The Howling (1981) — A werewolf flick with real bite

“A secret society exists, and is living among all of us. They are neither people nor animals, but something in-between.”

Justin’s rating: I’ve been stuck in half-werewolf mode for most of my life and nobody’s making a movie about me.

Justin’s review: Despite both movies coming out in 1981 and centering around werewolves, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling couldn’t be more different in tone. The former sloshed in a generous amount of humor and the bizarre, while the latter is a much more somber mixture of serial killers and deep woods folklore.

Karen White (Dee Wallace, E.T.) gets one of the shortest ends of the stick I’ve ever seen in a horror movie heroine. She’s a news reporter who’s first dangled as bait for a serial killer named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo, Star Trek Voyager) — who almost gets her, thanks to inept security — and then is shipped off to a dodgy place called “The Colony” for some rehab.

Naturally, this is the same place that her serial killer friend visits, it’s full of unhinged lunatics, AND it’s a breeding ground for lycanthropes. It’s kind of like a summer camp for adults, with a Jason Vorhees or scary forest noises as a standard part of the package. Also, everyone has guns, which is not as comforting when you consider that anyone and everyone might be hiding an inner wolf.

It’s like everyone who knows her has conspired to mess her up and good. I guess we can consider this some sort of immersion therapy, but it does seem unnecessarily thoughtless on the part of everyone who cared about her. It really doesn’t help that her husband gets infected early on. Only one thing is for certain: Karen’s going to end up more crazy coming out of this place than going into it.

Aside from the traditional presence of Dick Miller, I wouldn’t have pegged The Howling as a Joe Dante flick if I saw it blind. It’s a lot more serious and less cheeky than his later works, that’s for sure. We spend a lot of time dipping into Karen’s strained psyche through flashbacks and dream sequences — not really my favorite sort of film technique, to be honest. It’s only in the last half hour that we get full-blown werewolf action, and even then it’s not quite what I had expected.

But what I’m here for is primarily two things: Awesome werewolf transforming scenes and werewolf hunting. So how does The Howling fare in this regard? I’d say pretty well. I admire the ingenuity of pre-CGI practical effects, and the team here did a fantastic job pulling off some crazy transformations.

I didn’t find it as fun of a movie as I was hoping, but I have to admit that the “cult compound” angle does a lot to differentiate this from the many other ’80s werewolf flicks. It’s a darker Dante experience, but for some that might be a huge selling point. For me, I’d rather wait for the Dante of Gremlins and Innerspace.

Didja notice?

  • All the smiley face stickers
  • Your reporter is being stalked and you don’t provide any security?
  • Someone really wanted to escape that morgue
  • “I’m not really sure how cows are supposed to sound.”
  • What’s a cowjacker?
  • So they use a crazy kid as an animal sniffer?
  • Ooh the Vertigo shot
  • Hatchet through the arm… that can’t feel good. But then the arm LIVES!
  • Those werewolves have really long ears
  • That incredible transformation scene
  • “Not all of us have the money for a Mazda!”
  • The look when the werewolves realize that the guy’s got silver bullets
  • “The newslady’s turned into a werewolf!” And an adorable one at that.

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