Review: The Howling (Blu-ray)

2013/06/17 20:23:27 +00:00 | Derek Botelho

Monster movies had seen their heyday come and go by the time Joe Dante made The Howling in 1981 and it seemed as if everyone had seen everything. However, Dante manages to create a unique entry in the werewolf movie canon with a murder mystery with supernatural creatures in it. The Howling still stands as one of the most inventive and fun horror films from the 1980's and this stacked to the rafters Blu-ray from Scream Factory is a must have.

TV news journalist Karen White (Dee Wallace) reluctantly meets a known predator Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) in an adult theater one night on a sting arranged with the local police. Things go from bad for worse for Karen when the evening ends in a seemingly fatal shoot out. Traumatized by the events of the night, she seeks help from Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who recommends she visit “The Colony," a retreat the doctor runs out in the country. While hoping for some R&R with her husband William (Christopher Stone), Karen can do anything but relax as there's just not something quite right with the other residents.

There's a certain amount of disbelief that must be suspended while watching a horror film, and supernatural creatures take even more of a leap of faith. Luckily, Dante is blessed with a cast that does everything they can to sell the material with a straight face. Dee Wallace, an actor I have always admired, gives a wonderfully grounded performance and her real life husband Christopher is up to the various challenges presented to him. Macnee is fun and, as always. an actor with great charm. Dick Miller's small role as a book store owner provides most of the comic relief and Picardo as the villain of the piece is a very eerie presence.

There isn't as much of the funny as in Gremlins or even Piranha, but what's in The Howling works most of the time. An unnecessary coda and an unintentionally goofy moment at the end of the film leave a bad taste in the mouth, but almost everything that comes before it works admirably. Keep an eye out for Dante regular Dick Miller, as well as cameos from Forrest J. Ackerman, Roger Corman, and John Sayles.

While a welcome release on Blu-ray, The Howling is a bit of a mixed bag visually. The night time scenes at times have very little detail and are a bit noisy, while the daytime shots are quite a bit cleaner. This is a definite step up in clarity from the old MGM DVD, but not the major improvement I hoped for. Film restoration and remastering is a costly endeavor, so I can't blame Shout! Factory for not being able to strike a brand new master for the release. Sound wise, the disc is pretty impressive. Dialogue is handled well and Pino Donaggio's score sounds robust.

A monstrous (Sorry, I couldn't help myself) selection of bonus material gets going with a commentary from Joe Dante, Dee Wallace, Chris Stone and Robert Picardo. This track was on the previous MGM DVD released in the US and is welcome here. A second commentary for the film isn't announced in in the list of extras, but can be accessed from the audio setup. Gary Brandner, the author of the source novel sits down with Michael Felsher from Red Shirt pictures to discuss the book, the movie, and his life in general. It's an interesting listen and something I was pleasantly surprised to come across here. The entire slate of extras from the MGM DVD are here: The 45 minute “Unleashing the Beast” documentary, “Making of a Monster” a vintage look into making the film, and a selection of outtakes with commentary by Dante. There is another selection of deleted bits without commentary as well.

The new bonus material is comprised of interviews with the cast & crew. The film's executive producer, Steven A. Lane, sits down to discuss the movie in “Howlings Eternal with Steven A. Lane." The nearly 20-minute piece gets into almost every aspect of the movie. “Cut to Shreds with editor Mark Goldblatt” focuses on the process of putting the film together in post-production and Goldblatt has some fun stuff to share. An interview with Terence H. Winkless, one of the screenwriters who later directed The Nest, is another fairly comprehensive, but short talk about the film from page to screen. Another episode of Sean Clark's “Horror's Hallowed Grounds” wraps things up. A great piece not announced on the disc sleeve is an interview with David Allen who produced the stop motion animation in the film. It's probably my favorite piece, as it's a revealing look at a lost art in genre films.

By the time the early 1980's rolled around the monster movie had given way to the slasher film. 1981, however, proved to be a banner year for the creature feature with the release of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante's The Howling. Dee Wallace and the entire company give themselves over to Dante's dark and at times oddly placed humor, with generally admirable results.

Film: 3.5/5 Disc: 4.5/5