Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Howling (1981)

The Howling (USA, 1981) - Color, Director(s): Joe Dante
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 91 min.

Z-rating: 3 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Although werewolves may seem like a pretty mainstream movie monster nowadays it wasn't too long ago when, with the exception of maybe Universal's Wolf Man, they were typically reserved for lower end B-movies. That forever changed in 1981 when a trifecta of werewolf movies would cement them in popular culture. Beginning first with The Howling from director Joe Dante (Gremlins), followed by Wolfen, and finally John Landis' An American Werewolf in London. The highlight of any werewolf movie is a solid transformation scene and advances in special effects allowed these movies to really stand out. Rick Baker was originally handling the special effects but left to work on An American Werewolf in London, leaving Rob Bottin in charge. Both films would be praised for their spectacular makeup effects and go on to gain a strong cult following. The Howling even spawned a franchise that added seven sequels. That's crazy considering if you went back and checked out the promotional material, even in the poster above, they tried to avoid any mention of it being a werewolf movie at all because Dante was afraid audiences would think it seemed old-fashioned.

Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, The Lords of Salem) plays Karen White, an LA news anchor who helps the police lure a psychotic stalker/serial killer by the name of Eddie Quist out to a porno theater in the red light district. Eddie refuses to reveal his face at first but when he finally tells her to turn around, what she sees is so terrifying that her mind immediately blocks it out. Karen is so traumatized by the whole experience that her therapist, Dr. George Waggner, brings her to a secluded retreat known as the Colony, where he treats his patients. After her husband is mysteriously attacked by a wolf, she calls her friend Terry Fisher who had been following up on Eddie Quist's case. Shortly after arriving at the Colony, Terry notices some of the landscape matching photographs taken from Eddie's apartment. The connection to Eddie is more than just coincidence when her investigation reveals a sinister secret hidden by the people living at the Colony.

That pile of bloody fur is a severed werewolf arm in case you're wondering

The Howling is filled with tons of references and "in-jokes" which is typical of Joe Dante's films. Terry and Chris are watching The Wolf Man on TV when Karen calls about her husband Bill getting bitten by a wolf and an old cartoon featuring The Big Bad Wolf is on TV at one point. The names of certain characters are references to other directors of werewolf movies like George Waggner, the director of The Wolf Man. Others include Terry Fisher being a reference to Terrence Fisher (The Curse of the Werewolf), R. William Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), Freddie Francis (Legend of the Werewolf), Erle Kenton (House of Dracula), Sam Newfield (The Mad Monster), Charles Barton (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), and Lew Landers (The Return of the Vampire). There are plenty of recognizable faces such as James McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Dick Miller, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, and plenty of others. There are even cameo appearances from Forrest Ackerman, founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland, seen with a copy of his magazine and legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman.

Ugh... that is the least appetizing burger I've ever seen. And why are coroners always eating in this movies?

Nudity: After meeting Eddie at the porno theater, Karen is forced to watch a video of a topless woman getting raped. There's also a sex scene where we get a glimpse of some full frontal nudity before they turn into cartoon werewolves and bone in the darkness.

Gore: A severed werewolf arm changes back to a human arm, a werewolf gets a face full of acid right after the big transformation scene then shows up later in human-form looking like he just finished making out with a wood chipper, a decapitated cow's head is shown, and various people are attacked by werewolves. Nothing too gory but the special effects are top notch!

Probably the goriest scene in the movie

Awesome: Very. I think the movie had a solid foundation rather than just being a werewolf movie. They specifically mention Guyana in reference to cult leader Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, the incident which would also serve as inspiration the 2013 film, The Sacrament. You could substitute werewolves with the Devil and have a movie about a Satanic cult. At its core, the story was very much about a cult-like community at the Colony where the people also happened to be werewolves as well. The solid story with the fantastic makeup effects just made for a home run film. In fact, it was the amazing job Joe Dante and producer Michael Finnell did on this movie that landed them the opportunity to make Gremlins.