I had an old friend crashing on my couch for the night so we decided to watch something horrific. After complaining about the paucity of decent werewolf features, we came upon The Howling, and the poor slob confessed to never having seen it.
Well, that settles that.
Plucky Los Angeles TV anchorwoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) has caught the eye of local serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who phones her to arrange a classy tryst at a local porn theater.
Of course, the police have Karen wired so they can capture the maniac. Sadly, surveillance technology is still in its infancy and the cops lose contact with the nervous reporter.
Eddie is gunned down but Karen can’t remember anything about their deadly encounter at the dirty movie house.
In order to dredge up every lurid detail of her trauma, renowned psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) take a restful vay-kay at his coastal retreat, The Colony.
There they meet Slim Pickens, John Carradine, James Murtaugh, and Elisabeth Brooks, all of whom are probably werewolves.
“Join us Karen! It feels wonderful!”
The Howling is a fantastic werewolf movie, maybe the best one. The only problem is, it came out the same year as An American Werewolf in London, which is generally acknowledged as the apex of the lycanthrope genre.
Granted, AAWiL is a more modern film, and special effects wizard Rick Baker’s transformation makeup hasn’t been equalled in over 40 years. Baker was also an effects consultant on The Howling, but the heavy lifting was done by Rob Bottin (The Thing, Total Recall, Fight Club), a man with a resume nearly as impressive as Baker’s.
In other words, prosthetics on both wolf and victim in The Howling totally shred.
Director Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles bring a keen combination of wit and irreverence to the shaggy subject matter, mainly in the person of occult bookstore owner Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), who, when asked if he believes in the supernatural, replies, “What am I? An idiot? I’m trying to make a buck here.”
Cameos by Roger Corman, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Sayles himself should keep the film school nerds energized, and everyone else will be sated by premium werewolf carnage.
Note: There are a bunch of Howling sequels and I might revisit a few, to ensure I didn’t miss anything.