The Howling (1981)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 11, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universal (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 86 minutes
The Movie
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Wallace, Patrick MacNee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone
Screenplay: John Sayles, Terence H Winkless
Country: USA
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"You can't tame what's meant to be wild…it's not natural."

Karen (Dee Wallace) is a TV news reporter hot on the trail of serial killer, Eddie "The Mangler" Quist. Wearing what is probably the least efficient wire in the universe, she goes out one night with Police back-up to the sleazy part of town in order to meet him so that the coppers can apprehend his raggedy arse. The bad luck for her is that she meets him. Worse yet, she meets him in a peep-show booth in a porno store. Even worse is that he starts fuelling his fire in that booth with some rape-torture snuff film footage (which apparently is cut in this release – it's no Emanuelle in America, it's not Videodrome either, but it does help to create tension for the audience, and implies vicious nastiness). The coppers arrive literally in the nick of time, Eddie is blown away by some Quickdraw McGraw copper who nearly takes Karen out at the same time, and obviously the poor lady is badly traumatised and in serious need of some therapy.

It's a grim, tense and gritty opening to the film, and one that always has me wondering how the hell the same director went on to do Gremlins. We also have this scene interspersed with footage of jovial, avuncular psychologist, Dr George Wagner (Patrick MacNee from the original TV show of The Avengers) plugging his pop-psychology book "The Gift". Dr Wagner, or "the Doc", as he's more usually referred to, also has a secluded therapeutic retreat called "The Colony", which Karen and her vegetarian jock hubby Bill decide to head to for a while, so that Karen can try to regain her marbles.

Meanwhile, two of Karen's journalist buddies Christopher and Terri are trying to piece together the whole Eddie mystery, having found his apartment and all the weirdness within, and links to The Colony are pretty firmly established, having already been referenced in the opening shots of the film. The Doc starts to become more apparently tangled up in this whole caper somehow, and The Colony starts looking like a dubious place to visit – Karen, watch out!

When our first view of The Colony and its inhabitants is one of John Carradine laughing and howling maniacally, you just know things are going to turn seriously weird. And at the welcoming bar-be-que Karen and Bill attend on their first night there, we are introduced to some pretty odd-beat characters who will become our focus for strangeness as the film progresses. Of special note are buxom beauty Marcia and her obviously dodgy brother TC. You just know from the outset that these two aren't normal members of society. We soon get evidence of that observation.

Karen just can't adjust to The Colony and its ways, and if anything, her neuroses seem to escalate. Bill, however, seems right at home, and increasingly attracted to Marcia (well, who fucking wouldn't be? She exudes a raw primal sensuality). Karen seems more interested by the howls she hears in the night. The Sheriff (Slim Pickens, who I have a hard time taking at face value after having seen Poor Pretty Eddie; every time he opens his mouth, all I hear is, "Did he bite you on the titties?" I guess one day I'll get over it) explains it away as coyotes, but we've all been around the block, horror-wise, before, and we've got a fair idea of what's lurking in the woods.

Bill goes on a hunting party to catch the varmint, Karen starts getting weirder, although justifiably so, despite Terri having come to ostensibly placate her. But when Bill goes for a walk in the woods one night, oh dear… Ditto when Terri goes hunting for clues – it's all a road to the plot thickening and becoming progressively darker.

When we finally see the proper werewolf transformation, it's second only to An American Werewolf in London. It is visceral and nasty, verging on the brutal. And that's the way it should be.

Things eventually work themselves up into an apocalyptic climax, and the special effects, courtesy of Rob Bottin and Rick Baker, among others, still make this one of the most evil werewolf films you've ever seen. Dog Soldiers go fuck yourself to hell with your rollerblading running motion… The werewolf is a hard-done-by creature in Hollywood films; The Howling shows how it should be done.

Keep your eye-out for Roger Corman scrabbling for money in a phone-booth at the start, too. An actually funny visual in-joke – wonders will never cease.
The Howling is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is 16:9 enhanced. The picture is occasionally grainy, but is generally crisp and clear.
Well, it's in 5.1 surround, if you need it to be, and the remix is adequate. I saw it back in the day on VHS in mono, and it was still good back then, but for you audiophiles, I guess it does add a little to the listening (and viewing) experience.
Extra Features
Fuck all. This is lazy. I can't believe such a film deserved such shitty treatment at the hands of its distributors, especially when the Region 1 release comes with an audio commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, and featurettes. Pathetic in the extreme.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Howling is that rarest of horror beasts (no pun intended), a good werewolf film. These things are so few and far between it's not funny. The only problem is that this film has been dealt such a bum hand in the release stakes – it's about as bare-bones as a disc could be. I honestly consider this to be a brilliant horror movie (if hampered with the odd moment of unnecessary black humour), but when you look at the package as a whole, it ain't cutting it. What a terrible shame – seek out the best release version you can find and nab it immediately – you need to own this film.

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