Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Howling

The Howling is on the short list for many people when it comes to best werewolf movies.  I already have The Wolf Man (1941), The Wolfman (2010) and An American Werewolf in London under my belt, so I thought I was overdue to watch The Howling

The story begins with plucky news reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) going undercover for a story.  There is a rapist/murderer on the loose in her city, and Karen has managed to contact someone alleging to be the killer.  In coordination with the police, Karen agrees to meet up with the killer.  Naturally, when she comes face-to-face with him, he tries to rape and murder the plucky right out of her; while I certainly don't condone rape or murder, that reaction probably shouldn't have surprised Karen.  But it did.  The police managed to kill the killrapist, AKA Eddie The Mangler (Robert Picardo, back when he had hair), but Karen was horribly traumatized, recalling nothing of her time with Eddie, except the horror.  She tries to go back to work, but falls victim to frequent flashbacks to her brush with death.

On the advice of her therapist, Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone), join the doctor at The Colony, his secluded countryside resort.  Here, they meet an odd assortment of folks, including a boisterous sheriff (Slim Pickens), a suicidal old man speaking jibberish (John Carradine), and a blunt nymphomaniac named Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), among others. 
There's a bone-related nympho-Flinstones joke here, but I can't work it out.  Any ideas?
It doesn't take long for the audience to figure out that there is a connection between Eddie The Mangler and The Colony; in fact, it becomes clear rather quickly that The Colony is a resort for werewolves.

In a movie like this, the premise is always going to be the star over the acting.  To be fair, this is a pretty cool premise; where most werewolf movies focus on one character becoming a werewolf, The Howling decides to crank it up to eleven and have a large group of werewolves causing havoc.  It's like Aliens a decade early.
That said, the acting in The Howling is pretty okay.  Dee Wallace is a bit more of a victim than I like in my heroines, but she was fine otherwise.  Future director Dennis Dugan shows up to save the day in an adequate fashion.  I wasn't impressed by any of the werewolves, though.  Elisabeth Brooks, in particular, felt like she was channeling a 50s B-movie character.  Aside from her, the werewolves were largely interchangeable, although none of them were bad.

Like I said, though, this film was never going to be about the actors.  It is about the werewolves, which makes it odd that we don't see any werewolves until the 42-minute mark.  After that, there are wolves a-plenty, but I was surprised at how slowly The Howling began.  The werewolves look pretty good, too, when they are fully wolfed-out. 
When they are transitioning from their human form into a wolf, though, things get a little weird and crappy-looking.
The special effects do look good, but I wasn't a fan of how people morphed into wolves; they got bulgy, with what appeared to be air bubbles under the skin doing most of the work.  Sure, this was 1981, and the finished effects looked pretty great, but...ugh.  That disappointed me to the point where I found myself laughing whenever I saw the bulges start.  Werewolf sex is also kind of gross, too.  I don't know how many other films have spent time with werewolves in coitus, but I was more than a little creeped out by it.
This is her "O" face

Thankfully, director Joe Dante doesn't take this movie too seriously.  It doesn't have the comedy chops of An American Werewolf in Paris, but it lightens the mood with some decent quips and many clever in-jokes.  For instance, any time a television or nook is shown on-screen, it is referencing a movie or book (respectively) about werewolves.  There are a few cameos in the movie, too; I caught Roger Corman on my own, but I've heard that writer/director John Sayles has a bit role, too.  The cast members are also named after famous directors of classic horror flicks, which is a treat for genre fans; I will admit that I only caught the reference to The Wolf Man (1941) director, George Waggner, when I saw the character's name spelled on IMDb.  Dante was able to make great use of the special effects (even if I don't care for wolf bubbles) and he crafted an atypical werewolf movie with a pretty cool ending.
That ending doesn't prevent Dugan from directing seven Adam Sandler movies, sadly

Even though I liked the direction, the special effects, and the premise, I didn't like The Howling all that much.  It is certainly a better-than-average horror movie, but the first half just felt glacially slow to me.  When you combine that with weird werewolf sex (which was very obviously partially animated), wolf bubbles, and a script that I found clever, but not funny, you get a slight disappointment.  Granted, I may have had too high of expectations for this film, and I will definitely give it another shot later, but I'm going to say that this one is only okay.


  1. Surely Teen Wolf should be on your werwolf list!

  2. Well, this month is dedicated to horror movies. I consider Teen Wolf a documentary.