Director – Joe Dante
Cast – Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Margie Impert, Noble Willingham, James Murtaugh, Jim McKrell
Release Year – 1981
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Werewolf films have become a well-known sub-genre in the horror realm, and despite Lon Chaney’s “Wolf Man” films of the 40s, the werewolf genre had been all but killed off…until 1981. A few months before An American Werewolf in London debuted, Joe Dante(Pirahna, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The Hole)’s The Howling kicked off the werewolf chaos, and with good results. While The Howling has been overlooked due to the film debuting the same year as the superior An American Werewolf in London, this flick still remains one of the better werewolf films, and much like its competition…comes with one of the coolest transformation scenes of all time.
The Howling stars Dee Wallace as Karen White, a popular reporter who has a near-death run in with a serial killer who had been stalking her. She survives the incident, but the mental anguish proves too much, and at the recommendation of her psychologist she takes some time off. She heads off to a rehabilitation center for those who have suffered traumatic events, and soon enough she learns there is something “not right” about the place. The creepy inhabitants of “The Colony” are harboring a dark secret, and Karen’s rehabilitation has the opposite effect.
This is the film that really gave Joe Dante the chance to become a horror legend. After the success of his 1978 film Pirahna, he found even more success with this watch, which then opened the door to the film that made him an icon…Gremlins. Dante’s direction is positive in this film, and he expertly uses the werewolves and atmosphere to his advantage. We get some sweet and gory werewolf action, excellent usage of the werewolf in regards to their mobility and mannerisms, and of course…a tremendous eye-popping transformation scene that etched this movie in horror history. The rest of his direction is good, but it was his werewolf-oriented scenes that stole the show in this one, naturally. The pacing is well done, although this film does tend to slow down a bit from time to time but I blame that more on the screenplay than Dante’s direction.
Based on the novel by Gary Brandner, this screenplay went through a few struggles before being fully touched up by Dante buddy John Sayles, who had previously worked with Dante on Pirahna and also penned the script for 1980’s Alligator. The storyline is a unique one for the werewolf sub-genre in that we get a protagonist who is not bitten by a wolf and then suffers the emotional turmoil that comes from it, but a protagonist that is forced to fend off a colony of werewolves, which for this film’s time had yet to be employed. I liked this original element, although thanks to a slowly-developing story it did take quite some time before things really got going. Dee Wallace sold her role very well, and we were given a high amount of conflict regarding her character. While she was not suffering the effects of a werewolf transformation, she was suffering some pretty traumatic stress over the serial-killer fiasco, which was only furthered when she stumbled upon a werewolf colony during her search for peace. Oh, and the climax to this film is BRILLIANT and shows that true horror reigns supreme in this one.
Overall, this is a sweet werewolf film that has become one of the better werewolf films of all time. We get sweet special effects, good direction, and an original werewolf story that we rarely see used in the genre. There is a reason why this watch is a classic in regards to the werewolf sub-genre, and I suggest you give it a watch and find out why.