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Posts tagged “The Howling

Fright Fest: The Howling (1981)

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Aaarrrrroooooooo!

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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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Late Phases: in review

Late Phases

Have you seen Late Phases? Finally! A new werewolf movie to keep my strange fascination were the lycanthrope myth sated, or for at least the time being. Hopefully maybe soon we’ll see some quality Mummy movies grace the silver screen…doubtful at that one. But we can always hope. Its no secret, I’ve got a special place in my heart for the classic Universal Monsters. I’m not at the age to have grown up watching the films. I found them in my adult years, and its probably better that I did. I don’t think most of the kids in my late phased (pun intended) Gen-X generation would have appreciated the classics…not as much as an adult would. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m sure there are a few out there that could, but overall, it is my opinion that the classics are appreciated more by a more mature audience. My appreciation stems from my studies in history thru film. Looking back at society thru the looking glass of cinema is a fascinating way of deciphering prevalent thoughts and themes and attitudes of the day in which the movie was made. The original Universal classics, as such, can be both an entertaining as hell movie and a look into the concerns of the past. Werewolf movies are one of my favorite forms of metaphor. Much how I gravitate toward Romero-esk zombie tales, likewise, I gravitate toward the tradition of werewolf created by Curt Siodmak. Curt wrote the original Universal tale, The Wolf Man (1941) and portrayed the bipedal beast as more of a Greek tragedy, where the monster is also the victim, having no control over his inner demon, per say. Late Phases seems to keep to this tradition whilst also moving the mythos a step farther.

Quick fire synopsis:

Ambrose McKinley; a fiercely independent, yet blind Vietnam War veteran and his seeing eye dog are moved into a retirement community at the edge of a forest. Willful and adamant that he can live on his own, he and his son Will are clearly not on the best of terms. He meets three neighbor women; Gloria, Anna and Victoria, who; while at first admiring Ambrose, are quickly put off by his rough attitude toward them. He meets his neighbor Delores, who shares the duplex with him. That night, during a full moon, something breaks into Delores’ kitchen and brutally slashes her to death. Ambrose hears the commotion and is also attacked by a massive werewolf. His dog comes to his defense as Ambrose struggles to find his gun, he manages to deter the creature, but his dog is mortally wounded. The next day, the police find him cradling his dog, and despite the destruction and his claims of the attack, it is shrugged off as a home invasion. With no one to believe his tale, Ambrose quickly works at preparing for the next full moon and soon discovers the threat is not from outside, but rather from inside this seemingly quiet retiree community.

The Meaning of it All…

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And there you go. Plenty of symbolism to keep even the most jaded film graduate student satisfied, while also giving us horror nerds another allegorical tale to place on the shelf of werewolf lore. Ambrose verses the werewolf is an obvious story about how old bones can find purpose and keeps to the Curt Siodmak tradition…with one step farther. The monster here, while struggling at first, in the end accepts his plight and goes about turning other would-be victims into beasts themselves. Religion and faith find their way into the story too, as the priest, Father Roger is summed and cast way and ultimately killed (oops, SPOILERS!). There is also a redemption story between Ambrose and his son, Will. The movie has plenty of heart and even some humor to balance the drama and terror. But is it entertaining?

Where’s the Popcorn…?

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Late Phases was very entertaining. There are certainly some bumps in the road. While the use of practical effects should be applauded, there were a few moments where the effects came across as silly. And I’m mostly talking about the werewolf costume. The transformation scenes are respectable, though does not overshadow Rick Baker’s fantastic work in An American Werewolf in London. I’d say, the transformation effects here were more close to Rob Bottin’s work in The Howling. Other then the effects, the pace was steady. There was an absence of exposition, which I found refreshing. Ambrose, played by Nick Damici, was fantastic. I love seeing crusty veteran movies, especially in horror flicks as it is something I tend to gravitate toward in my own writings. If you haven’t seen Late Phases yet, it’s still on Netflix. Make it a night. Pop some popcorn and enjoy a rather fury tale of a blind Vietnam veteran verses the monotony of retirement.

My Review: 3.5/5 


The Howling: a 34 year review

In all my posturing. In my proclamation for love of all things horror (or, mostly all things) there are certain films I have not had the honor of screening. I know, its striking. Almost unbelievable. Say it isn’t so. But it is. Terribly so. There are actually lots of horror films I have not yet seen. And there are some in which I have only seen bits and pieces. Such as: I have not seen any of the Phantasm films. Nor have I watched any of the Val Lewton pictures, including (but not limited to): Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, & The Curse of the Cat People and many many more. But we’re not here to discuss my horror deficiency. We’re here to discuss my first screening of Joe Dante’s 1981 werewolf flick, The Howling.

Wow. Well, for starters, not what I was expecting. Not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t that! Maybe it was just the hipe. Horror nerds claiming The Howling to be one of the great werewolf pictures. If that’s the case, it only proves that there are actually very few good werewolf movies, which is sad, because the world is sorely lacking good werewolf pictures and unfortunately The Howling isn’t one of those. Okay. Okay. All kidding aside, its true, I didn’t like the movie. I’ll wait here while the shock wears off. Feeling better? Listen. I didn’t hate the movie, I just didn’t get the movie. Sure, there was some postmodernism there. Yup, got it. The whole sexuality and pop psychology regarding duality and personality and desire were very prevalent, especially at the beginning. But come on. If you’re going to send a message you gotta have a good story or at least one that makes sense. If you watch some of the old trailers for it, one of them states: “Somewhere in this urban jungle…” which gives one the impression the story will unfold in an urban setting, not some backwoods retreat known as The Colony. The movie starts out in the city, which gave me high hope, but once it moved to the country disappointment ensued.

Some of the highlights: good (decent special effects). While yes, good, not Rob Bottin’s best work. If you want a taste of what Mr. Bottin can do, watch Carpenter’s The Thing. Those practical effects where out of this world (no pun intended)!! The Howling…? Ugh, not bad. You may disagree with me there, but I think we can all agree at least that as far as werewolf transformations, American Werewolf in London takes the cake! And perhaps, that’s partly to blame for my quasi-dislike for The Howling. I was excepting something like American Werewolf in London. And not just in effects, but also in mythology. In The Howling the werewolf’s are shapeshifters and not subject, or I should say limited to, the appearance of a full moon. Sorry. Don’t like it. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to werewolf movies. The appeal of lycanism for me is the loss of control. Its a curse and the victim has no control over it, just how Curt Siodmak wrote it as a Greek tragedy when he penned the screenplay for The Wolfman in 1941. Man…if we could somehow take the lore and classicism (is that even a word?) from The Wolfman and add in solid practical effects and gory transformation scenes on par with American Werewolf in London…holy jeez, that would be a legendary film!!!

Or maybe I’ve got it backwards and Joe Dante’s postmodernist story was simply about the fact that we do have control over our impulses and second natures and ought to come out of the closest (so to speak). To show the world, just as Karen White (played by the oh so innocent Dee Wallace) does at the end of the film by transforming into a werewolf live on television and then systematically having herself shot in the brain bucket. Either way, the movie wasn’t very entertaining for me. I actually dozed off a couple of times. But then again, I’m also not a huge Joe Dante fan. His latest picture, The Hole, left me hating the characters. And Gremlins was a big to do, but to be honest, I’m not a huge Gremlins fan either (Da-Da-DAAAAA). Sorry.

So there you have it folks. My review of 1981’s The Howling. What’s your favorite werewolf movie? Let us know in the comments section below!