The earliest werewolf movie I’m still a fan of is Werewolf Of London (1935), but around that time I was a fan of Lon Chaney, jr’s Wolf Man in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). I never saw The Wolf Man (1941) until the late 90s, but this one day after I saw Werewolf Of London, I was so taken with that movie I ran down cellar and found the Chaney Wolf Man mask my parents had bought me some time ago, put it on and ran around the semi-darkness of the cellar pretending I had turned into a werewolf. Suffice it to say the werewolf has always been my favorite movie monster. Every few years we get a new werewolf movie and the latest flick made (that’s not a comedy) I’m also still a fan of is Late Phases (2014). Checking my collection last night I have eleven werewolf films. They take up part of a shelf they share with some of my favorite vampire flicks, but of all those lycanthrope films I own, and of all the ones in existence, the two best ever made, and have still not been surpassed to this day are The Howling (1981) and An American Werewolf In London (1981). Interesting these two classics came out the same year, April for Howling and August for American Werewolf. So, which am I more a fan of? Depends on the day. I love them both, but, maybe, this night I’m in the mood for a two-legged, calculating beast or, perhaps, this night I feel like watching a massive, four-legged PCP-crazed wolf tearing the shit out of anything with two legs and a heartbeat. That’s pretty much what it boils down to—two-legs or four. For the most part, though, I’d say the four-legged Rick Baker creation just barely edges out Rob Bottin’s two-legged one, but just barely, because those Howling beasts are just as incredible to watch and I love marveling at what Bottin did in that movie on occasion.
The earliest werewolf movie I’m still a fan of is Werewolf Of London (1935), but around that time I was a fan of Lon Chaney, jr’s Wolf Man in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). I never saw The Wolf Man (1941) until the late 90s, but I this one day after I saw Werewolf Of London, I was so taken with that movie I ran down cellar and found the Wolf Man mask my parents had bought me some time ago, put it on and ran around the semi-darkness of the cellar pretending I had turned into a werewolf. Suffice it to say the werewolf has always been my favorite movie monster. Every few years we get a new werewolf movie and the latest flick made that’s not a comedy I’m still a fan of is Late Phases (2014). Checking my collection last night I eleven werewolf movies. They take up part of a shelf they share with some of my favorite vampire flicks, but of all those lycanthrope films I own and of all the ones in existence the two best ever made and still have not been surpassed to this day are The Howling (1981) and An American Werewolf In London (1981), and it find it interesting these two classics came out in the same year, April for Howling and August for American Werewolf. Which am I a fan of more? Depends on the day. I love them both, but maybe this night I’m in the mood for a two-legged, calculating beast or, perhaps, this night I feel like watching a massive, four-legged PCP-crazed wolf tearing the shit out of anything with two legs and a heartbeat. And that’s pretty much what it boils down to, two-legs or four-legs. For the most part, though, I’d say the four-legged Rick Baker creation just barely edges out Rob Bottin’s two-legged one, but just barely, because them Howling beasts are just as incredible to watch and I love marveling at what Bottin did in that movie.
Director Joe Dante’s movie is only loosely inspired by late Gary Brandner’s 1977 novel of the same name. I keep telling myself I need to read it, but never seem to get around to it. I understand Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) is a bit closer to Brandner’s novel, and it’s the only sequel I like. It’s hard to believe they made seven sequels to Dante’s movie; the first one, however, has always been the best!
Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) has created this “retreat” up the California coast in a very secluded area dubbed The Colony, and populated it with werewolves. It’s disguised as a retreat he sends certain patients to unwind and they either become food or fellow lycans, most of the time they get added to the pack. Details how this happened are never revealed, but it’s the big twist in the film, and, apparently, he did this to better integrate the werewolves in society. Up here they feed on cattle rather than people, but there’s some at the retreat who believe they should go back to the old ways and feed on humans, chief among these “dissenters” is Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks) and her two brothers, T.C. (Don McLeod) and Eddie (Robert Picardo). In fact Eddie made his way to the city and has been killing people right and left, so it’s safe to say he’s definitely not on board with Waggner’s plan. Eddie’s serial killing has caught the interest of the police and reporter, Karen White (Dee Wallace), actually it might be other way around. Eddie’s got a thing for Karen and has offered to meet her in this porn store, in the back where they play porn movies in darkened rooms. Hard to tell what his plan ultimately was, but, I think, he wanted to turn her into one, and not kill her, but we’ll never know since the police jump the gun on the sting and blow Quist away.
Traumatized by what she saw (she saw Quist transforming and it was so unbelievable she suppressed it), Waggner sends Karen and her husband, Bill Neill (the late Christopher Stone and real life husband of Wallace), up to The Colony. Here we meet a lot of people and by the end we’ll learn every damn one of them is a fuckin’ werewolf! Once Marsha meets Bill, however, she fancies him on the spot and one night stalks him as he heads to his cabin intent on biting him and adding him to the pack.
The nights here at The Colony are inundated with weird howling, making the woods feel almost haunted, and with Bill now bitten by what he believes was just an ordinary wolf he’ll soon be adding to that cacophony, and we’ll learn later these wolf sounds may be werewolves fucking! This is the only movie I’ve seen that depicts a transformation happening while two infected humans are screwing. One of the many highlights of the film is the werewolf sex scene that starts out with some very nice full frontal nakedness by Brooks.
Bill and Karen have a couple of friends, Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and his main squeeze, Terri Fisher (Brenda Balaski), fellow reporters who at the start of the movie investigated Eddie’s serial killing. Another twist is learning Marsha and T.C.s last name and finding out Eddie is related, this revelation leads into one of the movie’s main werewolf scenes and the death of Terri.
Like what John Landis did in his werewolf movie, Dante has done the same and tweaked the lycanthrope mythology to his liking. Some of the tropes are still the same like being bitten by a werewolf will infect you, and shooting them with silver bullets will kill them, but Dante added one other way you can kill them and that’s by fire. More mythos tweaking has these werewolves able to shape-shift at any time they want and not just at the mercy of the full moon, plus they can regenerate lost limbs. These last two tweakings are part of another major set piece in the movie where Terri has come up to visit Karen, wandered into the woods and found a cabin. There’s an odd thing that happens here that has me wondering if these lycans have some kind of rudimentary ability to psychically influence people. It’s a creepy effect where you hear a man’s voice call, “Teeerrrii,” she looks and sees the cabin, then you hear, “over here, Terri” in an equally creepy tone, but I never had the impression she actually heard this voice. It comes almost on the wind. At any rate she investigates the cabin and is attacked by a werewolf, but she manages to chop its arm off and sees the limb transform back into a human. That’s another great effect!
Hauling ass back to Waggner’s office is where we learn more about the Quist family and that there’s a werewolf hiding in the office waiting to eat her, and this werewolf is Eddie! He escaped the morgue and made his way back to The Colony! This encounter Terri has with transformed Eddie is pure eye candy for special effects enthusiasts! Bottin’s seven-foot-tall beast is impressive as all hell as it slowly takes the files out of her hand and bitch slaps her to the floor. It then stalks her around the room, and ends her life by picking her up and crunching her throat in its jaws. If you saw this as a kid, it’s a very frightening scene because these werewolves display a malevolent intelligence, especially in that scene.
For a rated-R werewolf flick there isn’t really a ton of gore. The only “real gore” is when Karen finds Terri’s body in the office, and her throat is torn out and her eyes are all bloody, then when we see her body again in a barn with all the werewolves gathered around and it looks like they were feeding on her, her ribs and mid-section are bloodily exposed. Only other “gore” is during Karen’s confrontation with Eddie again, in Waggner’s officer, where he pulls either a bullet, or piece of his brain, out of his forehead wound before he transforms. Eddie’s transformation is the movie’s main effect sequence and it’s just as impressive as Baker’s from An American Werewolf.
I will say The Howling is a creepier flick because there’s a scene later on with Karen and Chris in a police car with all these werewolves surrounding it and trying to get in. Plus Marsha’s transformation creeped me out, still does actually. You only see her face go and later on in the barn scene where Chris is burning it down with them in it you see her transform again, and it reminded me of The Exorcist.
As you may have guessed this film does not have a happy ending, but what good werewolf film does? Bill is killed, but not before he bites Karen infecting her. Most of the werewolves die in that burning barn, but just before the credits roll we see Marsha escaped. Waggner died outside the barn, forcing Chris to shoot him with his silver bullets after Marsha got pissed at him earlier and clawed him infecting him. To warn the world of the werewolf menace Karen comes up with the fatal plan of transforming during her on-camera report and having Chris shoot her dead in front of everyone. Damn, that’s hardcore.
I was twelve when The Howling was in theaters and I remember the TV spots vividly. I wasn’t quite sure what the movie was about, it had a slasher vibe, but the title felt very werewolf related. I had a friend in school at the time who had HBO and I remember Mike telling me, this one morning when we out on some nature walk, or something, about this behind-the-scenes special he saw about the effects. I thought this was odd because it was generally Rob who filled me on horror related movies. When I finally saw The Howling it was on HBO and it was a night where they were running a slew of horror movies, you know, come to think of it, it may have been Halloween. This was also the same night I saw An American Werewolf In London for the first time too. Though I can’t remember which one they aired first.
MGM has released The Howling a few times on disc starting in 2001, then later in a special edition in 2003. It finally reached blu-ray in 2013 through Shout! Factory’s genre sub-label, Scream Factory. StudioCanal’s new restoration I’ve reviewed here came out this past October 9 in the UK and you can order it on Amazon UK. No word if this new transfer will make it to the States.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English Dolby Digital (stereo), 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English subs only
Of the many movies I’ve reviewed and own from Shout! Factory, I’ve been satisfied with their transfers, but this is one case where StudioCanal’s restoration outshines one of their titles. I own Scream’s The Howling and put their disc on right after viewing StudioCanal’s and it’s obvious to me this new restoration is exactly what it’s supposed to be. For example in the scene where acid-mutilated Eddie Quist starts to transform there’s “glare” at various points on his face, StudioCanal’s new blu does not have any of that “glare.” It’s a bit more pristine as well. Basically, what you’ll want to do is collect this blu for the transfer, but collect Scream’s blu for the extras that weren’t ported over. And the best part is StudioCanal’s disc is region free!
Extras included . . .
- Howlings Eternal with Producer Steven A. Lane (18:49)
- Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt (11:20)
- Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless (12:32)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations (12:15)
- Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen (8:48)
- Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner, Moderated By Michael Felsher
Extras that weren’t ported over: Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling, Unleashing the Beast – The Making of The Howling, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, Outtakes, Trailer, Photo Gallery, Audio Commentary with Director Joe Dante, Actors Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo.