Film Review: The Howling (1981)

Release Date: January, 1981 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Based on: The Howling by Gary Brandner
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor

Wescom Productions, International Film Investors, Embassy Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna give you a piece of my mind. I trusted you, Karen. [He proceeds to pull a piece of brain out of a bullet hole in his head]” – Eddie Quist

As much as I love Joe Dante and werewolf movies, The Howling never really resonated with me. For Dante and his parented style, this always felt too serious and too dark, even though he generally dabbled in horror.

However, I think that this was his attempt at making something more serious. And it did work out for him, as this birthed a franchise and from here, he’d go on to be one of the most prominent genre film directors of the ’80s.

One thing that I can’t take away from this film is the special effects and honestly, it’s the main reason I enjoy revisiting this every half decade or so. The werewolf transformation effects are great and they’re honestly pretty on par with another 1981 werewolf movie, An American Werewolf In London. What’s interesting about that is that effects master Rick Baker was working on this film but he left the production to work on An American Werewolf In London. Rob Bottin took over in the effects department, which was a good fit, anyway, as he had previously worked with Dante on Piranha.

It makes me wonder if the werewolf we would’ve gotten in this movie would’ve been closer to the one in An American Werewolf In London. The main difference between the two movies’ monsters were that The Howling had bipedal werewolves and the one in the other film had a monster that walked on all fours. Regardless, The Howling werewolves looked cool as hell, anyway.

The story follows a reporter that had a bad run-in with a serial killer being sent off to a coastal village for some mental rehabilitation. However, this village is full of werewolves and that serial killer is one of them.

Out of Dante’s ’70s, ’80s and ’90s work, this is probably my least favorite film. I get why a lot of people like it but I only seem to relish the big effects sequences while finding everything else to be a bit slow and mundane.

Rating: 6/10