The Howling Reviews
[originally posted 19Jul2001]
Joe Dante has done some amazing work in his time. He's also done some godawful things for which he should be ashamed. The Howling falls dead in the center of those two. It's creepy, atmospheric, and effective, due in no small part to the incredible talent assembled behind the scenes (John Sayles adapted Gary Brandner's novel; Bottin produced; Dante directed). Unfortunately, it also shows exactly why Dee Wallace never made it past B movies, with the arguable exception of E.T., and disease-of-the-week TV flicks. I mean, she's just bad. The rest of the cast makes it work, though, including "holographic doctor" Robert Picardo in his big-screen debut as the serial killer obsessed with Dee. His line "I'm going to give you a piece of my mind," and the action that follows it, are some of the finest moments in horror film.
As a sidelight, this was also the only major film in which the late Elisabeth Brooks appeared (as Marsha, the seductress who goes after Dee Wallace's husband). Brooks is worth seeking out in just about anything, but this is the only flick you're likely to find on rental-house shelves. (She actually made four; the other three were all late-eighties products that have unfortunately faded into obscurity.)
If you didn't see this when it came out, you'll probably find it somewhat on the cheesy side. Well, okay, it is, but remember that in 1980 this was groundbreaking stuff by anyone's standards. For those of us who did catch this one back in the day, it makes for a great nostalgia trip. Makes a great double bill with its contemporary Wolfen (1981). ***
Performances are OK. Good to see Slim Pickens as the Sheriff.
The film still holds up rather well, though I'm beginning to hate Dee Wallace' character, she's got this rather whining tone from the first word she speaks, and has little to do except be a victim and whinge about this or that.
The special effects are rather well-done, though not as slick as American Werewolf In London, as this production had to resort to some animation at one stage of things in the last reel.
Both films were lauded for their cutting edge special effects, particularly the spectacular on-screen transformations, but Dante's film - much like his next picture, Gremlins - is a bit more satirical.
Though it has many of the staples of horror such as gore and nudity, there are numerous references to genre classics tucked away on-screen and in the screenplay. In spite of this, it plays fast and loose with traditional werewolf mythology, allowing the beasts to change at will, which means no one is safe even in the daytime. It's an effective maneuver, but it's undermined by the film's incredibly slow start.
By the time the best parts of the film occur, some viewers may find themselves too bored to care. Those who stick with it will be rewarded, however. The Howling's second half is much better than its first, and though the effects may be dated (and its werewolves a bit silly-looking), it still manages some good, solid scares during its excellent climax.