Friday, October 3, 2014

Festival Of Fear, Day 3 ~ Friday Flashback: The Howling (1981): "You Can't Tame What's Meant To Be Wild"

The Howling has the unique distinction of being released the same year as two other werewolf films, the wildly popular An American Werewolf in London, and the lesser known (and rather bizarre) Wolfen.  All three films hail from the greatest year in horror: 1981.
Joe Dante (Gremlins) directed this feature, and it has a really outstanding score from the great Pino Donaggio.

In its day, The Howling had heaps of praise dumped on it for its impressive practical effects, and boasted a really decent transformation brought to us by Rob Bottin, an understudy of Rick Baker, who would later astonish us with his work in John Carpenter's The Thing, among other work.

It is loosely based on a book by Gary Brandner and brings us the story of Karen White (Dee Wallace), a popular television news anchor who is on the trail of serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who is menacing the city with unusually violent kills and now has his eye on Karen. She helps the police set up a trap for the murderer by meeting him in a seedy porno shop with a theater in the back.  Eddie forces Karen to watch a video of a woman getting raped, but he won't let her see his face.  He whispers that he has something to show her, and just as she turns around to look him in the eye, the police arrive and shoot him dead as she is screaming.

Suffering from PTSD, Karen is unable to recall the traumatic incident, and can't remember just what was so terrible that she was screaming.  She also cannot render a mental picture of Eddie's face.  What was so awful?
She tries traditional therapy at the urging of her husband Bill (Christopher Stone, who later married Wallace) but without success, prompting her therapist to suggest a getaway to The Colony, a secluded retreat north of the city.

Upon arrival, Karen and Bill are greeted by a conglomerate of unique, bordering on bizarre, resort-goers. They immediately take a special interest in the couple, trying to make them feel welcome and advising them to settle in, that they will "love it here".  In particular, a sexy she-bitch Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks) sets her sights on Bill, and eventually tries to seduce him outright.  When he refuses her come-on, he is attacked and bitten by a huge wolf-creature on the way back to his cabin.  Later in the middle of the night, Bill is seemingly 'called' to the woods, where Marsha is waiting for him.  They have feral sex by a roaring fire and are soon seen shape-shifting into wolves.  The next morning Karen notices the deep scratch wounds on Bill's back and realizes he has been with Marsha. 

Admitting something very strange is going on, Karen contacts her friend Terri (Belinda Balaski) who makes her way up to the Colony, after a discussion with her news producer boyfriend Chris (Dennis Dugan) about the various possibilities of what could be going on.  Being an investigative reporter, she has been following the Eddie Quist case and finds a strange connection once at the retreat.

 Unfortunately, Eddie isn't dead, and reappears just in time to thwart her plans to uncover the secret of the colony.  Soon after, Karen and Chris (who has made his way to the Colony as well) are forced to face the truth about what is going on, and end up fighting for their lives, let alone their humanity.  The scene in which Karen finally confronts Eddie and he transforms into a werewolf in front of her very eyes is one of my favorites in horror.

The Howling is at times, silly.  There is a boat-load of intentional humor within the film, but the 80's-style levity only endears the picture more to its generation.  It also has a laundry list of cameos in it as well, including folks like Roger Corman and Forrest J. Ackerman.
When I was a young teen, this flick was the bomb, I loved it. It holds a great amount of nostalgia for me, and I still find myself watching it again and again.

In horror, there really aren't a whole lot of decent werewolf movies.  It's an underutilized sub-genre with not a lot of worthy additions (I'd count An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers in the small circle, but not a whole lot else).  I've loved The Howling since it was released.  With it, Friday the 13th, and Halloween, I had a little go-to Trifecta of horror films I could come back to many times and never get sick of.  The effects and decent acting drew me in to The Howling, and it has great atmosphere:  dark woods, shifty eccentrics, and loads of fog rolling in. It doesn't resort to the whole "full moon" gag that every other werewolf film overuses, it implies that these people can shift into monsters at any given time, it doesn't have to be a full moon.  Which, if I'm being honest, is a whole lot scarier than knowing you have about 29 more days till you have to worry. 

I can't say much for the mostly-horrible multiple sequels that followed, but I will vouch for the greatness of this '81 classic.  If you've never seen it (who are you??), you need to take a trip up to The Colony.  You won't be disappointed.


ShellHawk said...

This is one of my favorite werewolf films, too! One of these fine days, I'm going to have to buy the darn thing! :)

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I actually think "The Howling" is the best werewolf movie ever made. The other ones that you girl-tioned in this reveiw are all ludicrously over-rated.

Christine Hadden said...

ShellHawk: I have the two disc special edition...I'm truly devoted to this little gem :)

JBH: I do believe The Howling is probably my favorite, but An American Werewolf in London is a close second. Despite its various praises, Ginger Snaps is mediocre at best, for me anyway. Wolfen is not great. But Dog it. Super violent and gory. How can one resist?