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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

The Howling

November 8th 2007 00:41
The Howling movie poster
Lycanthrope movies are a tough, but rare breed. There’s one being made in New York City at the moment, Jack & Diane, a lesbian romance … with hair and fangs. But there were two werewolf flicks made within the same year – 1980 – that to this day haven’t been bettered.

The one whose production began first, but was released second, was An American Werewolf in London (1981) directed by John Landis. The second movie, which ended up being completed and released first, was The Howling (1981) directed by Joe Dante. Both movies are laced with a strong knowing sense of black humour, but also reek, like a wet dog, with a raw pungent atmosphere of palpable fear. These movies are genuinely frightening. They also employ, what was then, state of the art special effects make-up, and boy, do these effects hold up or what?! They kick ass!

The Howling Dee Wallace
Dee Wallace as Karen White with Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) in the dark
There is a serial killer on the loose, Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), and the only person in the media he communicates with is television anchorwoman Karen White (Dee Wallace). After a near fatal encounter with him in a dodgy porn theatre (called the Pussycat) her doctor instructs to convalesce up the coast; a friendly community called The Colony, in the woods and so retreats with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone). Eddie was apparently shot dead by police. Karen’s story chasing is over. Or is it?

The Howling Dee Wallace and Chris Stone
Karen doesn't like the weird sounds at night, her husband Bill (Chris Stone) isn't too perturbed
Apparently Eddie had been close with the small rural group, and Karen still wants to know more. There’s a saying called “curiosity killed the cat”, and Karen may be meowing a little too insistently. It seems The Colony has a secret or two, revealing a tad more than their self-help lessons about the link between human behaviour and animal instinct. Karen’s hubbie has begun baying on the wayside, and it becomes painfully clear that this is no ordinary clutch of neo-hippie country folk; these people are savage werewolves who don’t take kindly to city slickers.

The Howling Patrick MacNee
Patrick MacNee as sly Dr. Waggner
Written by the witty John Sayles (Piranha) with Terence Winkless, The Howling is an inventive and sly take on the werewolf genre, while still playing with tradition; “Silver bullets or fire, that's the only way to get rid of the damn things. They're worse than cockroaches.” At times it’s a little silly, filled with in-jokes and references, and the cast is littered with cult horror actors and directors, such as Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Forrest Ackerman, David Carradine, and Roger Corman, even tall John Sayles does a cameo, while Patrick MacNee plays Karen’s shrink Dr. Waggner (one of many characters named after werewolf movie directors).

The Howling werewolf
I see a bad moon rising
Special effects wizard Rick Baker had been further developing the use of bladder effects pioneered by Dick Smith on American Werewolf, combining them with his own innovations. His protégé was 21-year-old Rob Bottin. Director Joe Dante head-hunted Bottin and gave him the creative control he desired on The Howling, much to Baker’s chagrin, especially when American Werewolf started running behind schedule. Bottin used the knowledge he’d gleaned from Baker and concocted his own brilliant work.

The Howling lycanthrope silhouette
My, my, my, what big paws you have!
The main transformation sequence in The Howling occurs in partial shadow, but it’s a much scarier scene, with the resulting werewolf a monstrous, wolf-headed humanoid, whereas Baker’s transformation although more graphic, and arguably more impressive, has the beast more dog-like, is off-set by a sense of humour within the scene, as well as being fully-lit, and with no potential victim in the immediate vicinity, so there is no direct sense of danger.

The Howling lycanthrope
Owwwwwwwwww!
There’s another transformation sequence in The Howling that deserves a mention, where a severed werewolf lower leg and paw slowly changes back into a human hand, all done with prosthetics, bladders and editing; fantastic stuff.

The Howling Elizabeth Brooks
Elizabeth Brooks as lusty Marsha
The Howling had one of the best horror posters of the 80s; a human in mid-werewolf transformation tearing through the poster with their talons with the sensational tagline; “Imagine your worst fear a reality.” When I first saw the movie on VHS when I was an impressionable teen my mates and I were thrilled to discover that it even sported full frontal female nudity, in the form of the late Elizabeth Brooks, as Eddie’s lupine sister Marsha and seductress of Karen’s hubbie.

The Howling Elizabeth Brooks
Marsha feels the were-heat rise inside her
American Werewolf in London and The Howling are frequently compared, and yes, they do share many similarities, but while American Werewolf finishes in a poignant, but tragic way, The Howling finishes in a distinctly absurdist fashion, blackly comic and ironic too. The Howling, like American Werewolf, is a cult classic, a landmark of the genre, and essential viewing for any werewolf mutt, er, nut.
The Howling David Carradine
David Carradine has a bit of a cackle


Here's the original theatricla trailer:


And here is the sensational main transformation sequence:

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Comments
9 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by jon

November 8th 2007 00:47
You make these movies sounds so good I may have to get over my horror movie fears and rent a couple.

Comment by Bryn

November 8th 2007 02:30
Cheers Jon, thats high praise coming from you. I think you'd enjoy both The Howling and American Werewolf, they're entertaining, well-made pics, considering how hirsute they are. There's a self-awareness within them that isn't smug, unlike the Screams or Saws of today.

Comment by Damo

November 8th 2007 02:51
Though I usually agree with you judgement on most film I feel I must disagree a little about this one.

It was impressive on the FX and the plot twists but I felt let down in the scare zone.

There were just no real scares or shocks to keep me on the edge of my seat. Wherewolf man gives girl back her silver bullet loaded weapon and taunts her as he transform. Dodgy very dodgy.

However in comparison some other movies of the same era it was better that average but less than classic.

Excellent review.

Comment by Bryn

November 8th 2007 03:08
Damo, well we have to disagree at some point
Perhaps it's just one of those teddybear films of mine, which I'm very close to, if you get my drift. Cheers for the props though!

Comment by Michaelie

November 8th 2007 08:04
I have to agree with Damo in that it didn't scare me so much, but I really loved it. I like the werewolf theme generally, which is why I love to read the violent/erotic were-stories of Angela Carter so much. But there was one movie I watched recently, a modern one... I can't remember the name of it but it had Christina Ricci in it and it was terrible!

Really great review, Bryn.

Michaelie

Comment by Lynn Smythe

November 8th 2007 23:44
The Howling is one of my all-time favorite movies. I saw it again a few weeks ago on TV. Have to see if it's available on DVD - would be a good one to add to my collection.

Comment by Cibbuano

November 8th 2007 23:58
great review... I'll have to add this to the neverending list of horror movies that I've 'got to see'.

Off the top of my head, that list is:

American Werewolf in London
Suspira
The Thing
Vampyros Lesbos
Halloween
The Hunger
Return of the Living Dead
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Ginger Snaps

and now, The Howling


Comment by Bryn

November 9th 2007 03:45
Michaelie, Cursed is the movie you're thinking of, Wes "hack" Craven made it. Such potential utterly scuttled.

Lynn, grab the R2 special edition on DVD!

Cibby, my good man, you have some serious viewing ahead of you!!

Comment by Rickinator

September 7th 2011 07:34
"Wherewolf man gives girl back her silver bullet loaded weapon and taunts her as he transform. Dodgy very dodgy."

What, are you kidding? That's CLASSIC! What would have sucked is if he cowered in fear. But he felt strong, even invincible. I also saw it when it came out, so it's a lot more intense for a 12 year old. But still....dodgy? Please. By the way, it's "werewolf."

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