Wednesday, October 28, 2009

HORROR EPICS: The Howling (1980)

Released around the same time as An American Werewolf in London, and I gotta admit that I’m on the side that enjoys that movie more. But that’s not to say that The Howling doesn’t deliver the goods. Director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles tackle the subject of lycanthropy after pairing up for the funny Jaws parody Piranha two years prior. Dee Wallace is TV news reporter Karen White. She suffers a traumatic encounter with a serial killer, and is having difficulty dealing with it. Her therapist decides to send her for treatment with her husband to The Colony, his secluded psychiatric resort. But what Karen didn’t read in the brochure was that The Colony is actually a front for a pack of werewolves. That’s certainly not going to help her get her head on straight. The Howling is not without a sense of humor, which is to be expected from the parties involved. It’s been mentioned as the first self-referential horror movie, years before Wes Craven did Scream. Some of the film’s characters are named after directors of old werewolf movies, and there’s often something wolf-related going on in the background. But the best thing about the humor is that, in a way, it’s only there if you want it to be. The comedic elements don’t overshadow the fact that this is a horror movie in the end. Things take a while to heat up and the movie slows down at times. But the story is interesting enough at least. One might have to consider that the special effects were state-of-the-art in their day, but the werewolves still look cool to me at least. The support cast includes Patrick Macnee (Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in This is Spinal Tap), Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles), and John Carradine. The Howling may not be held in as high of a regard as An American Werewolf in London, but I think it’s had a longer-lasting effect. For instance, it’s worth noting what The Howling did for certain people involved. Special effects genius Rob Bottin first turned heads in his direction with his rendition of the werewolves. Joe Dante further established himself by directing a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie and hit it big with Gremlins. Dee Wallace met future husband Christopher Stone (who actually plays her husband here) on the set. Her next role would be the one she’s most remembered for—the suburban mom in the smash hit E.T. Loosely based on a 1977 novel by Gary Brandner and followed by six sequels.

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