AWESOME-tober-fest 2010: Review of the movie The Howling (1981)

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Welcome to Day 18 of AWESOME-tober-fest. We are finishing up this month long run into Halloween with reviews of werewolf movies this week. Today, I’m taking a look at a 1981 Joe Dante horror classic, The Howling.

The Howling movie

Two weeks ago I reviewed the original 1977 Brandner novel, The Howling.  While it was slowly paced, it was an adequate werewolf story I thought did a good job of setting up a possible series of books about Brandner’s werewolves as, from the book, they obviously had a much larger back story than was told in the novel.

Well, Brandner’s book was optioned for a movie and Joe Dante was picked as the director, Rick Baker was chosen to do the Special Effects and The Howling movie was made in 1981.  Only, as Hollywood is want to do, the story was changed.  Honestly, a lot of the major story beats were the same, it was many of the details that were changed. But Rick Baker wound up leaving the production to do the effects for American Werewolf in London so the end of the movie suffered.

The main character, Karen White, is a television journalist who has a bad encounter with a serial killer, Eddie Quist (played by the hologram doctor from Star Trek Voyager).  After the serial killer is shot down when he attacks her, Karen and her husband travel out to this hippie community called The Colony for some rest and relaxation.  They meet the creepy members of The Colony in this weird beach bonfire party scene where we are introduced to Marsha.  Marsha overacts every single scene she’s in and constantly looks at everyone with these “crazy eyes”. She obviously takes a shine to Karen’s husband and everyone stands around awkwardly to some weird, out of place for a beach party O Brother Where Art Thou music.

Anyway, Karen is constantly haunted by her earlier encounter with Eddie and she starts to hear inhuman howling in the middle of the night.  That howling draws her husband to this clearing in the woods where he has sex with crazy eyes and they start changing into wolves in the middle of sex and then, at the very end, they turn into cartoon wolves (seriously, I guess they ran out of budget because the end of the scene is animated).  It’s pretty epic.  After this, the husband starts to get violent and belligerent towards his wife, even going so far as smacking her in the chops when she continues to whine about the night howling and how different he’s been acting lately.  Eventually Karen’s friend shows up, they start investigating the town, find out Eddie, who’s supposed to be dead, is actually there at The Colony and that he and everyone else is a werewolf.  While trying to notify her husband, the friend is attacked and killed in a nice scene.  I really like the look of the werewolf in this scene right before he kills the friend. You can tell Baker designed the hell out of this werewolf.  Very demon-like. Bravo.

Anyway, later on, the serial killer confronts Karen again.  He changes into the wolf right in front of her (video clip below).  Very cool except, the transformation from human to wolf seemed to take like 15 minutes.  And Karen stands there and watches the entire thing.  I don’t know about you, but if a guy started transforming into a werewolf right in front of me, and it was taking longer than a minute and half, I’d be out the door and in my car before he could finish the change.

Well, the murdered friend’s husband shows up with silver bullets and they blast their way off The Colony but not before they try to burn down a barn with all the werewolves trapped inside.  While escaping in a stolen police car, Karen is scratched by one of the wolves (her husband who she winds up shooting in the face).  When they get back to the city, she decides she has to let everyone know about these monsters so she goes on air and tells everyone about them and to prove her point she changes into the wolf right on camera.  And she looks like a member of Chewbacca’s family! Here’s the scene:

That makeup looks straight off the set of the Star Wars Holiday Special.  Anyway, right after the change, her friend shoots her, again, right on camera.  It’s a pretty spectacular ending.  While the rest of the movie is a little goofy, it is your typical early 80s horror film.  A little overdramatic, a little cheesy, but it takes itself seriously and Baker’s effects are actually pretty good (except when they aren’t Baker’s effects and they resort to animation).

This was a recommend for 80s horror fans and werewolf fans, but you have to watch it with that mentality.  Because it’s honestly not that great a movie.

Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.


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