This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Brad Gullickson.
No one had an easier time getting mad than Harlan Ellison. All he needed was a question, and the resulting answer would cut through any amount of “Maybe, Um” optimism. He had no time for concerns masked with pleasantries. The inquiries were of little consequence. Ellison raged because to do any less would be a betrayal to the passion that fueled him.
There are many questions in his novella, A Boy and His Dog. All of them stirred forth from his disgust regarding humanity’s descending direction in 1969. Raised on the cynicism of The Time Machine, Brave New World, and 1984, Ellison relished in slapping his fellow man with a dark dose of certain doom. Our intelligence is not a gift but a curse. You can’t simply split the atom and think you’re going to walk off into the sunset.
While Ellison initially accepted the task of reimagining his story for the silver screen, exhaustion and that dreaded writer’s block eventually stunted his contribution. Character actor-turned-director L.Q. Jones, along with an uncredited Wayne Cruseturner and producer Alvy Moore, finished the job. The subsequent screenplay is a viciously weird apocalyptic vision, true to the spirit of Ellison’s anger, plus the bonus of a few seventies colloquialisms.
A couple of years before Mad Max roamed the wastelands of Australia, Don Johnson’s Vic scavenged the leftover shantytowns of a nuclear-seared America. Stripped of familial-bred notions of decency, Vic’s needs are as simple as a Cro-Magnon: food and sex, sex and food. There is no concept of work, to survive Vic must steal from the weak and evade the reprisal of the strong.
To achieve this banal existence, Vic is aided by a nihilistic, albeit telepathic, canine mutt named Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire who also provides the score/soundtrack alongside The Doors’ Ray Manzarek). The hound is an antagonistic voice of repulsion, happy to sniff out Vic’s desires, but only from a place of judgment. Man’s best friend is equally displeased with his station in life.
One night while they are killing time watching nudie films at an outdoor movie house, Blood catches the scent of a female human scrounging within an underground warehouse. The two capture the teenage Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton), who protests that she has escaped from the mythical subterranean paradise known as the “Downunder.” Blood takes an immediate distrust of his prey, but the notion of bottomless utopian pleasures entices Vic.
A Boy and His Dog is wrestling with all manner of furor. The Kennedys were dead. Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated. Vietnam and Watergate uncovered a poison pumping through our infrastructure. Peace and love perverted by Charlie Manson. We choked on the American Dream, and the apocalypse seemed like a necessary, revelatory Heimlich maneuver.
The film packs a mean punch and offers a taste (probably a poor choice of words for those already familiar with the story…sorry, not sorry) of Harlan Ellison’s mandatory rage. The questions he answers within are as furious and as relevant as ever. Get angry. Press play. Make change.
Brad Gullikson is a daily news writer for Film School Rejects, and a contributing critic at Diabolique Magazine. If you’re not fed up with his cinematic ramblings there, you can also capture him every week on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast, as well as Rest in Pictures. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @MouthDork, or you can take the conversation even further at email@example.com