After over thirty years, director Joe Dante’s “The Howling” has thankfully managed to survive its dated premise and concept, and remains a very good horror classic. While it’s surely not the best werewolf film I’ve ever seen (“An American Werewolf in London,” anyone?), it’s definitely a werewolf picture that stands above its contemporaries. It presents audiences with a steady and rich balance of slow burn mystery, werewolf terror, and some fun dark humor that’s peppered ever so lightly throughout the film.
I appreciate and understand the subtle humor more these days. And now well versed in horror, I love the cameos from Dante’s pals Roger Corman and Foray Ackerman. “The Howling” begins as a murder mystery and slowly unfolds its layers to reveal something much more heinous in store for plucky journalist Karen White. In an effort to help catch the local serial killer “The Lasher,” she meets the deranged killer in a porn shop. The killer has become obsessed with her, and seems intent not only to seal their relationship but he trusts her enough to reveal something about himself no one else has ever seen. Nearly being killed by him, “The Lasher” is gunned down in cold blood, but Karen has managed to block out the horrific sight revealed to her in the porn booth.
Patrick MacNee plays Dr. Waggner, a noted psychologist who is firmly a believer in unleashing the inner emotions from a person and using it to benefit themselves. Anxious to dig out the blocked memories from Karen’s mind, she and her husband Bill are invited to a retreat in the country where she meets a large community of kind people that invite the couple in to the breast of their civilization and try to help Karen uncover what she saw. From there, “The Howling” lulls the audience in to a state of comfort, where Karen and Bill live among a group of kind and somewhat uneasy people. Meanwhile Karen’s friends Chris and Terri try to find out why the Lasher, now known as Bill Quist, has escaped the local morgue.
What they uncover may be too large for any of them to comprehend, especially as Karen quickly begins to suspect the serene retreat is boiling with darkness and evil. Much of the film does have its share of holes and flaws, as the community’s purpose is never quite explained in full. Do they convert or kill their visitors? Were they seeking to kill or convert Karen and Bill? And to what end? Why didn’t they attempt to convey Terri and Chris? Did Sasha have a thing for Bill or was she hoping to get to Karen through him? And why was Bill easily accepting of his fate? Dante’s film really is an antidote to the more fast paced horror films. It strives for a horror mystery that mounts in tension and ultimately explodes with a merciless sense of violence that begin to reveal something more harrowing under the surface.
“The Howling” treats its story more as a serious situation that requires unveiling, rather than a series of quick scares and gore. When Dante does supply audiences with peeks at the film’s vicious werewolves, the effects are still incredible to watch. Especially with Robert Picardo embracing his inner monster and using his curse as a means of violating his victims, while community denizen Marsha also uses her werewolf abilities to convert Karen’s wife Bill and turn him in to a voracious sexual beast. “The Howling” has its fair share of dark humor, but much of it is meant as a tongue in cheek sense of irony more than it pokes fun at the premise.
When Terri meets her fate in the office an old cartoon starring a wolf and little girl play in the background. And in the final gut wrenching shot, Karen’s final moments are cut away with a commercial for dog food. Not to mention the big reveal is met by many audiences with laughs and dismissal; it’s a truly apt commentary on the sensationalism of the media during the eighties and how they’ve cried wolf so many times when there’s a truly horrific event unfolding, audiences simply refuse to believe it. Hence why the werewolf community continues to live on. While the film itself is not a masterpiece, it’s very subtle gags like that that make “The Howling” an almost unparalleled horror mystery that gave its werewolves fangs and humanity.
Scream! Factory unleashes this horror classic for the fans with a brand new and excellent piece of cover art as is their new tradition. Among the features, there’s an audio commentary with Director Joe Dante and stars Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo, all of whom discuss the film enthusiastically. They share memories about their experiences on the set, as well as their pride for the final product. The second commentary is with the author of the original novel Gary Brandner who discusses his career and briefly discusses the film. The 49 minute “Unleashing the Beast” is an epic five part documentary exploring the aspects of the production, and garners interviews with the cast and crew.
There is also talk about werewolf lore, the film’s casting and the entire franchise. “Howlings Eternal” is a 19 minute interview with producer Steven A. Lane who discusses his role in the film and his memories. There’s a 13 minute interview with original screenwriter Terrence Winkless who built the framework for the story. The 12 Minute “Horror’s Hallowed Ground” features a great tour of the film’s shooting locations with host Sean Clark. There’s the 11 minute “Cut to Shreds” with editor Mark Goldblatt who discusses his love for horror.
There’s a great 9 minute interview with animator David Allen who discusses his involvement with the movie including the final stop motion shot of the werewolves. “Making a Monster Movie” is an 8 minute look at the behind the scenes footage, and interviews with the cast and crew. Along with an optional commentary by director Joe Dante, there is a gallery of deleted scenes for fans to ponder on their relevance and how they would have worked if included. Finally there is an outtakes reel, a still gallery, and the original trailer for “The Howling.”