The Howling


Year: 1981
Director: Joe Dante
Special Make-up Effects: Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and Greg Cannom
Starring: Dee Wallace-Stone, Patrick Macnee, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Robert Picardo, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Elisabeth Brooks, Belinda Balaski

Silver bullets or fire, that’s the only way to get rid of the damn things. They’re worse than cockroaches.

By the time that The Howling hit the giant screen at our local drive-in I had already watched the classic Universal Pictures, The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr. and I absolutely loved it. It’s easily my favorite film of the Universal Monsters series. It also began my love of movies dealing with Lycanthropes. Luckily for horror fans this is one of the best Werewolf movies of all time!

Karen White (Wallace) is a Los Angeles television reporter who has found herself in the last couple of weeks the target of a serial killer, Eddie the Mangler (Picardo), and has agreed to aid the police by being wired and to meet the killer in a location of his choosing. Karen walks the streets looking for the locations that Eddie wants her to visit, he leaves smiley stickers on various spots to show her she is on the right trail. Meanwhile, her husband, Bill (Stone) and close studio friends Terry (Balaski) and Chris (Dugan) are listening to her updates through an equipment rig the detectives have set up. The police are also following her in patrol cars but the mic she is wearing is getting interference, “…it’s all that neon out there, it messes up the signal.” We are told by the operator at the studio so they are missing out on the locations she is giving them. Which begins to cause her husband to understandably start to lose his temper.

Karen finds the theater in the back of an adult store and enters a booth that Eddie has marked with one of his smiley faces. She enters the booth and sits down in a seat in front of a small screen and we realize that Eddie is in the booth with her as he places his hands on her shoulders after depositing a quarter to start a violent porn movie.

Meanwhile, some of the patrol cops are now on foot questioning people on the street if they have seen Karen, a prostitute tells them that she was asked directions to the theater just minutes ago. The cops rush off in the direction of the adult book store while in the studio we see celebrated therapist Dr. George Waggner (Macnee) is plugging his new book. The station manager, Fred Francis (McCarthy), explains to Bill that waiting is always the hardest part which is the straw that breaks the camels back and he storms off.

Inside the booth, Karen has requested to turn around and look at Eddie, a request he denies and goes on to explain that the women he murdered are the like the image of the poor woman on the screen, they felt nothing they are nothing. After a bit he asks her to turn around, the darkness of the booth and the light of the projector behind him blot out his features to us but Karen is shocked by something so badly that she can’t even scream. Outside in the shop the cops are questioning the manager of the store and he tells them that he did see a woman that matches Karen’s description, then we hear Karen scream from within the booth. The cops rush to the back room and the youngest of the two cops opens fire through the door killing Eddie as we learn later.

The experience of that night has also caused Karen to suffer amnesia though when she sleeps the truth tries to come back to her. After freezing up in panic during her news report she goes to see Dr. Waggner to see if he can help her come to grips and learn what happened in the booth. He invites her and Bill to an outdoor resort called The Colony, a secluded place for treatment for some of his patients.

Once there Karen and Bill meet some very colorful characters that evening at a BBQ. Like Sheriff Sam Newfield (Pickens) and Erle Kenton (Carradine). After a few hours there the couple learn that not all of the willing patients of Dr. Waggner think his resort is such a great idea. Bill is hit on less than subtly by Marsha Quist (Brooks) but he spurns her advances and the subject is forgotten when Kenton tries to walk into the flaming bonfire on the beach.

What is going on at The Colony? Will Karen get her memory back? Is that can of Wolf Brand Chili in the background as funny to everyone else as it is to me? You’ll have to rent or purchase the movie for yourself to find out those answers.

One of the things I would like to mention is how great a fan of the horror movie genre Joe Dante is, I mean the man is responsible for Piranha (Non-3D version), the 3rd segment of the Twilight Zone Movie, Gremlins, and one of the most frightening entries in the Masters of Horror series, the Screwfly Solution. You can also see Dante’s love of cult horror as this film is peppered with quite a few cameos, Roger Corman, Dick Miller (as an occult book seller), John Sayles (writer of the film), and Forrest J. Ackerman all make appearances in the movie. Dick Miller’s character is actually named after his role from Corman’s Bucket of Blood.

Of course the special effects are quite nice which should be no surprise with Baker, Bottin, and Cannom in charge and this was the first of two werewolf movies that opened in 1981, the second being An American Werewolf in London a few months later.

This film is full of wonderful dark humor, great acting, and of course nice special effects. Any horror fan that hasn’t had a chance to catch this film should make sure they correct that mistake. I give the Howling five pumpkins out of five!

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Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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