Monday, October 5, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Howling" (1981)

The Short Version? Reporters haunted by werewoloves.
What Is It? Horror Dramedy.
Who Is In It? Steed and Mrs. Genre Actress. Kevin McCarthy. John Carradine. Slim Pickens. More cameos.
Should I See It? Maybe.

By choice or by fate, I've been following the Howling series of movies out of sequence, allowing me to judge them on their own slight merits as individual films. I first saw Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf decades back on home video, and a recent revisitation revealed it was more rivetingly rotten than I remembered. An absolute must see in trash television for the horror fiend. I next tried Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, as boring as the other flick was delightfully incompetent. That one was essentially a remake of the original, and now that I'm reviewing it, I can finally determine if it was fruit off a poisonous tree.

The credits run over snow on a TV screen as snippets of dialogue from the forthcoming film are heard, followed by Patrick Macnee as a patronizing therapist on a news show. As this isn't Videodrome, shit's egregious. Eventually, Dee Wallace shows up as the wimpiest, least convincing investigative journalist in something like ever. She's wired for sound while she makes her way alone to a rendevous with a serial killer in the red light district. As you've already predicted, there are audio problems, and she winds up locked in a private viewing room, rape porn playing as she faces the murderer. This might sound intense to you, but everything (aside from the movie-within-a-movie) is handled so delicately, there's no tension. Who'd want to hurt the mom from E.T./Cujo/Critters, right? In short order, all that's left is to clean up and report the scoop... except our star represses her memories and develops stage fright. While Dee goes to the shrink's nutter camp, a couple of her associates from the TV station follow-up on leads.

At this point, the primary story reconnects to the pseudo-remake, Howling IV, a review I ended with "this movie just leaves you dead inside." Here, though lumbering, I didn't find the flick an alternative to doctor assisted-suicide. There's a bunch of cameos and in-jokes for horror afficianados, the acting quality is up to soap opera standards, there's some decent gore effects, and it at least feels like a legitimate movie intended to be projected onto a multiplex's screen. While the first werewolf doesn't (briefly) show until forty-two minutes in, there's a decent set-up to get through, believeable characters and a logical narrative to work with. Even taking that into account, the second round of full-frontal nudity unveils before the fifty minute mark (butterface and BDSM notwithstanding.)

Werewolves really get to roaming early in the second hour, with some strong make-up work (even if they do go nuts with the bladders and exagerated sculpting.) Along with An American Werewolf In London, this film defined the screen adaptation of werewolves and quality transormation sequences right up to the present. The actors really know how to sell the prosthetics, moving with a lupine ferocity, and contrast mightily against the terrible efforts that followed in this series. Unfortunately, they're too often betrayed by cheap lighting, tepid direction, and poorly staged action sequences, plus there are a lot of plot holes and dated social commentary. The movie's pace picks up fantastically at about the time you need to linger a while and let the potential for horror set in. Instead, it's mostly action beats and swift resolutions, though the final one is a doozy (and kudos for the ironic inclusion of Invasion of the Body Snatchers' Kevin McCarthy!)

Let me level with you here: I just Googled "top werewolf movies," and the major differences between the lists (only two even attempting to number more than ten) was in which order to rank the same few decent movies in this genre. Further, I make a distinction between "wolfmen" and "werewolves" along the same lines as between Frankenstein's monster and Romero's dead. When you've got Teen Wolf and the thoroughly terrible Nicholson/Pfeiffer/Spader vehicle Wolf placing, you're faced with some slim fucking pickings. On those terms, Howling is one of the best and most influential werewolf movies of all time. It isn't especially good outside those terms, though, so you'd better go into this thing in serious heat for werewolf action.


  • Unleashing the Beast: Making "The Howling" 54 minute documentary broken into five sections featuring all the principles, living and dead. Plenty of insider information and an all around pleasant atmosphere. FYI, on-screen husband Christopher Stone was engaged to Dee Wallace when he got the job.
  • Making A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling 1981 interview footage, which looks great given its age. A shame this wasn't incorporated into the previous doc, as there's redundancy, but still worth a look at about eight minutes.
  • Commentary Track Entirely missable.
  • Deleted Scenes A few cute moments, but nothing essential.
  • Outtakes Brief and mildly amusing.
  • Stills
  • Theatrical Trailers

No comments:


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.