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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Howling (1981)
(2017 Reissue)


Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone and Belinda Balaski
Distributor: StudioCanal
Certificate: 18
Release Date: 09 October 2017

Karen White is a news reader and investigative journalist. She is contacted by a serial killer known as Eddie, who wants to meet her. Led by telephone calls to the red light district she enters a sex shop’s pornographic film booth (like you do). Even though she carries a wire trace fitted by her TV crew the connection is lost, and the hunt is on to find her before it’s too late. Karen has witnessed something so terrifying that her mind has blocked it out. It doesn’t stop her having regular nightmares. A doctor psychiatrist recommends she take a break at a small rural community. However, the coastal location isn’t as idyllic as it seems. As if losing her partner to the local man-eater (in both senses of the word) isn’t bad enough, it seems the community harbours a sinister secret. It is a secret which they will protect from outsiders at all cost...

I last reviewed the Special Edition DVD of this film back in 2004, and the bottom line was I was far from impressed. I considered The Howling only an average example of this horror sub-genre. I actually remember enjoying the documentary more than the feature itself.

So, with this newly remastered DVD, have I changed my mind… and, more importantly, has it stood the test of time? Well, that’s not an easy one to answer in a single sentence. The film’s imagery is very firmly fixed in the 1980s, which does age the product significantly. I will admit there are some impressive sequences, but the one major factor which lets it down is the pace. Any tension which has been built leaks away pretty quickly. The screw should be tightened progressively through the plot; instead loose editing has overly-long or nonsense scenes which might be described as light-hearted but are quite simply not. An American Werewolf in London managed to get the balance just right, whereas The Howling just shouldn’t have bothered. This is not necessarily a reflection on Director Joe Dante, it’s just a different type of film which could have gained a lot by tightening-up the script and playing it straight.

The likes of Patrick MacNee, Slim Pickens and John Carradine would certainly have been audience draws at the time of the film’s release, and Dee Wallace seemed to be in every genre film (E.T., Cujo, Critters, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.). However, it’s Rob Bottin’s werewolf effects which steal the show in the aforementioned outstanding scenes. One such example is when Karen’s friend is attacked in the doctor’s office by a tall, suitably imposing and very impressive werewolf. Juxtapose this with when Karen herself is attacked at the same location by Eddie who takes so long to change into a werewolf that she has ample time to clear up the mess and add a fresh coat of paint to the walls and ceiling. It still makes me laugh now. Karen just stands there and stares at him; she even manages to look bored at one moment. These very differently handled scenes just don’t sit well with each other.

Supposed to shock and sadden, I suppose, the climatic piece is simply ridiculous. Karen’s ‘cute’ werewolf simply reminds me of Bungle out of Rainbow. In retrospect, perhaps that’s infinitely more frightening! I therefore have mixed feelings about The Howling and what it could have been, so my verdict remains unchanged. As in most cases, I preferred the original book (in fact, I read the three).

An hour of extras include: Howlings Eternal, with Producer Steven A Lane; Cut to Shreds, with Editor Mark Goldblatt; Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless; Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – A Look at the Film’s Locations; Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen; and an Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner.


Ty Power

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