Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Favorite Era: The Howling (1981)

The early 80's were a fantastic time to be a horror fan, especially if you dug cutting edge special effects.  The Howling is based on a novel by Gary Brandner and tells the story of news reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) who is traumatized after nearly being killed by serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo).  She is sent to a retreat in the woods of California by a doctor played by Patrick Macnee and as bad luck would have it, it is a colony for werewolves.

Joe Dante directs with his usual skill and flair for offbeat dark comedy and references to classic monster movies (most of the characters are named after horror/sci-fi directors) and the screenplay by John Sayles is quite clever and witty.  Dee Wallace is good as usual and the usual Dante regulars are on hand as well to bring the goods.  Kevin McCarthy is fun as Karen's jerk of a boss; Dick Miller is funny as always in a cameo and Robert Picardo is just creepy as hell as the deranged Eddie.

Dennis Dugan and Belinda Balaski also provide strong support as co-worker friends of Karen's who are investigating the killer and there are also nice turns from John Carradine and Elisabeth Brooks as werewolves.

The acting isn't the real reason to watch this film however, as Rob Bottin turns in an amazing job with the werewolf effects.  Whereas most werewolves up till that point had been just actors with claws and half a yak glued to their face, these things are seven feet tell, scary as hell monsters that will rip your throat out and enjoy every damn minute of it!

The most impressive bit of work on display is when Eddie transforms on screen in front of Karen towards the end.  He has already killed Karen's friend (Balaski) and he takes his sweet time in a painful (the fact that he enjoys it makes it even more creepy) transformation that, along with An American Werewolf in London, set a new standard for monster f/x sequences. I think every single bit of usable footage and even a little discarded stuff was used for this sequence.

The Howling is marred only by some rather slack pacing as we get nearly a third of the way in before getting to the werewolf colony and as great as that transformation scene is, it goes on probably a little longer than it needs to.  This is made up for by a nicely dark ending as Karen, bitten in her escape from the colony, turns into a rather cute werewolf and is shot dead by a co-worker who helped her get out (Dugan).

The Howling is a very good horror movie that is topped by a later werewolf movie we'll get to further along the line.  It's well worth checking out.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.