“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
Ever since Lon Chaney Jr. donned the hairy rubber mask and feet for Universal’s 1941 classic, The Wolf Man, cinema goers have been entranced by werewolves, by the plight of a person attacked by a wolf, who in turn, becomes a wolf for a few nights a month, during the full moon.
The early eighties saw a tremendous boom in werewolf movies. Most people will proclaim John Landis’1981 lupine horror-comedy, An American Werewolf In London as the benchmark for werewolf movies, period. There’s no denying it is a masterpiece, however, many fail to acknowledge the other big werewolf film released in the same year, director Joe Dante’s The Howling, which I think is a damn shame. Not to take anything away from the many, many accomplishments of Landis’ film, but personally, I think that The Howling is the more exciting experience.
Very loosely based on Gary Brandner’s 1977 novel of the same name, The Howling is the story of Los Angeles TV anchorwoman Karen White, who finds herself stalked by vicious serial killer Eddie Quist. She agrees to take part in a plan to draw Quist out so that he might be captured, however, rather than be captured, Quist is gunned down by the police. Traumatised by these events, Karen develops amnesia and is directed by her therapist to spend some time at “The Colony”, an isolated resort where she can receive treatment.
So together with her husband Bill, Karen sets off to The Colony, only to find that not everything there is as it seems and that some things won’t stay dead…
I absolutely love the films of Joe Dante and I regard The Howling as highly as I do Gremlins or The ‘Burbs. His films are light-hearted horror that are always rammed with pop culture references and self-referential nods to his other works. The Howling is no different. Never one to take himself too seriously, Dante brings real levity to a film that could so easily have been a very dark, brooding affair.
The cast are absolutely magnificent. Dee Wallace (E.T, Cujo, Rob Zombie’s Halloween) is excellent as always in the role of Karen while her real-life hubby, the late Christopher Stone, does a pretty good job as Bill. Patrick Macnee (The Avengers, A View To A Kill) is his usual suave self as psychiatrist George Waggner but it’s Robert Picardo (Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Innerspace) who steals the show as lycanthropic madman Eddie Quist.
Also nice to see Dante regular, the amazing Dick Miller (Gremlins, Piranha), show up as book shop owner Walter Paisley.
Oh yeah, eagle-eyed horror fans should watch out for the mummified remains of “Granma” from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Walter’s book shop. A nice little treat.
Originally, special effects supremo Rick Baker was set to handle the transformation sequences in the film but was called away to do that very same thing for An American Werewolf In London, a spectacular piece of work that earned him the first ever Best Make-up Oscar in 1982. Baker’s absence meant that the job fell to his apprentice, Rob Bottin, who later went to to design the effects for John Carpenter’s The Thing. Bottin’s effects work in The Howling is fantastic and is definitely a cut above the majority of similar sequences.
The Howling is silly at times but I think it still holds up well today. In a time where werewolf transformations are produced quickly using CGI, it’s wonderful to see a film go down the practical road of trying to do things using puppets and real actors. The Howling is a shining example of 1980′s werewolf cinema and for those who fancy a break from Landis’ film, this is the perfect alternative.