the howling | joe dante | john sayles | terence h. winkless | dee wallace | patrick macnee | dennis dugan | werewolf | werewolves | based on | novel | gary brandner | united states | christopher stone | belinda balaski | kevin mccarthy | john carradine | slim pickens
Film: The Howling
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee and Dennis Dugan
This was a film that I actually had not seen until I was already out of college from my recollection. I know I watched the sequel when I was with my cousin and that film had me thinking this was going to be wilder than what it was. Oddly enough though, I think I saw another of the sequels too when I rented it from the video store after seeing part two. I will also be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this one the first time I saw it. I gave it a rewatch for a horror movie challenge I’m doing as it filled a couple categories for me. The synopsis is after a bizarre and near deadly encounter with a serial killer, a television newswoman is sent to a remote mountain resort whose residents may not be what they seem.
We start this off with seeing a screen and hearing different conversations in the background. One of the reporters is Karen White (Dee Wallace). She has been receiving calls from Eddie (Robert Picardo). We see his apartment and learn he’s a serial killer. He is intrigued by Karen and she agrees to meet him. Back at the studio, they are running a sting operation with the police. Her husband is R. William Neill (Christopher Stone). He is upset with how they’re running it as he doesn’t feel she is safe. The news station is run by Kevin McCarthy (Fred Francis). Currently on the air is an interview of Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who is kind of a new age guru that has just released a book.
The operation runs into some problems and they cannot hear Karen’s conversation with Eddie. She is told to go to a local porn shop and to meet him in one of the booths. She does and he comes in behind her. He starts to change, but it is dark and she can’t really see what is happening. Two cops come in and save her by shooting him through the door.
Karen attempts to get back on the air a couple days later, but she freezes up. At home Bill tries to make love to her and she can’t. She is having nightmares and having PTSD to what happened. That is when Dr. Waggner recommends she go to his retreat to rest up. Bill is also invited to come with her.
While this is going on, Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and his girlfriend Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski) are looking into Eddie. They find his apartment and see some weird drawings of him where he looks like a wolf as well as one of Karen. They also see a drawing of a bay and all of these are quite good. They’re led to a bookstore and to books on the occult.
Karen is leery when they get to the retreat. Some of the other residents there are quite odd. Erle Kenton (John Carradine) is an elderly man who tries to kill himself that first night. Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks) takes a liking to Bill. There are also Donna (Margie Impert) and her husband Jerry Warren (James Murtaugh). It should be pointed out that Bill also doesn’t eat meat and this retreat seems to have a wolf problem.
Now there is actually more to this story that I decided to hold back, because I do think this should be experienced. I will admit, after this second viewing my thoughts have come up on this one, for the reason of what they’re trying to get across.
The first thing that intrigued me is Dr. Waggner. This film is really playing on the new age healing that was popular in the late 70’s. There is this commune like retreat that these people are going to and there’s just something not right about them. It is kind of hippy-ish. Marsha lives there and she really isn’t on boar either. She is an in tune with nature person and also a nymphomaniac. There’s an interesting angle with her and Bill, but it goes even deeper than that.
I also found it intriguing that Karen wasn’t raped, but she is having similar reactions like she was. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn in the novel that she actually was and the movie didn’t want to go that far. Regardless, I don’t want to diminish what happened to her, because it is traumatic. Her PTSD is straining her relationship with her husband and they are really out of sync. It makes a lot of sense why he becomes interested in Marsha as well. I definitely felt bad for her so it adds another level.
Now I never really stated what this about, but if didn’t know, it is about werewolves. I’ve really wanted to read the novel to see how close they are, because I love the idea here. Having this retreat where they are living away from people is great and they’re trying to find a way to adapt to a modern society. Those that are this creature though really believe they are superior and shouldn’t adapt, but make humans be their prey. They’re also bipedal and can change whenever they want to. I like that they are even showing the Universal classic The Wolf Man as kind of a meta way of filling in the back-story.
I will admit that the first time I saw this, I found it to be boring. I had it in my head that it was longer than what it was and was shocked to see that it is just over an hour and half. I think now that I analyze films more, that really helped me here. We don’t get a lot of werewolf action, but that is not to say that there aren’t things going on behind the scenes. This is really kind of slow burn into a solid climax for sure. It still builds tension as the mystery is built and then solved. I really like the ending and the implications of it, especially since people don’t believe what they’re seeing. This is fitting for today and the politic climate we are living in.
I’ll shift this to the acting, which I thought was pretty solid. Wallace I think is great here. When I think of her, this is one of the films that pop into my head and I really like how she plays the role. She is broken by what happens to her and it affects everything around her. I like what she decides to do in the end as well. Macnee is also solid as this doctor who has an alternative way of handling things. Dugan and Balaski are both solid. I found the latter to be very attractive as well. Stone is fine and I thought McCarthy was funny. I liked the cameos by Carradine, Slim Pickens, Noble Willingham. I also thought that Brooks and Picardo round out the film for what is needed.
Something I’ve been waiting to talk about is the effects, which are really good. It is interesting this came out the same year as An American Werewolf in London as two of the best in this subgenre came out so close to each other. I like that the werewolves are different here. We get a pretty solid transformation later in the film. I don’t think it’s as good, but I definitely think it worked. The blood and gore we do get works as well. I should give a shout out to Rick Baker who worked on this one. It is also shot very well also.
Now with that said, this film I’m definitely glad that I finally gave it a rewatch with a critical eye, because it is much better than I remembered. I think it has some interesting concepts going on and some underlying issues it is exploring. The acting really help to bring this to life and the creature effects really make them seem real. The rest of the effects were solid. I don’t know why I thought it was boring, because it was definitely paced in a way where the mystery builds and the climax gives us the creatures we want. The soundtrack really didn’t stand out to me, but is also doesn’t hurt the film. I think this is really good and one of the better werewolf films out there.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10