Release Date(s)1981 (August 14, 2018)
Studio(s)Avco Embassy (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Joe Dante’s The Howling has always struggled with having to live in a number of different shadows. Despite the fact that it was critically well-received and financially successful, its popularity was almost immediately eclipsed by John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, which came out a few months later. (Although on the plus side, The Howling is still better known than 1981’s other werewolf movie, Wolfen).
The movie was successful enough to launch a long-running franchise. However, none of the increasingly cheap sequels that followed have anything to do with any of the others. Only the hardest of hardcore horror fans have seen all of the Howling movies. The diminishing returns of the follow-ups also helped to dim the legacy of the original and what made it so unique.
Dee Wallace stars as a TV news reporter who, as the movie opens, is helping the police track down and capture obsessive fan Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). A trigger-happy young cop guns him down following a bizarre encounter in a porn shop. Traumatized by the events, Wallace and her husband (Christopher Stone) are sent by self-help guru Patrick Macnee to The Colony, a beachside retreat populated by a weird collection of oddballs including John Carradine and Elisabeth Brooks. Meanwhile, back in L.A., Quist’s body has disappeared from the morgue. Wallace’s reporter friends Belinda Balaski and Dennis Dugan try to get to the bottom of Quist’s story, uncovering suspicions that he may be a werewolf. Not-so-coincidentally, Wallace and Stone are having their own lupine encounters up at The Colony.
Like a lot of Joe Dante pictures, The Howling is steeped in reverent movie references. Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man and The Big Bad Wolf cartoon appear on TV. Many characters are named after directors of classic werewolf movies of the past. The supporting cast includes famous horror stars like Kevin McCarthy, Kenneth Tobey and, of course, Dick Miller and Forrest J. Ackerman and Dante’s old boss Roger Corman pop up in cameos.
But The Howling is no mere valentine to werewolf movies of the past. Instead, it’s one of the more unconventional horror movies ever made. At first, the movie feels like an early 80s urban crime thriller like Vice Squad or Ms. 45. It then seamlessly shifts gears into a sly satire before eventually bringing in its werewolves, courtesy of Rob Bottin’s fantastic makeup effects. All these different elements should clash with each other but Dante handles the controls so well that it never feels jarring or out of place. The Howling may not be Dante’s best movie but it could be his most sophisticated and accomplished effort.
Scream Factory has delivered another outstanding release with their Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray. For the most part, I was quite pleased with the picture quality here. Visually, this is quite a dark movie and the transfer has a bit of trouble the darker it gets. But the print is in fine condition and the color and detail overall seemed quite sharp. The 5.1 audio is lively, atmospheric and consistently excellent.
Extras combine previously produced material from prior DVD and Laserdiscs with all-new material. These include a fond commentary by Dante, Dee Wallace, Robert Picardo and Christopher Stone (who passed away in 1995) and a vintage interview with stop motion animator David Allen discussing the footage he created but was not used in the finished film. Allen died in 1999. Other vintage material includes the documentaries Unleashing The Beast: The Making of The Howling and Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling, outtakes, deleted scenes with commentary by Dante, trailers and a photo gallery.
Brand new extras start with an interview with executive producer Steven A. Lane discussing not just the 1981 original but also touching on all the other movies in the franchise. You also get interviews with editor Mark Goldblatt and co-writer Terrence Winkless, a new episode of Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds series, and a career-spanning audio commentary by Gary Brandner, author of the original novel, in conversation with Michael Felsher. All of this is housed in handsome Steelbook packaging with brand new artwork that’s limited to 10,000 copies each, so get them while you can.
The Howling is one of the rare horror movies that has only gotten better with age. It’s incredibly smart, witty, scary and full of memorable moments and unforgettable creature effects. The Scream Factory team has done a fantastic job assembling this disc. Not content with merely collating all the existing extras, they’ve created some tasty new additions of their own, no easy task when a production has been as well-documented as this one. The Howling is another exceptionally good disc from one of the best, most exciting labels around.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke (with Tim Salmons)