Monday, October 6, 2014

The Howling

During the month of October, I have many go-to DVDs and Blu-Rays that I make sure to watch.  I really don’t know why these films seem more entertaining now than if I decide to view them in, let’s say, the spring.  Maybe it’s the time change, where this month is the period when the nights come sooner, darkening the skies around five or so.  Perhaps it’s just a subconscious thing that makes me want to see these types of flicks.  Possibly, what makes the most sense is comparing it to watching Christmas movies.  You don’t usually want to see a Christmas movie in July, do you?  So the same can be said about movies that take place during the fall.  I guess it’s just a given that October is the month to see horror movies and that’s why this is my favorite time of the year.

I’ve mentioned it a few times over the course of my reviews that I keep all my home media—DVDs and Blu-Rays—in binders, being able to gather more movies that way rather than keeping them in their cases and taking up too much room on my bookshelf.  I’ve also probably beat the dead horse by explaining it time and time again that horror films from the 1980s are the ones that I prefer to watch.  So when October comes around, it becomes a perfect storm for my movie-watching.

But out of all the discs I go through, I sometimes have a difficult time in trying to pick something out.  Am I in the mood for zombies?  How about vampires?  Old time classics?  Do I go with the tried and true slashers?  Sometimes, I’m standing in front of the bookshelf, leafing through my binders for minutes at a time before I settle on a title.  But if I ever get a hankering for a werewolf movie, there are usually two films I flip a coin on.  Sometimes I go with the John Landis classic, An American Werewolf in London.  But other times, like this instance, I go with The Howling.

Recently, Scream! Factory (the subsidiary tier of Shout! Factory) had released this film on Blu-Ray, giving it a fantastic treatment with terrific clarity and awesome sound.  My DVD was becoming worn out, the look and sound becoming very apparent that is wasn’t up to snuff with the advent of HDTVs and surround sound, so when Scream! Factory announced they were going to release a Blu-Ray version of The Howling, I pre-ordered it as soon as I could.  As I had already collected quite a few titles from them—which isn’t hard to do since they seem to be releasing all my favorites, especially quite a few movies that have been out-of-print or never released on home media—the disc was happily added to my growing collection.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown to director Joe Dante’s 1981 classic, The Howling

Television news anchor, Karen White (Dee Wallace), is traumatized after being involved in the death
of a serial killer, Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), whom she had helped police track down and kill.  Her therapist, Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), advises Karen to take time off and suggests she go to a retreat, called The Colony, to recuperate.  Along with her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone), Karen travels to The Colony for some rest and relaxation, being welcomed by all the other residents of the haven.  Soon, however, she realizes that the people there are all werewolves.

The Howling is definitely a nostalgic piece that many people today, especially the younger crowd that is used to seeing CGI in all aspects of a film, would scoff at the pacing.  It certainly takes its time and doesn’t show too much in the man-to-werewolf transformation department.  But that’s how films were back then, giving us a sense of tension by implying dread and bad things to come.  Character development is sadly lacking in today’s horror movies, but it’s here in this film which helps the story out intricately.

Dee Wallace certainly solidifies herself as one of the best scream queens of the 80s in this film as this is where she really started it all.  Though she’s had bit parts in numerous television shows and a few movies throughout the 70s, The Howling was her first starring role that made her a household name and a face of the 80s.  It’s nice to watch her in this film and see how she became a go-to actress for quite a few horror films in the 80s and 90s, even still acting in some of the best ones today.  She’s terrific in this one and I can’t see anyone else in the part.

All in all, the actors and actresses in this film pull off some excellent and believable performances, but it helps when you have some of the best direction from Joe Dante himself.  He definitely has a style in his films that you can distinguish while watching.  After watching The Howling, take a look at some of his other films he followed this with, like his segment on Twilight Zone: The MovieGremlins, and The ‘Burbs, and you’ll certainly notice his style of direction.  There’s always a quirkiness to his films and you’ll find yourself enjoying them a lot more because of the dark humor inflicted throughout each one.

Now, I’d mentioned before how I usually have to decide between An American Werewolf in London andThe Howling, and it turns out both movies have a lot in common.  First off, Rick Baker was actually tied to doing the makeup effects for this film before taking on the duties in the John Landis film.  In his departure, the responsibilities were handed to Baker’s assistant, Rob Bottin.  So, between the years of 1981 and 1982, there were two werewolf films made that included two makeup artists of the same caliber doing the transformation effects.  The results?  Both films were noted for having a standout werewolf transformation that had never been seen before (at that time).  Most everyone (horror movie fans anyway) are familiar with the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London, but not too many people remember the part in The Howling where the character of Eddie Quist turns into a werewolf.  Although by today’s standards, it might be a little slow and exhaustive, but it really showcased some originality and creativity by Bottin.  What I liked about his strategy of the transformation and the subsequent monster design was that it seemed surreal and was perfect for a crazy movie like this one.

Okay, so there’s one scene that stands out as looking a little cartoonish—literally—and that’s the sex scene between the characters of Bill and Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks).  At first, their transformations were the norm, showing their faces contorting a bit and teeth beginning to grow, but it ends with a wide shot of them turning into werewolves before panning up and away from them.  The thing about that last cut was that it was decided upon to represent it with animation.  Since the scene was very quick, it can be forgiven, but it’s still there and very evident.  I guess we can all view it as a precursor to CGI, looking at it as Joe Dante being ahead of his time, so that’s that. 

Now, my final “bit” on The Howlingis that it’s a classic and cult favorite that you should see if you call yourself a horror movie fan.  The film is definitely an 80s movie, but it doesn’t throw in all kinds of clich├ęs and styles of that era.  You can definitely see this as a timeless flick that doesn’t get bogged down with devices and subtleties of the year this was filmed…well, maybe a little.  But this movie should not be missed during this time of the year.

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween!

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