The Howling

by on Feb.07, 2010, under Daily Review

In 1981, two very different Lycanthrope films were released. Landis offered us his witty London outing with tremendous Rick Baker effects, whilst Joe Dante made a Californian wilderness affair following a country community with a taste for raw meat. Rob Bottin competing with Baker in the wolfy transformation effects.

Dante is a fine director, one of my favourites. Gremlins, Piranha and The ‘burbs amongst my all time favourite films. He makes enjoyable all American films with good characterisation, strong performances and good solid direction. Here, with the Howling, is no exception. I was actually slightly worried watching this as even though I knew Dante would not let me down, wolf films are usually let down by effects, trying to do too much with too small a budget, and although Bottin did a fine job working with Stan Winston on The Thing, I couldn’t remember any of the effects from The Howling, and It’s been 25 years since I last watched it. On top of this, Baker is the man for wolf effects.

So how was it? Surprisingly good.

Dee Wallace plays Karen White, a TV station Anchor-girl who’s been following a spate of murders. When the Killer contacts her direct for a private meeting, she agrees. Wired with a link back to the channel, she finds herself alone in a sex shop with the killer who transforms right in front of her eyes. Karen escapes with the police turning up in the nick of time, only to find that she cannot remember anything about the encounter. Her ‘shrink’ (Patrick Macnee) advises her to take some time out, in the country at his residential retreat. But the other members of the country community are hiding a great secret.

It’s a nice film, well paced, well acted and good to watch. The effects are pretty good in places, and bloody terrible in others. There are some wolfman effects which are outstanding. The Eddie Quist transformation is quite good, but the finished result is a stunning achievement. A huge wolf beast standing on hind legs, swiping with claws and huge ears casting shadows across walls. About as perfect as it gets. This effect is 30 years old! No CGI here. The transformation between Karen’s husband Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Marsha Quist (Elizabeth Brooks) as they romp about in front of an open camp fire is pretty odd. The bodies get a bit hairy and a few fangs appear, but it’s followed up with a neat scene of animation as the wolves howl at the moon. Interesting.

Karen’s friend and co-worker Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski) is involved in one of the highlights of the film. After being chased around a lodge in the woods by a huge wolfman, she swings a wood chopping axe at the beast, hacking off it’s arm, which slowly bubbles and transforms back into that of a man.

What else is there? Roger Corman makes a cameo as a man waiting for a phone booth. It’s good to see John Carradine as one of the wolf community and Dick Miller as the bookstore owner, selling mystical books and silver bullets. Pino Donaggio score too. Also, don’t miss the final scene: Movie history.


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