Friday, July 31, 2015

The Howling (1981)

Sadly, there aren't that many werewolf movies out there, and even less good ones. At least the two best are also well-remembered classics of the horror genres-American Werewolf in London, and Joe Dante's The Howling...

TV news reporter Karen White has just gone on a dangerous undercover assignment for the police, in order to help capture serial killer Eddie Quist, who harboured an obsession with Karen. Following the encounter, wherein Eddie is killed by police, Karen is traumatized, and is recommended by a Dr. Waggner to go on a retreat to his treatment colony out in the woods. Things son take a turn for the worse when Karen hears a mysterious howling at night, and her fellow coworkers Terri and Chris start investigating Quist, leading them to the colony...

The Howling's story is a decent one, staring off nothing like how you'd expect. It actually maintains a mystery over the course of the film's first half, and you only realize werewolves are involved in the story at all. I do find the story a bit lacking though, and wish the schism/conflict between the werewolves would have been developed more, as well as what Dr. Waggner is trying to accomplish with the colony, and how much he really is in control. Thankfully the iconic ending is really good, even if it isn't the happiest of conclusions.

The film maintains a great tone, and manages to make scenes of horror during daylight hours effective and eerie. Things do get a little one-sided come the end for the heroes though, which lessens the scare factor of the werewolves a bit.

Unfortunately, Karen isn't a very proactive lead character. In fact, there's a whole chunk of the movie where Terri is the lead, and she accomplishes a lot more, uncovering the mystery behind the colony, and fending of werewolves. Karen just stands around and whimpers a lot (and wins the 'RUN, BITCH, RUN!' award at one point), and only really has a time to shine at the very end.

Other underused characters are Karen's husband, who basically vanishes from the movie after a certain point, barely seen again, and most importantly, Eddie Quist. Quist barely has a line of dialogue at the start before immediately getting gunned down by the police, and when he reappears later on, he still doesn't have much to say. His return really doesn't serve much purpose, even concerning Karen's character. She just shoves acid into his face and runs off, never mentioning him again, and the character is dispatched by someone else with little challenge.

I also didn't really like either the annoying wink to the audience at the end, or the music over the end credits, both of which I feel detracted from the power of the conclusion. The choice of music isn't bad, or even horribly ill-fitting, but I kinda wish they'd have had something more lower-key after the dark ending.

The acting in The Howling is quite good. Despite issues with her character, Dee Wallace is very good, particularly at the beginning, and end of the film. Robert Picardo is great as Eddie Quist, but underused, as I said. There are a few character actors present, such as Dick Miller, and John Carradine, who add a nice touch to the movie! I always treasure a role for John Carradine that actually lasts more than two minutes, and actually lets him be a part of the movie!

The score to this movie is quite good. There are some subtler horror tunes, and also a bit of country music.

Now finally, onto the effects. The werewolf transformation in this movie is fantastic! Done with practical effects, we see a whole transformation, in all its intricacy, and while some stages of Quist's change may look goofy, it's still the best werewolf special effects ever, next to American Werewolf in London, and puts all CGI to shame.

The rest of the effects are mixed. The werewolves themselves look fine, but there's the very occasional animated or stop-motion moment, which look very out-of-place.

Overall, The Howling isn't a perfect movie, but it's still really good, and certainly one of the best cinematic times you're gonna get involving werewolves. And that's not even getting into the sequels! Sweet Jesus, do the sequels really highlight just how good, flaws and all, The Howling is!...

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