First things first, The Howling is my favorite werewolf movie. It’s creepy, it’s sometimes bizarre, it’s sexy, and it’s violent. From the tension-filled opening with Karen White and Eddie Quist to the burning –down-the-house attempt to destroy the fine people of The Colony, and the final change before a live televised audience, The Howling brings it. Released back in 1981, The Howling is based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner released in 1977 (the year I was born).
“We should never try to deny the best, the animal within us…”
While there are plenty of similarities between the novel and the film, the final screenplay turned in for the movie decided to take the film adaptation in its own direction. The book starts out with the main character getting raped in her apartment and features a similar “cabin in the woods” setting for her and her husband to go to recover and heal. The husband is also pursued and seduced by the local shopkeep/temptress. For the adaptation, screenwriter, John Sayles, a psychology major in college, decided to lean heavily on the psychological angle. In the book, the town, Drago, just so happens to be a town filled with werewolves, whereas the screenplay has it all set up by the doctor (Dr. Waggner). Sayles did something I believe all good writers do when treading familiar ground—borrow what you like and make up the rest! For werewolf folklore, he chose to go with silver bullets and fire to kill his beasts, as well as a bite to pass the curse along but threw out the full moon cycle of the werewolf. Instead, he chose to go shapeshifter with the creatures being able to shift at will, day or night.
“You can’t be afraid of dreams…Turn around, Karen…”
From the psychological standpoint, we get to see Dee Wallace deliver an excellent performance as Karen White. After being attacked by and catching a glimpse of Eddie in his werewolf form, she is sent to The Colony, a “place to recharge her batteries” and run by Dr. George Waggner. The Colony is a place where everyone is known to howl at the moon. It’s there that Karen and her husband, Bill, meet Marsha Quist and a number of others. Karen battles her nightmares of Eddie, reliving the moments with her stalker in her dreams and during her sessions with Dr. Waggner at The Colony.
Her husband, Bill, tries to wait for her to let him touch her again without reliving her attack. Marsha sees her opportunity and sets her sights on him. It doesn’t take long for her “animal magnetism” to lure Bill in. One bite and Bill is all hers. This leads to one hell of a sex scene in the woods between the two. I mentioned the sexy thing in my introduction, right? Well, that is definitely brought on by Elisabeth Brooks in her role as Marsha, aka Marsha the Man-Eater. Her wild mane, perfect body, and relentless sex appeal speak to the beast in us all.
“Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.”
The true highlights of the film are the spectacular transformations. Watching the werewolves come to life without the help of today’s special effects crutch (CGI) is a fantastic thing to behold. After killing off Karen’s friend, Eddie comes face-to-face with the object of his desire and we bear witness to the change of all changes as Eddie goes from man to beast before the screen. Watching his eyes alone is amazing. Add that to the work and hours it must have taken to get the snout just right, that’s the good stuff. I can’t imagine how amazing this must have been to see for the first time in 1981. Those of us who were spoiled by the effects of the ‘90’s and the 2000’s have earned a new appreciation for moments in the film like Eddie’s transformation. I think of movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, And John Landi’s American Werewolf in London (which was also released in 1981), and even Michael Jacksons’s “Thiller” video (also directed by Landis), or even Jeff Goldblum’s wicked evolution from man-to-fly in The Fly. It must have been a thousand times better for actors to stand in front of a tangible creation rather than whatever stand-ins they use today for the CGI monsters.
“You can’t tame what’s meant to be wild…”
The Howling, along with Silver Bullet, forged an unforgettable bond in my mind between me and the werewolf. For older folks, it was probably The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, for younger kids maybe it’s something like Dog Soldiers (2002) or the Underworld films (hopefully not Twilight!). In the eighties, my older brother shared these films with me and it was for this reason I dedicated my werewolf novel, Blood, and Rain, to him.
It should also be mentioned that director, Joe Dante, was at the helm of a number of great films that followed, namely, The ‘Burbs (1989) with Tom Hanks, and Gremlins (1984). While both The ‘Burbs and Gremlins contain plenty of humor to go along with the horror, The Howling, for the most part, maintained its dark edge. Although, if you look close enough, you can find spots of Dante’s appreciation for humor between the lines of the film, as well. Next time you watch it, keep your eyes on the televisions in any given scene.
To this day, The Howling remains my favorite werewolf film. The dark, sleazy, psychological aspects in the opening remind me of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1971). It maintains that psychological thriller tone (presented magnificently by screenwriter Sayles) throughout which makes the horror that much deeper. You combine the writing with the special effects, the visual beasts, great direction, and a superb cast of actors and you get the equivalent to a great novel—a full, well-rounded story and presentation.
Final note: Gary Brandner’s novel, The Howling, is also terrific. In fact, film sequel, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), is a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. It is easily my second favorite of the movies that followed in the series. For werewolf flicks that I also love, check out American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, Wolf (1994), The Wolfman (2010), and Wolfen (1981). You can go ahead and add Teen Wolf (1985), as well.
Whatever your horror flavor, I hope you’ll make some time for one or more of these excellent films this Halloween season.
Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness. He is the author of Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, and the collections, Out if Range, Slush, and Where Nightmares Begin. You can get your paws on Glenn’s work on Amazon.
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October 26, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1981, Christopher Stone, dark, Dee Wallace, Dennis Dugan, Fantasy, film, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Glenn Rolfe, gritty, Guest author, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, Horror, horror reviews, Joe Dante, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, movie reviews, Patrick Macnee, review, Reviews, Robert Picardo, Slim Pickens, The Howling, urban horror, werewolf, werewolves | 2 Comments
Was there a change in atmosphere with House of Dracula? Maybe this feeling is just me; maybe not, but while screening this latest in Univeral monsters, there seemed to be a different quality of theatrics going on. Both good and bad, perhaps. Mostly good, if you ask me. In its place in history, House of Dracula was released in December of 1945, a little over three months following the end of WWII. As we’ve noted in previous reviews during this series, Universal was not immune to Hollywood’s propaganda, pro-war influence. Many of these classic monster films, starting in 1941 and running thru 1944, there’ve been subtle hints of “invaders,” and an almost puritanical rule of “killing the monster.” Some movies were not so subtle, Invisible Agent (1942) was the most painfully obvious of American propaganda films during this era. Now, with House of Dracula, I had started watching with this expectation of similarity with the other films. And there were some, but what really struck me as different was a major focus on duality and the understanding of the identity of the monster. Take Dr. Franz Edelmann, a respected member of the community in the setting of House of Dracula. In his attempt to “cure” Dracula, and The Wolfman, he himself turned outwardly monstrous. It begs the question, who is the enemy? The roles for the characters in House of Dracula were equally magnificent, even with the absence of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, replaced in this film by John Carradine. My favorite character by far, I thought, was the hunchbacked nurse, Nina (played by the lovely and native Texan Jane Adams). I felt that her role was pivotal to the sticky plot carried throughout the Hollywood prescribed hour long movie. As it is, I’ve probably chatted long enough. Let’s see what our esteemed guest has to say about House of Dracula.
House of Dracula
By: Chad Clark
House of Dracula was released in 1945 and stands as a sort of swan song for the fabled Universal monster franchise. The film is a direct sequel to House of Frankenstein and would be the last time (with the exception of the later Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein) that these iconic monsters would appear together on film.
First of, I would say that the inherent nostalgia of these movies make it hard to not enjoy them on at least some level, even if the film itself might be somewhat flawed. I have always been a big fan of the orchestral scoring used in this era, giving the movies much more of a feel of the theater than I think we get in modern film. And of course, I think that while my modernistic makeup gives me an almost unconscious urge to resist it, movies shot in black and white really have a forlorn beauty to them that I think is absent from our modern .
To start with what I like about the film, I love the feel of physical spaces, the weight of props and the use of practical special effects. This is not to disparage the art of digital effects but I think that there was a special passion in movies like this where, if you wanted to do something, you had to figure out how to do it. The essential spirit of invention out of necessity I think gives a unique feel to a movie. I think everyone involved becomes very invested in making sure the product is as good as it can be. In modern movies, I often feel like the actor spends the entire film miming movement in front of a green screen so it is refreshing to see actual sets, with real physical objects.
The effects of this film are actually quite good. The effect of Dracula transforming into a bat and vise-versa was done extremely well. Ironically, I found the fairly simple effect of the bat flying to be more awkward and cheesy than the effect of a human transforming into the bat itself. I’m sure that a younger viewer, spoiled by the digital effects of our age would find many of the effects silly but I think that they are used exactly as effects should. Regardless of how seamless and realistic they look, they are simply one tool used to move the story forward. This was a time when movies were about the magic and the story. Sometimes, I think that the movie-making process has been so de-constructed anymore that we have lost sight of that.
The acting for the most part is decent, with a few stand-out performances. I thought that Onslow Stevens as Dr. Franz Edelmann and Jane Adams as Nina were both very good, with performances that were maybe a little more nuanced and heart-felt than the rest of the cast. Otherwise, this was a movie that felt very safe. I suspect that by this point, everyone knew that this was more about the franchise and that no one’s individual performances were going to make or break the show. You show up and slap on the makeup.
If you love the monsters, there’s a little bit of everything for you here. You’ve got Dracula and the Wolfman. You’ve got some Frankenstein and a mad scientist. There’s even a hunchback, although not quite in the context you might be expecting. And since it’s a Universal Studios driven monster flick, of course there is a huge mob of villagers, poised to chase after someone with torches if they are needed.
The thing for me and ultimately what I think fails about this movie is that there isn’t really any cohesive or organic reason for all of these monsters to be in the same story. Ostensibly, the premise is built on the notion that both Dracula and the Wolfman are seeking out this scientist for a “cure” for their conditions but that itself is never really explored or explained. To me, it just seemed like a half-hearted attempt to provide a justification for having them both in the movie. And as for the rest of the monsters, it literally feels like we just trip over them on the road down the narrative of the movie.
And for those who love to harp on Hollywood for lacking originality and going back to retread old ideas and lean on old franchises, this ain’t nothing new. Watching House of Dracula, frankly, felt like I was watching two completely separate films. You have the story centered around Dracula and then the story centered around the Wolfman. Because both stories end up sort of competing with one another, I’m left not really caring about either. Ironically, the one character I seem to feel the most invested in is the nurse played by Jane Adams and she probably has the least amount of screen time out of all of them.
Another irony in placing so many disparate monsters within the film is that, despite the title of the movie, I wouldn’t even categorize this as a Dracula movie. John Carradine is certainly passable as Dracula, but there is no confusing him with the dark, menacing presence of Lugosi.
But that by itself can be taken in stride. What I find more of a letdown is that while Dracula has a few big scenes, ultimately his story is wrapped up so anti-climatically that we are left kind of scratching our heads and wondering why he was there in the first place. It seems to me like we are supposed to be more emotionally invested in Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman than anything else. At the very end of the Dracula sub-plot, something does happen which ultimately drives the rest of the movie to its tragic conclusion, but if that was his only purpose for being in the story, it seems like they could have accomplished the same thing without arbitrarily shoe-horning Dracula into the film. Had this been a movie about just trying to “fix” the Wolfman, I think the film would have had much more emotional depth and focus.
I don’t hate this movie, I just don’t really love it either. As I hinted at before, this just felt like a safe movie to me. It’s entertaining, but it’s also kind of bland. To me, it seemed like Universal was couching on the spectacle of bringing all these monsters together in one film being enough of a draw that they didn’t really need to focus on the rest. Nobody is really going out on a limb with the story or trying to break new ground with anything. This is not a movie that will blow you away or amaze you.
It is, however, a great film to throw into the DVD player, order some pizzas and invite your friends over for movie night.
Chad A. Clark is a Midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, releases in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Chad Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.
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August 24, 2016 | Categories: History, Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1945, Chad Clark, Dracula, Frankenstein, Frankenstein monster, Guest author, Horror, horror reviews, House of Dracula, Hunchback, Jane Adams, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., mad scientist, movie reviews, Onslow Stevens, Reviews, The Wolfman, Universal Classics, Universal Monsters, Universal Monsters in Review, Universal Studios, Universal Studios Classics, WWII | 1 Comment
Just looking at Lon Chaney, one can easily imagine how much of a pain in the ass those prosthetics were. Countless hours in Jack Pierce’s chair. Being sculpted and wrapped in gauze. Unable to speak, really. Mostly immobile, except for those infamous lurching motionless typical for a mummy caricature. Starting before the break of dawn and by the end of the day, you’re ripping off the mask just to allow your skin to taste fresh air once more. The same for most icons who donned the monster grab, Boris Karloff being one of the first and most notable of Jack’s creations in Frankenstein and the original The Mummy. Glenn Strange also suffered as Frank. And not forgetting Bela Lugosi, who underwent hours on the slab as Frankenstein and Igor (I don’t think Dracula required any amount of pain, at least not cosmetically). What does all this have to do with The Mummy’s Ghost? Well, its no secret that Lon Chaney did not care for the role as Kharis, in either of the three time he played the role. However, there is a slight difference in his acting, I think, with this movie then with the predecessor, The Mummy’s Curse, also filmed in 1944. In Curse, Chaney seemed too constrictive. And the plot…well…phoned in, mostly. The mummy’s motivations did not make much sense to me in Curse; however, in Ghost, the motivations are made a little more clear and we can understand now why the mummy is so murderous. I’m not saying there are not any plot-holes. By George, there are plenty of those. But at least with Ghost, we can relate to the monster a little more, and you can also tell that Chaney was having more fun with the role, being able to act more than any other time he wore the rags, which says a lot for a character that cannot speak and is partially immobile. And the ending… Well, I think you’ve heard enough of me rambling. Lets see what our special guest has to say regarding The Mummy’s Ghost.
The Mummy’s Ghost
By. Tim Busbey
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
An ancient curse that has survived for 3,000 years is coming to America! In ancient Egypt, the princess Ananka and lowly commoner Kharis fell in love and pledged themselves eternally to each other. Although buried together, Kharis is given a sacred potion that grants him eternal life – and an eternity to search for his lost love. Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis and John Carradine as an Egyptian priest star in this engaging story of a couple’s true love that survives the centuries and the unending curse that haunts them. The Mummy’s Ghost unearths hope for romantics everywhere with its surprising finale!
As a kid, I loved the classic monster movies: Dracula. The Mummy. Creature From The Black Lagoon. Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. I eagerly devoured them all, along with reading the classic literature some of them were based on. I especially remember watching “Creature From the Black Lagoon” in 3-D sometime around 1983 when I lived in a suburb of Detroit. The technology wasn’t quite what we enjoy now, but as a 10-year-old boy, it was pretty cool.
However, I never delved deeper into the Universal Movies monster movies and watched the many sequels they created to capitalize on the originals’ successes (sound familiar?). Until Thomas so kindly invited me to take part in this series and sent me a list of movies to choose from, I had never even heard of many of them. So I sort of randomly chose one from the list of movies that were remaining on his list at that time. I’d always liked The Mummy so I chose one of its sequels, “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
From the opening scene set in an ancient Egyptian tomb, I was transported back to my childhood, remembering those black & white films from long ago, telling the tales of vampires, mad scientists, hirsute men and ancient Egyptians. Yet somehow, what was fun and enthralling as a kid has a different impact as an adult.
It was still a fun way to spend an hour, watching this 70-something year old film, but it didn’t capture my imagination quite the same way. Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies now. Or my expectations are higher. Or they just make better films now. Hmmm. Whatever the reason, I wished I could go back and feel that same sense of joy I felt when watching the original Universal films 30 years ago.
The story of “The Mummy’s Ghost” is nothing groundbreaking, as a princess falls in love with a commoner, and the pair end up cursed to eternally search for each other. Of course in this case, the princess is an ancient Egyptian princess reincarnated in a 1940s co-ed, and the commoner is a 3,000-year-old mummy brought back to life through a ritual performed by a mysterious priest.
Eventually the mummy is reunited with his long-lost love, but there is no happy ending for these two.
I did not watch the previous film in the Mummy series, but from things I read, it seems as though there were some continuity changes/issues with this film. Luckily, those weren’t an issue for me. That being said, here is what I did and didn’t like about “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
What I Liked
Lon Chaney, Jr., turns in a strong performance as the title character. In some scenes, he manages to bring a lot of emotion and character to a dead creature, or undead if you like. His mummy was not some mindless death machine, hell-bent on destruction. He was a star-crossed lover, searching for his beloved. Yes, he killed because, well this is a horror movie. But beyond that, he had a real motivation, a reason for his actions.
John Carradine, another legend of the Universal Monsters series, adds just the right supporting touch as Yusef Bay, who originally is helping unite the lovers, until he realizes his true feelings for Ananka, leading to his betrayal of Kharis.
And the ending. Oh the ending. How can you not help but feel for the mummy. He finds his beloved, reborn in the body of a beautiful young woman, only to have her turn into a 3,000-year-old corpse at the end of the movie. It’s the ultimate story of lovers who are destined to be together, yet fate also seems to be against them. The story has been used in many a modern film, just usually without mummies and priests.
What I Didn’t Like
There was a little too much aimless shuffling/wandering by the mummy. And at times, the way they had him shuffle was just comical. At one point, he was shuffling sideways. Why would a mummy need to shuffle sideways? But that’s a pretty nitpicky point, to be honest.
When he’s not shuffling, he’s killing. But they are some of the most boring, lifeless (pun intended) deaths ever seen on-screen.
Even though I hadn’t seen the previous mummy films, the continuity lover in me wishes they would have kept the previous stories as part of this movie so it would make sense to longtime viewers.
The script does the veteran actors no favors, leaving them at times struggling to bring life to their characters and make you feel anything for them at all.
Luckily, there was only one more movie in the Mummy series after this. It was included on the same DVD with “The Mummy’s Ghost” but I haven’t dared to watch it yet. I probably will sometime when I’m desperate for something to watch, or just feel the need to watch a really bad movie.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give “The Mummy’s Ghost” a 6.
Tim Busbey is an award-winning editor and journalist who currently is the Assistant Editor at Richland Source (www.RichlandSource.com) and Ashland Source (www.AshlandSource.com). Tim also does freelance book editing and is a partner with Erin Al-Mehairi in Hook of A Book Media and Publicity. When he’s not editing other people’s stories or reporting on all the happenings in Ashland, Ohio, Tim writes sci-fi, thrillers and horror.
June 29, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, death, Frankenstein, Horror, horror reviews, Jack Pierce, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., movie reviews, Ramsay Ames, revenge, Reviews, romantic, series, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Tim Busbey, Universal Classics, Universal Monsters, Universal Monsters in Review, Universal Studios | 1 Comment