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THE
HOWLING

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E.C.McMullen Jr.
The Howling
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
THE HOWLING - 1981
New World Pictures
Rated: UK: 15 / USA: R
USA Release: April 10, 1981

A pretty woman walks down the meaner streets of a decaying Hollywood. Unlike the women around her, she's dressed professionally. She's not slumming as she appears to be nervous, out of place, and unsure. A street denizen gives her a bit of hassle for fun, but she finally arrives at her destination, an adult bookstore. All of this time she's been following a trail of smiley face stickers and the last one is on the door to a peepshow booth. She steps inside and suddenly someone is in the tiny booth with her. He knows her name, Karen (Dee Wallace: CRITTERS, THE FRIGHTENERS, ABOMINABLE, THE LOST, VOODOO MOON, THE PLAGUE, Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN). She knows his: Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo: TOTAL RECALL, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, HOMECOMING), the serial killer. Eddie wants to show Karen something and whatever it is makes Karen scream. The police, secretly tracking Karen in the hopes of arresting her infamous source, fire into the door of the booth.

Based on the novel by Gary Brandner and re-imagined by Screenwriters John Sayles (PIRANHA, ALLIGATOR) and Terence H. Winkless (SCORPIUS GIGANTUS, NIGHTMARE CITY 2035), THE HOWLING delivered a great opening for a classic movie. Director Joe Dante (GREMLINS, GREMLINS 2, HOMECOMING, THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION) gave it a Made-for-TV appearance. Though shot using a European widescreen standard, Dante kept the action in the center of the screen. When you watch this on the aging standard frame television sets of 1.33.1 aka 4:3, nothing goes out of picture or requires the pan & scan method. Using lighting, filters, and blocking shots common to TV movies of the period, Dante gave a mundane lowbrow feel to THE HOWLING, lulling the audience into a false sense of security. TV audiences were accustomed to a certain level of "safeness" in a television movie. The script carries it through. We learn about Karen. She is the top newscaster in Los Angeles. Her psychological problems stem from her involuntary association with the bloodthirsty serial killer, Eddie Quist, who chose her celebrity status to further his own infamy. We learn about Eddie's personal weirdness in his art. We learn about Karen's sexual problems with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone: CUJO) because of her proximity to a madman who murders women. Yes, we learn all of this stuff, and it's... interesting. THE HOWLING never actually fizzles into dull territory, it all just seems so safe.

In order to help her "recharge" her batteries and get away from all of the stress of the past few weeks, her therapist, Dr. George Waggoner (Patrick Macnee: SCROOGE [1951], THE CREATURE WASN'T NICE, WAXWORK), sends her off to his (apparently) whites only Northern California retreat for some rest and relaxation. There she and Bill meet a group of people consisting of both singles and other couples: patients of Dr. Waggoner. Some seem normal, some less than, and of course, there's good old John Carradine (HOUSE OF DRACULA, THE NIGHT STRANGLER, SHOCKWAVES) as old Earle. John had the special ability of looking alien and out of place just by standing there.

Creepy things start happening at the retreat. Then they get gross and weird, and then Dante amps it up with a stunning werewolf transformation that blows everyone out of their seat. Yes, Dante's lulling us all into a false sense of security was no accident, and he repeated that formula in GREMLINS a few years later. Even today and more than a quarter of a century later, the werewolf transformation beats anything seen in Computer Graphic Imaging. This is thanks to SFX make-up artist Rob Bottin's incredible imagination and engineering. Bottin (THE FOG, THE THING, ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, SE7EN, MIMIC, DEEP RISING) set a standard in physical appliances that has yet to be matched by anything coming out of computer animation, if movies like UNDERWORLD and VAN HELSING are any indication.

My biggest, in fact only gripe, for THE HOWLING is the tacked on dumb joke at the very end, intended to lead into a possible sequel. It had its sequels, but none of them came close to the brilliance of THE HOWLING.

Four Shriek Girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2007 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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