The Plague Dogs (film)

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This article is about the 1982 animated film. For the novel, see The Plague Dogs.
The Plague Dogs
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Rosen
Tony Guy (animation)
Produced by Martin Rosen
Written by Martin Rosen
Based on The Plague Dogs
by Richard Adams
Starring John Hurt
Christopher Benjamin
James Bolam
Music by Patrick Gleeson
Distributed by Embassy Pictures
MGM/UA Entertainment Company
Release date
  • 21 October 1982 (1982-10-21) (UK)
  • 16 December 1983 (1983-12-16) (US)
Running time
103 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Plague Dogs is a 1982 British adult animated epic adventure drama film based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Richard Adams. The film was written, directed and produced by Martin Rosen, who also directed Watership Down, the film version of another novel by Adams. The Plague Dogs was produced by Nepenthe Productions; it was released by Embassy Pictures in the United States and by United Artists in the United Kingdom. The film was rated PG-13 by the MPAA for violent images and thematic elements. The Plague Dogs is the only MGM animated film that is not a family film.

The film's story is centered on two dogs named Rowf and Snitter, who escape from a research laboratory in Great Britain. In the process of telling the story, the film highlights the cruelty of performing vivisection and animal research for its own sake (though Martin Rosen said that this was not an anti-vivisection film, but an adventure), an idea that had only recently come to public attention during the 1960s and 1970s.


Rowf (a Labrador-mix) and Snitter (a smooth fox terrier) are two of many dogs used for experimental purposes at an animal research facility in the Lake District of north-western England. Snitter has had his brain experimented upon while Rowf has been drowned and resuscitated repeatedly. One evening, Snitter squeezes under the netting of his cage and into Rowf's, where they discover his cage is unlatched. They explore the facility in order to escape until they sneak into the incinerator, where they are nearly killed before finally escaping.

Initially relieved and eager to experience their new freedom, the dogs are soon faced not only with the realities of life in the wild but with another more terrifying realization—they are being hunted by their former captors. They come to reluctantly befriend The Tod, a Geordie-accented fox, in order to obtain food in the wild - they initially hunt domestic sheep grazing on the local hills. Snitter hopes for a new home as he once had a master, but after accidentally killing a man by stepping onto the trigger of his gun as he climbs up onto him, Snitter loses hope. As time passes the two dogs grow thin and bony, having to steal more and more food while still avoiding capture. The Tod assists them by distracting a lab-hired gunman who then falls to his death; the man's corpse is beset upon and eaten by the two dogs. As the three wander about aimlessly, the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment and the media are roped into the pursuit, driven by rumors of the two dogs carrying bubonic plague and murdering humans and sheep.

The Tod parts with the two dogs as the pursuers close in, telling them he's got "a few more tricks" up his sleeve, but he is quickly caught and killed. Thanks to the fox's distraction, Snitter and Rowf manage to sneak onto a train on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

The train arrives at the coastal village of Ravenglass where the two dogs try to find some food at a cafe, but they are spotted by an RAF helicopter and are pursued by it until they reach the shoreline and can run no further. As armed troops approach and prepare to shoot the dogs, Snitter looks out over the water and claims to see an island - he jumps into the sea and begin to swim to it. Rowf is hesitant to follow due to his fear of water/drowning, but his greater fear of the gunmen drives him to jump in as well and catch up with Snitter. Two gunshots are fired at the dogs but seemingly miss; immediately a white mist envelops the pair, and the humans and the helicopter disappear. The dogs swim through the mist towards the island Snitter claims to see but Rowf can't spot, until, at last, Snitter says that "there isn't any island" and he stops paddling, seemingly accepting death. Rowf, however, claims to finally spot the island and urges Snitter to continue; "Just stay with me... I'll get you there." The dogs swim onwards through the mist, and their fate is left ambiguous. The silhouette of an island is shown during the credits.


Character English
Snitter John Hurt
Rowf Christopher Benjamin
The Tod James Bolam
Dr. Boycott Nigel Hawthorne
Tyson Warren Mitchell
Wag Warren Mitchell
Stephen Powell Bernard Hepton
Laboratory Assistant Brian Stirner
Lynn Driver Penelope Lee
Farmer Geoffrey Matthews
Farmer's Wife Barbara Leigh-Hunt
Don John Benett
Williamson John Franklyn-Robbins
Editor Bill Maynard
Robert Malcolm Terris
Pekingese Judy Geeson
Civil Servant #1 Philip Locke
Civil Servant #2 Brian Spink
Civil Servant #3 Tony Church
Civil Servant #4 Anthony Valentine
Civil Servant #5 William Lucas
Phyllis Dandy Nichols
Vera Rosemary Leach
Major Patrick Stewart
Animal Vocalisation Percy Edwards


End theme[edit]

The theme song, "Time and Tide", was composed and sung by Alan Price.

The song, as well as dialogue from the film, was sampled by the Canadian industrial group Skinny Puppy for their anti-vivisection single, "Testure", from their 1988 album VIVIsectVI.[1]

Video release history[edit]

There are two versions of the film: An 86-minute version and a 103-minute version. The only country that offered the full-length film on DVD was Australia[2] until it was released in the UK on 7 January 2008.[3]

The original VHS release of the full theatrical cut of the film was released by Thorn Productions in 1982. Only around 8,000 copies of this version were made.

In 1983, Embassy Pictures ordered cuts to be made to the film. This shortened cut was premiered in 1983. In 1984, it was given a limited release across the United States by Charter Productions. The VHS cover states that the film is 99 minutes long, which happens to be the length of the 103 minute cut after PAL speedup so is likely due to a mix up in specifications.

In 2002, Anchor Bay Entertainment released a Region 2 DVD version of the film, but it contained the US cut. Soon afterwards, the Dutch budget label, Indies Home Entertainment, released a Region 2 disc which also contained the US cut but includes forced Dutch subtitles; this DVD has been out-of-print since November 2005. In 2004, a DVD version of the film was released by Trinity Home Entertainment; unable to obtain the full cut, they settled with using the truncated US version.

In 2005, Australian distributor Big Sky Video, released the full theatrical cut of the film as well as the truncated version on Region 4 DVD (they also released the full theatrical cut of Watership Down), sourced from Martin Rosen's private print. This is probably the only full cut of the film in existence aside from the rare Thorn VHS and the original master. The same print was later released on Region 2 DVD in the UK by Optimum Releasing in 2008.

Many missing scenes are considered minor to the overall plot and were mostly removed to reduce running time. However, one scene taken from the book was removed because of its shocking content: After the hired gunman falls to his death from a steep crag from which he was attempting to shoot the dogs, a helicopter flies over the snow-covered crags and valleys, cutting to a close-up of his body, ripped to shreds, implying that the starving dogs had eaten the corpse.


  1. ^ "Horror Sampled". The Horror Section. 23 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "07/06/2005 Archives: "Martin Rosen's Plague Dogs comes to DVD - UNCUT!"". 07/06/2005 Archives: "Martin Rosen's Plague Dogs comes to DVD - UNCUT!". Archived from the original on 25 October 2006. Retrieved 9 November 2006. 
  3. ^ "The Plague Dogs (UK - DVD R2)". Retrieved 20 December 2007. 

External links[edit]