GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: The Howling

In the third part of CM Saunders’ five-part series, he talks about The Howling.

Top 5 Eighties Horror Flicks #3

Title: The Howling
Year of Release: 1981
Director: Joe Dante
Length: 89 minutes
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Elisabeth Brooks

Humour, often coupled with OTT excess, was a common staple in eighties horror movies. It was symptomatic of the times, when a large percentage of people had more money than they knew what to do with and many were off their tits on coke. It was a good time. This humour seems especially suited to werewolf movies as if someone way back in the day decided there was something knee-slappingly funny about people transforming into humungous wolf-like creatures and ripping innocent bystanders into bloody pieces.

While far more subtle than some examples, the humour is still evident in Joe Dante’s classic The Howling. The script, adapted from Gary Brandner’s novel by screenwriter John Sayles who had previously worked with Dante on tongue-in-cheek classic Piranha, positively drips with satire (“You were raised in LA, the wildest thing you ever heard was Wolfman Jack.”) and the humour moves centre-stage right at the very end, as if the makers simply couldn’t contain themselves any longer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The fact is that even now, over four decades after it was first released, The Howling is still a brutal, terrifying, and deeply disturbing journey into the dark heart of the lycanthrope legend which has long been considered a metaphor for the beast lurking inside all of us, something which is hinted at several times throughout the movie. If you’ve never seen it, that’s something you need to rectify.

Karen White (Scream Queen Dee Wallace, star of horror staples Cujo, the original Hills Have Eyes, and Critters, but probably best known for her role in E.T.) is a television news anchor in LA who thinks she is being stalked by a serial killer. In conjunction with the police and TV crews, she takes part in a sting operation, agreeing to meet the murderer in a sleazy porno cinema. In the ensuing kerfuffle, the serial killer is shot dead by cops, but Karen is left severely traumatised by it all and suffering from PTSD and amnesia. Her therapist (Macnee, that bloke off the Avengers) suggests she and her husband (Stone) spend some time at an exclusive retreat in the countryside to help her recovery, something they are only too happy to do. Big mistake. The Colony, as they call it, is full of colourful characters, one of them being a nymphomaniac called Marsha (Brooks) who tries to seduce Karen’s husband. When he rejects her advances, she follows him into the woods and scratches his arm, thereby ‘turning’ him. They later do it next to a bonfire (snigger) in one of those scenes that you probably rewound way too much as a horny teenager, before getting creeped out by the fact that by the time they finish shagging you are essentially watching a couple of Furries getting some in make up and monster suits.

Anyway, Karen soon begins to suspect that something sketchy is going on not just with her husband, but at the retreat as a whole, and calls in a little help from her friends. That’s when things get interesting, if they weren’t interesting enough before.

There’s no getting around it, by today’s standards The Howling comes across terribly dated in parts. But the script is extremely well-written, the cast is a who’s who acting talent and, though Rick Baker deservedly won an Oscar for his creature effects on An American Werewolf in London a year later, Rob Bottin’s work here is just as impressive. You can achieve quite a lot with tiny inflatable air bags under latex skin. He lets the side down somewhat in the climactic scene where Karen, now also changed, morphs into something resembling a cocker spaniel live on air which is more hilarious than frightening, but we’ll let that one slide. I prefer to think that particular scene (a late addition tagged on to the end while Wallace was filming Cujo) is meant as one of those era-defining tongue-in-cheek moments.

An earlier section where the werewolf attacks Karen’s friend at a secluded cabin in the woods is straight-up terrifying, as is the part where our heroine comes face to face with the monster for the first time and watches transfixed as it transforms in front of her. The suspense is maintained throughout, and the action rarely lets up. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity which led to some reviewers, somewhat unfairly, dubbing it ‘erotic horror’. Dante (who also directed Gremlins, Innerspace and Burying the Ex, amongst others) fits all the pieces together nicely, and shows neat little touches here and there, like having Little Red Riding Hood playing in the background at one point and naming many characters after directors who made other werewolf films, like George Waggner, who directed The Wolf Man (1941). In keeping with this theme, the consensus on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes (where it holds a respectable 74% approval rating) reads: “The Howling packs enough laughs into its lycanthropic carnage to distinguish it from other werewolf entries, with impressive visual effects adding some bite.”

Brilliant.

Unsurprisingly, due to its success, The Howling spawned a sequel (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) in 1985. What is surprising, however, is that despite the sequel being a total flop it then led to a bunch more, none of which were very good. The most recent was the eighth installment released in 2011. In January 2020 it was announced that Andy Muschietti, director of Mama (2013) and It (2017) had been hired to direct a remake for Netflix. That should be fine, as long as they don’t decide to remake the other seven.                

Trivia Corner:

Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone were married in RL, having met on an episode of CHiPs before filming started on The Howling. They were together until his death from a werewolf bite (not really. It was a heart attack) in 1995.

On the 13th of every month I put a fresh spin on a classic movie in my RetView series over at my blog. Go here to check out the archive.

Boo-graphy: Christian Saunders, a constant reader who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, is a freelance journalist and editor from south Wales. His work has appeared in almost 100 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide including Fortean Times, the Literary Hatchet, ParABnormal, Fantastic Horror, Haunted MTL, Feverish Fiction and Crimson Streets, and he has held staff positions at several leading UK magazines ranging from Staff Writer to Associate Editor. His books have been both traditionally and independently published.

The fifth volume in my X series featuring ten (X, geddit?) slices of twisted horror and dark fiction plucked from the blood-soaked pages of ParABnormal magazine, Demonic Tome, Haunted MTL, Fantasia Diversity, and industry-defining anthologies including 100 Word Horrors, The Corona Book of Ghost Stories, DOA 3, and Trigger Warning: Body Horror.

Meet the local reporter on an assignment which takes him far beyond the realms of reality, join the fishing trip that goes sideways when a fish unlike any other is hooked, and find out the hidden cost of human trafficking in China. Along the way, meet the hiker who stumbles across something unexpected in the woods, the office worker who’s life is inexorably changed after a medical drug trial goes wrong, and many more.

Also features extensive notes, and original artwork by Stoker award-winning Greg Chapman.

Table of Contents:
Demon Tree
Revenge of the Toothfish
Surzhai
The Sharpest Tool
Something Bad
Down the Road
Coming Around
Where a Town Once Stood
The Last Night Shift
Subject #270374
Afterword

X X2 X3 X4 X5

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Henry L. Herz

Meghan: Hi, Henry. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books and thank you again for agreeing to take part in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Henry: As a kid, my favorite part of Halloween was the candy, of course. Now, it is the costumes. Any excuse for a party is a good excuse.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Henry: Seeing groups of kids happily wandering through the neighborhoods, their pillowcases bulging with sugary loot.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Henry: Free candy and costumes! What’s not to like? It gives us all an excuse to slip into an alter ego.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Henry: Nothing.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Henry: Dracula. Think of how terrifyingly unstoppable a vampire would be with its powers and wisdom from existing for centuries.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Henry: The murders committed in 1888 London by Jack the Ripper. Who was he? Why did he do it?

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Henry: The Licked Hand – a scared girl hears an ominous dripping coming from within her home. She is reassured by her faithful dog, who licks her hand from under the bed. Eventually, she investigates the noise only to find her dog slaughtered and a message written in blood – “humans can lick hands too”.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Henry: Hannibal Lecter because he is so intelligent, depraved, creepy, and sophisticated. If he sets his eyes on you, you are toast… with some fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Henry: I think my first horror movie was Jaws. I did not want to go swimming for quite some time after that. I unexpectedly slipped into reading horror when I discovered how good a writer Stephen King is with Different Seasons, which was comprised of four novellas, more dramatic than horrific. So, after that, my first horror book was Salem’s Lot. Vampires, yeah. Scary.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Henry: I was less scared by Cujo, Christine, or Carrie than I was It. An alien clown. Why did it have to be an alien clown? Preying on kids. Want a balloon, little boy?

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Henry: There’s a scene in An American Werewolf in London when the two friends are out walking in the fields at night, scared by wolf howling. One slips and falls and they have a good laugh. Right in the middle of that comic moment, the werewolf slams into one of them. Scary!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Henry: Being a fantasy fan and San Diego Comic-Con attendee, I’ve seen some amazing costumes. Inside jokes, like the cabbage merchant from Avatar: The Last Airbender crack me up. I also like authentic “recreations”, like a group of eight women dressed as Adapta Sororitas (Sisters of Battle) from Warhammer 40K. I love mashups, like a little girl in a pastel-colored Predator costume and tutu, or a mashup of Boba Fett and the giant chicken Ernie from Family Guy.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Henry: Ooh, it’s hard to pick just one. Dragula by Rob Zombie, Thriller by Michael Jackson, Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr., Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo. Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, and of course, Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Henry: The 100 Grand candy bar from Ferrero is the king of Halloween candy. Fight me. Chocolate, caramel, and krispies, undiluted by gratuitous peanut butter, coconut, or whole nuts. The three most disappointing candies of my youth were candy corn (all the candy corn ever made was made in 1911), elephant “peanuts” (stale marshmallow formed into large peanut shapes, flavored with a hint of self-loathing), and Necco wafers (sad pastel-colored discs of brittle chalk).

Meghan: Before we go, what are some of your top Halloween movies and books?

Henry: Some of my favorites scary movies include Ghostbusters, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and Kiss the Girls. For scary books, you can’t go wrong with horror written by Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Neil Gaiman.


Boo-graphy:
Henry L. Herz is the author of 11 traditionally published children’s books. He also writes scary adult and young adult stories, including: “Cheating Death” in The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie anthology (Blackstone Publishing), “The Castle on the Loch” in Castle of Horror IV anthology (Castle Bridge Media), “Demon Hunter Vashti” in the Jewish Book of Horror anthology (Denver Horror Collective), “Gluttony” in Classics Remixed anthology (Left Hand Publishing), and “The Kelpie of Loch Ness” in If I Die Before I Wake: Tales of Nightmare Creatures anthology (Sinister Smile Press).

Website

I Am Smoke
Smoke speaks in mesmerizing riddles: “I lack a mouth, but I can speak…. I lack hands, but I can push out unwanted guests…. I’m gentler than a feather, but I can cause harm….”This rhythmically powerful narration is complemented by illustrations in which swirling smoke was captured on art paper held over smoky candle flames, and the dancing smoke textures were then deepened and elaborated with watercolors and Photoshop finishes. With this unique method, Mercè López “let the smoke decide how the idea I had in mind would dance with it, giving freedom to the images.” The resulting illustrations are astounding, and they resonate with the otherworldly text.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes
Enter an enchanted land of mythical creatures where manticores reign and ogres roar-a land of mystery and fright. A unique twist on traditional rhymes of everyone’s youth, “Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes” presents a more sinister approach to these childhood classics, and yet the sing-song nature of the poems renders them playful and jovial at the same time. Little Witch Muffet is not frightened by a silly, little spider; she simply adds him to her stew!

Rotten zombies, giants, dwarves, and goblins mingle with werewolves, centaurs, and fauns. Follow along the skeleton stepping stones, scale up a palisade, claw at the window of a tasty child and bake him into a pumpkin shell. Monsters cook up delicious elvish pie, too! Every kid who has an eensy weensy bit of sense wants a pet with feathers white as snow, who flies like an eagle and bleats like a goat-a hippogriff, of course!

Six forest sprites with four times as many pixies escape from a loaf of bread atop the elaborate table of the fey queen; her feast has flown away! If you enjoy mischief and have a penchant for the morbidly hilarious, the Herzs’ rhymes will satisfy your mythological curiosities.

Larson’s illustrations give new life to these ancient figures, and her artistic style employs the bold lines and colorful movement of an action-packed comic book. The author also includes a “bestiary” with information about the book’s legendary creatures, which hail from Scotland, Germany, Italy, Persia, Haiti, and Scandinavia.