1980s cult werewolf classic The Howling gets a new lease of life on Blu-ray courtesy of Studiocanal. Martin Carr, once terrified by Joe Dante’s film as a kid, dares to revisit it and finds it’s a far less frightening affair…
Back when this was released, The Howling might have been scary stuff, especially to a seven-year-old who definitely should not have been watching like me. Jump forward thirty seven years and the same scared child sat down to exorcise his childhood phobia at just after midnight. What soon became apparent however is just how dated The Howling now looks in comparison to anything from the modern era.
Featuring Dee Wallace before she appeared in Spielberg’s ET then vanished from film studios everywhere, The Howling feels low budget, trades on atmospherics over actual gore and suffers severely on Blu-ray. Directed by Joe Dante who went on to make Gremlins and The Burbs, there are few redeeming features which you could point to in this schlocky horror flick that are noteworthy. Bearing in mind this was around the time of video nasties the opening ten minutes certainly feeds into that specific preoccupation. Grainy handheld images combine with an overwhelming sense of dread and give everything a found footage feel, before such things existed. POV camera work also feeds into this as the audience are complicit, predatory and ultimately extremely culpable.
These opening moments are unfortunately the most inventive Dante’s Howling ever gets as the conclusion of this opening salvo ends in cliché. Isolated locations, strange locals and some shockingly wooden actors are only saved by landmark special effects. Most notably from maestro Rob Bottin who would famously go on to create Peter Weller’s Robocop make up amongst other things. However his contribution to The Howling in the form of a full transformation body, is only bettered by Rick Baker’s efforts for An American Werewolf In London also released in 1981.
For anyone interested in the workings behind practical effects these two men and particularly those two films represent key examples. Such is the skill on display that the stories themselves are almost surplus to requirement. In the case of The Howling these transformation sequences saved this movie from bargain bin obscurity and gained it cult status. In the cold light of 2017 however it feels like an episode of Columbo with cheap Seventies skin flick overtones, badly fitted werewolf dentures and obvious contact lenses. As for fear factor that is almost non-existent due to a made-for-television feel, which pervades everything beyond those opening ten minutes. A purchase for the aficionado only, The Howling has unfortunately aged badly making me wonder after an hour and half what in God’s name scared me to begin with.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski
Released: 1981 / Genre: Horror
Country: USA / IMDB
Top 10 Films reviewed The Howling on Blu-ray courtesy of Studiocanal. The film was released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital on October 9.