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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day 353: The Howling

The Howling
My worst fear involves a locked room, Sarah Palin, and no ear plugs

Werewolf movies are all about confronting the beast within. It's man vs. nature at the most intimate level. As humans, we are taught to curb our basic animal instincts. Society frowns upon us swiping at the dominant male, fighting over carrion, and urinating on everything, despite what the subways in New York may smell like. It's this struggle that makes werewolf movies compelling. Will the character give in to his animal nature, killing and eating everything in it's path on will he be able to control the monster trying to get out? Of course, having lots of gory violence also helps make a werewolf movie fun. A balance is necessary between the emotional turmoil and the physical violence. Is it possible to have a good werewolf movie if you only have one and not the other?

The Howling is a 1981 werewolf movie based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner and directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Masters Of Horror: Homecoming). The movie stars Dee Wallace (E.T., The Hills Have Eyes) as Los Angeles television reporter Karen White. Karen is being harassed and stalked by a man named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo, The Wonder Years, Wagons East) and cooperates with police in order to capture him. Eddie meets her in an adult video store movie booth and forces her to watch a video of a woman being raped. When she turns to look at him, Eddie begins to turn into some kind of monster before being gunned down by a police officer. Karen suffers from amnesia due to the traumatic event and has horrible recurring nightmares. At her therapist Dr. George Waggner's (Patrick Macnee, The Avengers, This Is Spinal Tap) suggestion, Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone, Cujo, The New Lassie) go to a resort in the woods called “The Colony”. There are other people at The Colony who all suffer from various types of afflictions. A woman named Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files) is a nymphomaniac and tries to entice Bill. One night while in the woods, Bill is attacked and bitten by a wolf-like creature. Bill begins to change and eventually meets with Marsha in the woods where they both transform into werewolves and have sex. Karen is unaware of the extent to which Bill has changed, but is still scared of both him and The Colony and enlists the help of her friend Terri (Belinda Balaski, Gremlins, Small Soldiers) and her boyfriend Chris (Dennis Dugan, director of Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy). They discover that The Colony is actually a group of werewolves living amongst humans. Even more terrifying, Eddie Quist is actually alive and is part of The Colony. Will Terri and Chris be able to save Karen and expose The Colony for what it really is before it's too late?

Is that werewolf part Corgi?

Despite being based off the novel by Gary Brandner, The Howling makes a number of changes, both in story and in tone. The novel is far more serious while the movie takes on a self-aware semi-humorous tone. I say semi-humorous because there really aren't any “laugh out loud” moments in the movie. Director Joe Dante, known for his in-jokes and obscure references, fills the movie with all sorts of little jokes that the average viewer will miss. I mean, I've watched a year's worth of horror movies and missed a majority of them. There are references to wolves throughout the movie, such as 'Wolf Brand' chili and a cartoon of a wolf playing on the TV. More obscure, though, it the names of characters that are actually references to all sorts of other werewolf and horror movies. I honestly had no idea about any of this and only found out while researching the movie. Maybe some of the effort gone into making jokes should have gone into making a good movie. The Howling lacks any real emotion that one would find in a typical werewolf movie. We never really care about Karen as she is portrayed as a weak character right from the beginning. We don't really care about Bill since he's kind of a jerk anyway and turns into a werewolf fairly quickly. The movie takes a strange turn and makes Chris, Terri's boyfriend, the hero. Why make what is essentially a random guy the hero? It's a strange way of writing the story and leaves the audience without a strong connection to the characters.

While The Howling disappoints as a story, it does impress with it's special effects. There werewolves look very good thanks to state-of-the-art effects (at the time) which give extreme detail to the creatures. There is a great extended scene where Eddie transforms into a werewolf, rivaling the transformation in An American Werewolf In London. Of course, the transformation happens when Eddie has Terri cornered and it takes a good 3-4 minutes for the transformation to complete. What, Terri couldn't just walk out while he was busy? There is a decent amount of violence and blood, but not as much as one would expect. The movie is well-made and Joe Dante does a fine job of directing. The acting leaves a little bit to be desired, but it is fun to see someone like Slim Pickens with werewolf teeth. The ending had potential, but

Bark at the moon

I suppose I shouldn't take the movie so seriously (clearly the people involved didn't), but I just didn't find the movie all that humorous. Maybe it's because I'm seeing this 1981 movie in 2012, but a lot of the references were lost on me. When you take the humor out, you realize that there isn't much to the story. There's no real struggle between man (and woman) against his animal instincts and no emotion to make us really care. The movie manages to stave off a complete collapse thanks to good special effects, entertaining action, and solid horror. There are a few scares and decent atmosphere when the movie decides to actually be a horror film. While it's not the best werewolf film, The Howling does have some very good werewolf moments. It's still worth a watch, but temper your expectations.


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