The Howling Collector's Edition Review
There’s plenty of meat to chew on here!
Fans of The Howling, get your teeth stuck into this!
Please note that this review is for the US Blu-ray release of The Howling from Scream Factory, and is encoded for Region A.
As any horror fan can tell you, 1981 was the Great Year of the Werewolf Movie. Michael Wadleigh’s awesome Wolfen may not have actually boasted wolf-men running about their New York hunting ground, but it’s terrifying atmosphere and adherence to Indian shape-shifting mythology and pack of genuine lupine stars puts the film firmly on the furry map. Low-budget horror auteur Larry Cohen uncharacteristically fumbled the ball when he brought us the howling japes of Full Moon High, though. But, most famously, this was the year that saw the two modern classics of the genre go almost snout-to-elongating-snout at the box office in a rip ‘em up riot of contorting bodies, savaged flesh and much howling at the Moon. Joe Dante’s The Howling just beat John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London to a release and brought the new breed of special makeup effects to a stunned audience first, launching prosthetic wunderkind, and new kid on the block (literally … he was only twenty-one) Rob Bottin upon an unsuspecting world … and opened the floodgates to the joys of stretchy latex, pulsating air-bladders, latex, chango-heads, latex, animatronics and yet more latex.
With a screenplay from the ever-witty John Sayles, augmented by Terence H. Winkless (based very loosely on the rather crass and trashy novel by Gary Brandner), that didn't take itself too seriously but was hardly overtly comical either, Joe Dante modernised the myth for the first proper time since The Beast Must Die, from Amicus (see my DVD review). The contemporary setting of California – first the neon-draped sleaze of downtown LA, and then the type of gorgeous northern bay retreat that was also the sort of locale that would be terrorised in John Carpenter’s The Fog, and might see Angela Lansbury's Yankified Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, going for a morning constitutional to get her deductive juices flowing – was able to evoke the spectral glens and woods of medieval folklore and, ironically, return the werewolf to his more traditional environment. And this mix 'n' match of the tried and trusted with the more modern was the thing that thrillingly shunted the hairy sub-genre out of the gothic and made it more palatable for audiences who had left period chills long behind in the wake of The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien. Indeed, the script revolves around the very predicament that the modern werewolf faces in these times of television, hardcore porn, fast food, celebrity psychotherapists and within a society that has been weaned on the mythology of their existence via a plethora of books and movies.
What's a self-respecting wolf man to do?
The Howling rules supreme and is, naturally, very highly recommended for all fur-fans, and it makes a very welcome transformation onto region A Blu-ray! I have previously awarded the film 8 out of 10 ... but screw that ... it does deserve more for what it did for the werewolf movie and the genre at large.
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