The Howling Review
A funny thing happens in Hollywood every few decades, some of the major studios all decide to each produce the exact same type of film. We've had A Bug's Life/Antz (1998), Deep Impact/Armageddon (1998), Capote/Infamous (2005/6), and more recently Churchill/Darkest Hour (2017). In 1981 not one, not two but three werewolf based films were produced, Wolfen starring Albert Finney, the classic John Landis directed (and Oscar winning) An American Werewolf In London and, soon-to-be released for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, Joe Dante's The Howling.
After an intense undercover sting in which news anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) agrees to work with police and lure serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) to his capture, she is left traumatised and suffering from amnesia. Her therapist, Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee) decides in order to aid her recovery she, and her husband Bill (played by then real-life husband Christopher Stone) should travel to 'The Colony". There, they meet a whole host of fellow patients who aren't quite what they seem.
While Wolfen may have been deemed the lesser work and assigned to the bargain bin of obscurity, the other two have become classics in their own right. All are similar in their wolfishness yet all approach the sub-genre is a different way and are fundamentally different beasts entirely with this the only one to birth a franchise. Joe Dante decides to concentrate on primal fear, the werewolf pack as opposed to the lone wolf, there's also the whole violence in the media and audience desensitising but I digress. Horror fans will also spot the playful character names and know who they are honouring.
Like most horror films, the monster is kept off screen for as long as possible to not only heighten the tension but create a big reveal which plays to audience expectation but also - if special effects are involved - keeps costs down. The practical effects here are extraordinary in their use of foam latex prosthetics, bladders, air tubes, puppets and, while different in design, actually bear a passing resemblance to An American Werewolf in London's transformation scenes. Unsurprising, given that make-up creator Rob Bottin (who would later proved the effects for The Thing) was trained by Rick Baker.
This new restoration really forefronts the make-up and effects. They hold up well given the 36 year time lapse (and the advance of prosthetics and evolution of CGI) although, the final transformation is a little more comical than, I would surmise, was originally intended. However, what strikes most in this exceptional new restoration is the use of colour throughout The Howling. See the scenes where various colours play across the characters faces to convey emotion, heighten the mood and build dread, akin to the best Giallo films from the Argento vault.
The disc has been digitally scrubbed to within an inch of its life, having a brand new restoration applied to it. Frankly, the film looks the best it has in years, the film pops with better clarity and improved contrast.
Included with this new release are interviews with the film's producer Steven A. Lane, editor Mark Goldblatt, co-writer Terence Winkless and stop motion animator David Allen. There's also a look at the locations used throughout the shoot, and a cheerful commentary by The Howling's original author Gary Brandner. The commentary is a pleasant enough track but Brandner tends to talk more about his writing career as a whole rather than the film adaptation. It is a shame the extras don't include the Joe Dante commentary which resides on the Region 1 DVD though and the new cover art isn't quite as eye-catching as the original artwork/poster.
This is a welcome release from StudioCanal with a restoration that improves the viewing experience of a classic. The Howling is a fantastic film which tends to get overlooked in comparison to that London-based wolf. It provides the perfect hit of nostalgia for those revisiting an 80s gem and for those who are viewing for the first time, at least you now know what that "werewolf movie with E.T.'s mom in" is...