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STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 91 minutes
• Audio Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Photo Gallery
• Horror’s Hallowed Grounds
Werewolves exist! They love sex! Reporters can be furry!
Joe Dante (writer/director). Dee Wallace. Christopher Stone. Patrick Macnee. Dennis Dugan. Slim Pickins. Elisabeth Brooks. Kevin McCarthy. Belinda Balaski. John Carradine.
I love Joe Dante. As a filmmaker. As a horror icon. As a student of film. As a person who has stayed on point for many decades. Since I saw The Howling in theaters as a nine year old with a cool dad I’ve disliked what many consider to be his best film. I’ve loved Joe Dante, except for this 80’s classic.
I believe that you’re either a Howling person or an American Werewolf person. You can love both but at risk of death to choose between the two there’s a line. I’m an American Werewolf person to the death. In fact it’s in my top twenty movies of all time. The Howling was a movie I’ve tried to like twenty different times, one I’ve respected more than liked. I read the books (who could forget the “rhythmic slap-slap of bellies” line from the second book) and have seen at least four of the awful sequels. And though they really haven’t had anything to bump them to the upper tier of horror I love me some werewolves.
When the blu-ray arrived I figured me and The Howling would have one more dance before going our separate ways.
Yep, I was right all along.
Hatched in an era of prosthetic effects and air bladders and puppetry, The Howling is one of the last old school horror classics. There’s a charm to how Dante uses the craft. It’s also at times very difficult to take seriously. Rob Bottin did the absolute best practical effects movie of all time in John Carpenter’s The Thing but a lot of his work here suffers both in execution and in how it was photographed. The camera lingers and allows the viewer to see the seams where John Landis and Rick Baker used their editing with scalpel precision to help sell their rival werewolf experience near flawlessly. This film has its effects moments and there’s surely a charm to the approach. The best moments usually involve a werewolf post-transformation. The wiry and scary designs are hampered when put into motion but there’s no denying the quality of the intent. The transformations themselvessuffer, with air bladders under the surface of the makeup and lots of sound design trying too hard to carry the load.
I’m aware this is an unpopular opinion. And hey, how about that campfire scene. Holy shit.
Where the film excels is in its narrative. The story of a reporter (The always likable Dee Wallace) tracking a serial killer (Robert Picardo, who went from scary to bald in record time) to his death and rebirth as the craziest werewolf in a commune full of them introduces some fun new spins on the genre. There’s also quite a good bit of acting work from everyone involved though Christopher Stone is so stiff he made Old Chief Woodenhead blush. Wallace is very good, Belinda Balaski is fantastic and given an absolutely garbage death scene [I expect better from you, Dante!], and Picardo and Elisabeth Brooks carve menacing footholds as the villains. If you were a young man in the 80’s and the oft-naked Brooks (R.I.P.) didn’t give you massive rerouting of blood you weren’t alive.
The film also features an absolutely great ending featuring the news, a hairy anchor, death, and the cooking of meat. Not a terrible amount to hate in that.
The Howling is pretty good. Not great. Not even what I’d consider a seminal piece of the genre aside from the fact that there are so few good werewolf films that it ekes in by default. It’s all about the buildup and the mystique and the fact it features so many genre heavies that it seems impossible for it not to live up to the hype.
It doesn’t. Sorry.
Great special features help this disc immeasurably. A great commentary track. Great documentaries. Another really solid bit of work from Sean Clark with his excellent “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” series. Tons and tons of bells and whistles. And a solid transfer. If you love the movie this is an absolute must-buy. Me, I appreciate it but after 30 years of trying and wanting to be a fan of The Howling, I’m out.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars