also two SD TV Spots for the film, an original theatrical teaser, and the original theatrical trailer.