The Howling
Special Edition

Starring: Dee Wallace and Patrick Macnee
Momentum Pictures
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 18 October 2004

Karen White is a TV reporter who offers herself as bait to catch a gristly serial killer. The perpetrator is shot by police inside a sex shop film booth (where she has been lured), but afterward Karen suffers nightmares about her ordeal. She glimpsed something inside the booth, but her mind refuses to allow her to remember. Dr George Wagner, a renowned psychiatrist recommends that she and her husband Bill go and stay at a little coastal colony where he has a place. However, the sleepy colony holds a terrifying secret of all things "Grrr!"...

While Karen jumps at every sound, Bill has a night time liaison with Marsha, the local sultry nymphomaniac, and becomes a werewolf himself after being bitten. Meanwhile, two of Karen's colleagues follow-up the story of Eddie the serial killer and discover he was from the same colony. Although shot dead by police, his body has gone missing from the morgue. And it seems that not even Dr Wagner is exactly what he appears to be.

The Howling made quite a name for itself when it materialised in the 1980s; it was more through the effects than the story, I fear, but I was interested to know what impression this might have on me roughly 20 years on from when I first saw it. It does come across as being quite dated.

Comparing it with the classic An American Werewolf In London directed by John Landis, Joe Dante's The Howling falls short every step of the way. It's by no means derisory fair, just quite ordinary and simply not scary. With a cast incorporating Slim Pickens, Patrick MacNee, Dee Wallace and John Carradine I think I can be forgiven for expecting so much more. This film relies heavily on the werewolf make-up and prosthetics which, although undoubtedly very professional, should not be the be-all and end-all of the project. In fact, the transformation effects are showcased in the scene when Eddie undergoes his change so slowly that Karen could have comfortably nipped off to put the kettle on and still made it back in time to look mildly perturbed.

Like so often before, I found myself enjoying the 50-minute documentary much more than the feature itself. It's enlightening to get the inside story from the actors (Dee Wallace couldn't get out of 'frightened victim' mode), and to hear from the crew just what was required to get this film off the ground. It made me to a certain extent re-evaluate my opinion of the main feature. The impressive photo gallery clearly proves the full werewolf image could have come across on film much better than it did, and I can only put it down to the lighting (or lack thereof). It's a real shame. Other extras include deleted scenes, outtakes and a theatrical trailer.

If you have a thing for lycanthropes then this movie may well get you your fix, but if you crave a strong story and a good balance between humour and horror in the mix, do your best to get yourself a copy of its rival, the special edition DVD of An American Werewolf In London - to see how it really should be done (even Joe Dante makes a few 'sour-grapes' comments about Landis' film).

Ty Power

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