The Howling

10/02/2019 06:23

Film: The Howling

Year: 1981

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee and Dennis Dugan



This was a film that I hadn’t 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 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. A confession was that 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 and I was excited to revisit this. I’ve also now gotten to see it in theater at the Drexel Theater in Columbus, Ohio.

Synopsis: 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). He is the killer from the synopsis. Karen intrigues him and she agrees to meet. 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 Fred Francis (Kevin McCarthy). Currently on the air is an interview of Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who is a new age guru that has just released a book.

The operation runs into 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. There seems to be a change coming over him, but she can’t see. It’s too dark. Two beat cops who were looking for her come in and save her by shooting through the door.

Karen tries to get back to normal and be 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 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 weird drawings where he looks like a wolf as well as one of Karen. They also see a drawing of a bay. They’re all quite good. They’re led to a bookstore and run by Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) who has a number of books on the occult.

Karen is leery when they get to the retreat. 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 doesn’t eat meat and this retreat seems to have a wolf problem.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the story. I do want to say that there is more to this story that I decided to hold back, because I do think this should be experienced. I should also say that I enjoyed this more this time around. My guess is that since my expectations have been tempered and now seeing it a few times, I settled in and looked deeper into what we get.

The first thing that intrigued me is Dr. Waggner. This plays on the new age healing that was popular in the late 70’s. There is this commune-like retreat that these people are go to and there’s something off. It feels ‘hippy-ish’. Marsha lives there and she isn’t on board either. I get the idea that she, her brother and others lived in this area originally. She is in tune with nature person and also a nymphomaniac, or that’s how she feels. There’s an interesting angle with her and Bill, but it goes even deeper than that.

I also found Karen intriguing. Her communications with Eddie and the lasting effects from it have shook her to the core. Her PTSD is straining her relationship with her husband and they are out of sync. It makes sense why he becomes interested in Marsha as well. I definitely felt bad for her so it adds another level. She never feels comfortable here so it isn’t helping. I do think that Wallace plays this role well.

Now I never said what this about, but if didn’t know, it has werewolves. I want 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 believe they’re 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 a meta way of filling in the back-story. What is interesting is that lore we associated with this creature is from that movie. This is breaking it, making them shapeshifters more and less in tune with the full moon. I liked that change as it is scarier to me.

I will admit that the first time seeing this all the way through, I did think there was a pacing issue. That’s not the case anymore. 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 a slow burn into a solid climax. It builds tension through the mystery. I love 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 today.

I’ll shift this to the acting, which I thought was good. I’ve already said that I liked Wallace. When I think of her, this is one of the films that pop into my head. How she portrays her character’s mental state is great. She is broken by what happened 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 good to build the backstory that we as the viewer need. I found the latter to be attractive as well. Stone is fine. It is interesting that he would go on to marry his co-star of Wallace for years. McCarthy was solid in his role and added levity that worked. I liked the cameos by Carradine, Slim Picken and Noble Willingham. I also thought that Brooks, Picardo, T.C. Quist, Miller, Kenneth Tobey and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what is needed.

All that is left then is filmmaking. Something I’ve been waiting to talk about is the effects, which are 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 great transformation later in the film. The blood and gore we do get works as well. I should give a shout out to Rob Bottin who worked on this one. Another thing that helped there was the cinematography. How things are framed was good. This is just shot well. The soundtrack also fit what was needed.

In conclusion, this is one that I’m shocked I didn’t like more until these last two viewings. This explores interesting concepts and underlying issues. The acting is great from Wallace and the rest of the cast is good. That brings the characters to life. The creature effects are also great. The rest of the effects were solid. I’d also say that the rest of the filmmaking is good. This is one that I highly recommend if you like werewolf films. This is one of the best.


My Rating: 10 out of 10