Horror novels of the 1970s often had an irresistibly cheesy quality about them, but that doesn’t foreclose the possibility that the books were genuinely scary and well-crafted. David Fisher’s The Pack from 1976 was popular enough to sustain multiple printings and inspire the film adaptation The Long Dark Night in 1977. Today, The Pack has received a resurgence in popularity thanks to a reprint by Valencourt Press as part of the publisher’s Paperbacks from Hell series of reissues.
The prologue begins at the end of the summer season on Burrows Island across New York’s Long Island Sound. A family has a “summer dog” named Jake adopted to keep the kids occupied during their extended vacation on the island. Rather than taking Jake back to the city for the winter, dad ties the pup to a tree (no, really) leaving him behind while the family ferries off the island. The hope is that Jake can work himself free of the rope and fend for himself in the wild. It’s a heartbreaking scene that made me feel that these humans deserve whatever is coming their way.
Evidently, the abandonment of domesticated dogs is not unusual on the island. The orphaned pups form a pack of newly-wild Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Collies and more to hunt deer and survive on the Island throughout the harsh winter. The author went to great pains to make the ferocious pack of hounds among the sweetest breeds on Earth. Seeing the setup, you know this paperback is going to be a whole lot of fun and probably not take itself too seriously.
We then meet the Hardman family. They’re Manhattan fancies who are bringing their kids - as well Dopey the basset hound - to the island for a two-week winter vacation with the knowledge that the place will be darn-near deserted in the snowy off-season. Larry Hardman is a reasonable fellow, and his wife Diane is a spoiled Bloomingdales shopper who I wanted ripped to shreds by wild toy poodles from the moment she was introduced. Larry’s parents live year-round on the island, so three generations of the Hardman clan will be reunited on this trip before the killing begins.
There’s not much fat or foreplay in this paperback. Things go sideways and get bloody rather quickly and the mayhem keeps coming thereafter. The Pack has fantastic tension - mostly due to the threat the mad dogs pose to the family’s most vulnerable members. As a horror novel, it’s not particularly realistic but there’s nothing supernatural happening here either. The paperback reminded me of Cujo meets Night of the Living Dead with vivid characters being called to unlikely acts of heroism.
I could quibble with this or that within the paperback, but why bother? The Pack was a successful thrill ride and a lot of fun to read. Too much analysis would spoil things, and this bit of disposable escapism was meant to be enjoyed. Kudos to Valencourt Press for making it available to modern audiences. Recommended.
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