For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
Director Robert Vince has spent the last 25 years of his Hollywood career making movies about talking animals doing human things. He was a producer on Air Bud and Air Bud: Golden Receiver before stepping into the big seat with MVP: Most Valuable Primate. His first Air Bud film was Air Bud: World Pup in 2000 and he’s since directed such films as Air Buddies, Snow Buddies, Space Buddies, Treasure Buddies, Pup Star, Pup Star: World Tour … you get the point.
These are direct-to-DVD (now direct-to-streaming) stories about puppies who have animated mouths and wild adventures. A series of tall tales shot over the course of a few days that borrow props and plots from other low-budget productions to pad out the cute doggie footage. Films made to take a young child’s attention away from destroying everything for a brief moment.
Good on Mr. Vince for making a career out of it. While so many of us toil away at uninspiring careers, he’s managed to spend most of his life on set filming puppies walking around in silly costumes, with voice actors spouting goofy dog puns. He deserves a round of a-paws.
In Spooky Buddies, the evil Warwick the Warlock (an unrecognizable Harland Williams) wants to awaken the Howloween Hound, a demonic dog who eats the souls of other dogs and turns them to stone. There are two parallel stories here, and it’s a bit hard to follow. In one, a group of annoying kids — Billy, Pete, Sam, Alice and Bartleby — are chased by Warwick because his staff ended up as part of their Halloween costume. In the other, a group of puppies — Rosebud, B-Dawg, Budderball and Mudbud — are pursued by the Howloween Hound while they try to resurrect Pip (Frankie Jonas), a ghost puppy that encountered the Hound decades ago when he last walked the Earth. Back then, Pip belonged to a boy named Joe, who returns in his old age to help the group of human kids use the Bible to fight Warwick. He’s played here by the late Rance Howard, who is pretty doggone likable in this paycheck role.
I came upon Spooky Buddies, the Halloween “buddy” film, while browsing Disney+. The algorithm knows I use the service to keep my toddler occupied when I’m tired, so it recommended this primo distractarino. Instead of watching it with my son, I watched it by myself at 10 p.m. I’m a professional. I take this seriously. Movies are my life, and I didn’t want to lose a lick of attention.
Most of the movie is entirely incomprehensible, but there are some pretty great puns, and I particularly enjoyed Zelda, a Chinese Crested voiced by Debra Jo Rupp who is dressed like a stereotypical gypsy soothsayer and knows how to commune with the dead. She ends up turned to stone, which is pretty upsetting. It’s a little weird that the dog named B-Dawg keeps referring to his friends as “dawg.” I don’t know. They’re just silly puppies. The dramatic resolution involves Budderball farting at the right time. It’s un-fur-tionate.
Despite understanding very little of the story, Spooky Buddies provided something a lot of the better, actual horror movies I’ve watched for this column do not — a loud, proud vision of the commercial Halloween experience that has largely been missing from my viewing for most of the last two decades. It feels like that image of Halloween — defined in popular culture by the 1980s and 1990s — exists now solely in the realm of this kind of VOD shit or on the Disney Channel.
This is a version of Halloween where the kids get to go on an adventure while their parents are out of the house at a wild, alcohol-free costume party, where every house is covered in orange, black, and white paper, and when every parent answers the door dressed up, too. The night, as Budderball says, where you “get a treat for doing a trick. This is the Halloween that companies need to sell kids. And it comforts me. I write so many reviews about independent films, but only here, where money was spent to advertise memories of a Halloween I never really lived (because it doesn’t exist), does my brain go into a comforting auto-pilot sensation. Talk about the power of corporate art and marketing. Woof!