Redefining the werewolf genre, THE HOWLING explores the themes of New Age self-help in a unique, but unfortunately, not always successful way. The movie is remembered most notably for some astonishing practical make-up FX that would, along with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (also 1981) transform how FX were used throughout the 80’s.
Very loosely based on the novel by Gary Brandner and written by Terence H. Winkless and a pre-indie darling John Sayles, THE HOWLING follows intrepid TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) trying to make her career by interviewing the still-at-large crazed serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). When she’s almost killed herself, she decides to take a break with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) at a secluded retreat known as “The Colony.”
What she doesn’t realize is that she has just stepped into the proverbial lion’s den, or more accurately, the wolves’ den as “The Colony” is a getaway for shapeshifters trying to come to terms with their carnal desires in an attempt to live amongst the world undetected.
Directed by Joe Dante, the film (like most of his oeuvre) is darkly humorous with a certain tongue in cheek approach. Filling out the cast with a veritable who’s who of genre veterans including Slim Pickens, John Carradine and Dick Miller, THE HOWLING pays tribute and homage to the films that came before. The film also acknowledges that the characters are fully aware of the werewolf legend, having either read about it in stories or seen it in the early Universal monster films from the 30’s and 40’s.
More amusing than scary, THE HOWLING is entertaining but also clunky and clumsy at times and it takes quite a while to ramp up. But once the transformations begin, all is (almost) forgotten as Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking practical FX take center stage. Using a variety of in camera techniques, Bottin creates some of the most astounding on screen changes, most particularly when Eddie Quist goes full werewolf.
A classic of the horror genre, if you are a fan of werewolf movies and/or special FX then you definitely want to check out THE HOWLING, full moon or not.