Werewolf movies are an interesting subgenre in the horror realm, most fans can point to the first creation The Wolf Man , but if one accelerates through the decades and makes a hard stop in the 80s, easily everyone decided it was time to howl at the moon. In 1981, the cycle of the werewolf movies, officially began its hunt, that year alone had seven films of this subgenre, among them Wolfen, Full Moon High, The Monster Club, and of course An American Werewolf of London (which I favor a tad more) and The Howling. These two films would forever be in competition with each other, The Howling, proceeded the London movie by 4-months, would go on to spawn 7-sequels, though noting it is wacky franchise, but likely not bizarre as both Witchcraft  (which has 14-sequels) and The Amityville Horror  (10-sequels). The movie, with a budget of $1 million, gave audiences a refreshing take of this beast and lycanthropy, which largely absent for the past 20-years, during that period approximately 8-films existed on those themes, but they made sure to include vintage scenes from the werewolf history and cross over to touch on crime dramas which had saturated the market at the time. Then adding in plenty of violence, transformations, severed limbs, regeneration, werewolves galore along with mating rituals and of course nudity, made it very popular with the teenage market too; all of it earned $17 million (nearly $50 million in today’s value). Director Joe Dante (Gremlins ) reteamed with screenwriter John Sayles (Alligator ), both who worked on Piranha , and whose author Gary Brandner novel as the basis for the film, although Gary’s storyline is thoroughly different from the film; they worked to create a balanced script that featured horror in the forefront and some humor in undertones which comes from some the secondary character actors.
The story starts with Karen White (Dee Wallace (ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard )), a TV news reporter who’s been in communication with a brazen serial killer named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo (Jack’s Back )), and now on a fateful night has arranged, with the backing of her station manager Fred Francis (Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers )) to meet him, with police prepared to pounce. In her travels we are treated to a cameo appearance from Roger Corman, then inside a then real porn store, which Wallace was extremely uncomfortable and its clearly shown on her face. Eddie’s calling card is a smiley face sticker, which directs her to enter a porno-booth, he appears in darkness behind her making her watch a violent rape flick (which is fake, but appears very realistic, in fact there’s a rumored longer version that loops the images, though only shows topless scenes); the inclusion of this controversial scene was to allude to the Eddie’s beast his impure impulse for brutal carnality. Anyway, before Eddie can immerse Karen into his world further, a young officer shoots blindly into the booth killing him, who’s partnered with an older officer (Kenneth Tobey (The Thing from Another World )). It all becomes a traumatic moment for her and therapist, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee (Waxwork )), who was working at the station, sends Karen and husband Bill (Christopher Stone (Cujo )) to “the Colony,” a remote camp in the woods where he leads therapeutic encounters. At the colony there’s plenty of animals both human and not, in fact some are truly looney tunes, and the dense woods add to the creepy atmosphere with both claustrophobia and paranoia devices used to bring some more mystery into the film. Karen suffers of vivid dreams of the attack but finds some comfort from Donna, another patient at the retreat, who engaged every psychological therapy possible in hopes to become a real human being soon. It’s that subtle line that utters hints to a bigger issue, which is something that sets The Howling apart from many other werewolf films, embracing their “curse” in modern society rather seeking a cure. Along the way Erle (John Carradine (The Sentinel )) who seeks to return to the old ways as does Sam (Slim Pickens (This House Possessed )) and then the seductive Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), whose very hungry for something meaty.
Soon enough Marsha has a very exposing and seductress fireside scene with a new love interest, and into a bit of animation of mating season. Meanwhile Karen’s friend and colleague Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski (Locusts )) and her boyfriend and Chris (Dennis Dugan) are doing further research background on Eddie. They soon discover someone stole his body, though the Morgue Attendee (cameo by John Sayles) shows it was clearly an inside job. Afterwards, the audience is treated to a wonderful, strange bookstore scene involving on Dante’s favorite actors Dick Miller (Chopping Mall ) as Walter while in the store we have another cameo appearance from Forrest J. Ackerman (Queen of Blood ). Terry ventures up to Colony but runs into not-a-so Howling goodtime, she does manage to get a frantic call to her boyfriend, from there it’s a frenzy finish.
The key aspect of the film focuses on special effects, which originally had Rick Baker to do them, but he left to work on An American Werewolf in London , however he left them in the capable hands of his assistant Rob Bottin, and either case both of men receive immense credit for their werewolf creations and transformation, the only key difference between Dante’s flick had then bipedal as opposed to on all-fours. Bottin, did have to deal with a few problems, the numerous hours to do the excess work for the Eddie character, which greatly affected the mood of Robert Picardo. Although, many of the werewolves appeared the same, Wallace wanted hers to look more feminine and partially like a cat, much to the displeasure of Bottin and fans alike.
As previously mentioned, there’s plenty of cameo appearances but few other little tidbits that fans likely know about the film, first Mick Garris makes an ultra-quick appearance and so does the legendary horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. just not revealing where they each star, and then there’s the character names many of them are named after directors of werewolf movies. One cannot overlook the composer Pino Donaggio’s (Carrie ) input into the film, now some state it mirrors that of Bernard Herrmann, while that’s likely true for a few of Brian De Palma movies it’s too great of a leap for this film, except perhaps the “Eddie’s Room” and “Run for Your Life” sequences, otherwise is very symphonic it many places, as well as incorporating, brass, organ, and various other elements to achieve a solid horror blend. Strangely enough, while there was no merchandise for the film, aside from the original novel and movie poster, for some an interesting collector piece became highly sought, a Parker-Hale Sniper Rifle, a bolt-action rifle used by Chris Halloran and of course pure silver bullets, costing over $700. Finally, while the film had wonderful box office success, it sadly followed by a slew of less than desirable sequels.
As previously mentioned, the movie was released when crime and mystery drama films were still garnishing a lot of attention, hence opening with clear b-movie murder mystery gave it the ability to stand on its own; then aided with believable characters doing rational things for the most part, works to capture the attention of an audience. In addition, like many other franchises, the sequels often became very forgettable, although those seeking the closest in faithful adaption of Gary’s novel should view Howling IV: The Original Nightmare . Overall, the film generates a lot of positives for the viewers from the very good special effects to the seduction for the return of the creature to screen, while many may deem it silly, it still contains many enjoyable scenes especially for b-movie lovers.
- What she has witnessed, she cannot escape. What he has become, he cannot control. And what you experience, no one will believe until they come face to face with the inhuman fear that is the howling.
- All your nightmares are about to be transformed into one single inescapable fear!
- They’re out there – and you’re in the middle of your worst nightmare…
- When the howling starts… the horror begins!
- Beyond anything human.
- Imagine your worst fear a reality.
IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10
Howling II: … Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)
Howling III (1987)
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) (Video)
Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)
Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) (Video)
Howling: New Moon Rising (1995) (Video)
The Howling: Reborn (2011) (Video)