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THE HOWLING (1981) ****

The perfect tone of The Howling is something that director Joe Dante has never been quite able to duplicate. Gremlins had more comedy than horror and Piranha was never really balls-to-the-walls scary. There’s nothing really “funny” about The Howling as it’s a fucking horror show from start to finish, but it’s filled with little quirky flourishes to keep you off balance.

Dee Wallace is a news anchor who has a run-in with a pervy psycho slasher (Robert Picardo). That encounter creeps her out so much that she represses the memory of the assault. Her doctor (Patrick Macnee) offers to let her stay at “The Colony”, a secluded place in the woods populated by his mentally unstable patients. If you couldn’t already tell from the title, the people of The Colony are all werewolves intent on turning Dee into a hot lunch.

The Howling is a horror movie made by horror fans for horror fans. It’s filled with character in-joke names and cameos by people like Roger Corman and Forrest J. Ackerman. Some people are just content to throw in a bunch of cameos and be done with it. Not Dante. He delivers on the scares big time. I think my favorite scene comes when Belinda Balaski is searching through a file cabinet and… well… she doesn’t find what she was looking for.

Part of what makes the movie so scary is the special effects by Rob Bottin. The transformation scenes are long and agonizing and go on forever. Although some get a little crazy with the air bladders, for the most part, they’re spectacular. I particularly love the way that the werewolves’ victim stands there and gawks the whole time they’re transforming instead of running for their dang lives. They obviously know a good transformation scene when they see one.

Another cool thing about the flick is its look. With all the soft neon lighting, The Howling has a very European look to it that sets it apart from the rest of the (wolf) pack. The eerie score by Pino Donaggio adds to the Euro feel and makes the movie seem like an Argento giallo in some spots.

And the cast is stellar. Dee Wallace is a terrific scream queen and Robert Picardo makes for a memorable psycho. And how can you not love any movie that features Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, John Carradine, AND Slim Pickens?

By far the one person who leaves the biggest impression is Elisabeth Brooks. Dressed in tight black leather and oozing sexuality, she remains one of the hottest of all screen werewolves. And her campfire fuck scene is one of the greatest love scenes of the 80’s.

Dante takes his time building up the werewolves’ initial appearance, but once the film grabs hold, it never lets go. And as much as I like the Network inspired ending, the final werewolf is pretty fucking weak. It looks like my grandma’s dog or something. That’s the only real false note in the entire film though.

I guess the most notable thing about The Howling series is that the sequels progressively got worse as they went along. I’ve already reviewed Part 2, which wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. So…

Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie: The Howling 3: The Marsupials.

The Howling is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1981 at the Number 7 spot; putting it in between The Seven Doors of Death and Ms. 45.

Comments

( 3 comments — Comment )
darksteel6
Oct. 13th, 2011 04:29 am (UTC)
I don't get all the hate for part 2 myself, it's so goddamn weird that you can't help but admire it at least a little bit, though I would strongly advise you to avoid New Moon Rising, by far the WORST werewolf I have EVER seen(even worse than Bloodz Vs. Wolvez, or however the hell it was spelled) that film is so godawful that it makes that MST3K Werwolf film look like An American Werewolf In London by comparison(BTW I always thought Werewolf In Paris was underrated myself). One werewolf movie I would recommend you check out is "Big Bad Wolf" it's got none other than Richard Tyson as the werewolf and it somehow strikes the right balance between comedy and horror.

Also i'd be curious to hear your opinion on the alasher film Drive Thru, it's most notable for having Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester as the final girl and having a cameo appearance by Morgan Spurlock, plus you gotta love the name "Horny The Clown"
thevideovacuum
Oct. 13th, 2011 11:22 am (UTC)
The only time I saw New Moon Rising was on Joe Bob Briggs. I actually think Part 5 is worse than that one though. I'm only covering Parts 1, 3, and 4 because that's all I have in my collection. Never did get to see part 6 though; although many say it's the best sequel in the series.

I agree with you on AWIP. It was just different enough from the first one to have a vibe of it's own. If only they had made it about five years later so the CGI would've been better.

I have Drive Thru on my Netflix Queue because a friend of my recommended it but I'm not sure exactly where on the Queue it is. (I've got over 400 movies on there.)
darksteel6
Oct. 13th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
I thought part 5 was OK, at least it didn't act as a showcase for godawful country music bands like NMR did. Also here's the trailer for Big Bad Wolf in case you're thinking of adding it to your queue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD0-Q3845xo
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