WARNING – SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET – STOP HERE AND WATCH IT FIRST!
“We should never try to deny the beast within us”
- Dr. George Waggner, The Colony
The Howling (1981) doesn’t get enough love. I have had a lot of discussions about it and too many people say that it’s too cheesy. Well, of course, it is! It’s the 80s! All movies were cheesy in the 80s. That’s what makes them so good. I’m not saying it’s the best movie ever made. But say what you will, I have a soft spot for it and no one will change my mind.
Dee Wallace Stone (One of the top scream queens – change my mind) plays reporter Karen White. Karen and her husband (played by Dee’s real husband, the late Christopher Stone) are spending time at a retreat called “The Colony”. After a close encounter with a serial killer, Karen is suffering from amnesia and memory loss. Going to The Colony is supposed to be a quiet time for her to heal and get her head on straight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
Director Joe Dante knows how to make a movie, thanks to previously working for Roger Corman. There are a bunch of visual jokes hidden in The Howling, but I’m not pointing them out. It takes a few watches to catch them all. I wonder if I’ve seen them all myself. And a few celebrity cameos. If you’re a major cinephile, you should catch them all. Dante made sure to add some sex appeal to spice things up too. You can tell that he had a good time making this.
Thanks to the special effects of Rob Bottin, the werewolf transformation scenes are fantastic. I think they still hold their own against all the CGI-made transitions. It’s some of the best human-to-werewolf transitions. It has a good script with plenty of dark humor. One of the best things about it is the atmosphere. It’s creepy from the start, but as soon as you see The Colony, you know shit isn’t going to end well.
The Colony turns out to be a cult commune with a nasty little secret. It has quite a group of members. Dr. Waggoner is the likable leader of the group. Marsha is the resident nymphomaniac who certainly lives up to her reputation. And then there’s Dee Wallace. How can it not be good with her in the lead role? She goes from a confident reporter to a hot mess perfectly. Her character is damaged by trauma and very vulnerable. Yet she’s still a reporter, and when she senses that something isn’t right she won’t stop till she figures it out. Especially when she suspects something’s going on with her husband!
The Howling was the first of the 80s werewolf movies with An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen both released in the same year. American Werewolf was definitely the better of them, everyone knows that, but something about The Howling just keeps calling me back. It does have a slow start, but once the werewolves come things get moving. It has a little more subtlety than other werewolf movies. The score by Pino Donaggio is great too. It does a great job of setting the mood and adding to the tension. It has everything a horror movie needs – sex, blood, gore, and of course, werewolves.