The werewolf movie is a sub-genre that seems destined for mediocrity. It just appears to be so difficult to make a good werewolf movie, as there are so few out there to speak of. One upside to that is, when a good werewolf movie does come along, we take notice.
1981 was a good year for werewolf movies, as it marks the release of not only An American Werewolf in London, but also tonight’s hair raising feature, The Howling.
Year Released: 1981
Written By: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless (based on the novel The Howling by Gary Brandner)
Directed By: Joe Dante
Starring: Dee Wallace Stone, Dennis Dugan, Patrick Macnee
After a traumatic encounter with murderer Eddie Quist, news anchor Karen White and her husband Bill follow the advice of her therapist and go away for a vacation at The Colony, a woodsy resort hidden away from the rest of the world where people go to get away from there issues.
It’s a thriving community of odd characters, but Karen and Bill feel out of place and one resident of The Colony, Marsha, makes her attraction to Bill very clear. Although Bill refuses her advances, the whole ordeal leaves Karen shaken. Later that night, while walking back to their cabin, Bill is attacked by a large animal in the woods and begins to feel strange as the night progresses.
As they continue their stay at The Colony, and as Bill continues to change over time, Karen begins to suspect that her therapist did not tell her everything and what’s worse, she begins to suspect that Eddie Quist has followed them.
As she searches for clues and tries to uncover the truth about The Colony, Eddie Quist, and what’s happening to Bill, Karen must face the scars left by her encounter with Eddie as well as an entirely different sort of beast that awaits her within.
I saw The Howling and An American Werewolf in London at roughly the same age and they both effected me in different ways. Whereas An American Werewolf in London was a brilliant fusion of both horror and comedy, The Howling was all horror and it scared the living hell out of me. It still puts me on edge when I watch it, even though I’ve seen it countless times.
The makeup/creature design is delightfully creepy, and rightfully so, as Rick Baker served as a consultant. Baker started out as chief effects guru on the film but ended up having to leave to work on An American Werewolf in London, for which he later won the very first Academy Award for Best Makeup, and so he took on the job of consultant. The real heavy lifting in the monster makeup of this movie belongs to Rob Bottin, who went on to work on the effects design for John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing, along with Stan Winston. His work on the transformation sequence in The Howling in which Eddie Quist turns into a werewolf on screen is truly one of the most disturbing and cool looking transformation sequences I’ve seen in a werewolf movie.
The acting and writing is pretty typical of an early 1980s horror film, which is to say that it is not bad enough to deter you from enjoying the film.
Joe Dante once again proves he is one hell of a horror director with this movie, as he does a phenomenal job with making it feel dark and truly scary.
Should You See It:
Yes. There is a lot to appreciate about this movie. The transformation sequences alone are worth seeing.
Unfortunately, The Howling spawned a long running series of very bad sequels (you see where I’m going with this). Two of which I’ve reviewed over at BadSequels.Com: