The Howling was the ‘other’ werewolf film of 1981. The other was An American Werewolf in London and though The Howling was released first in May of that year it fought hard to stand its ground when, in November, AAWIL opened wowing audiences worldwide with its groundbreaking special effects and instigated the first Oscar for best Make up won by Rick Baker. Baker ironically was going to do The Howling having been waiting on director John Landis to get the funding and when Landis found that Baker had jumped ship he went into overdrive to get him back for his film. Baker agreed and his protegee Rob Bottin headed up the effects for The Howling.
Helming the film would be fledgling director Joe Dante on what would be his second feature film after Piranha. He was the right man to over from original director Jack Conrad with it’s story of a television journalist (Dee Wallace) suffering from the fallout of a near fatal encounter with a serial killer and finds herself sent by her therapist to a remote mountain resort where the residents turn out to be werewolves. Dante bought in John Sayles who had written Piranha to rewrite it and making The Howling something of a satire this time taking shots at Californian self help therapy groups and mixing horror with humour. At the same time Sayles was also writing creature feature ‘Alligator’ and Dante insists that some of the scenes ended up in each other’s script. But Dante really hit his stride with The Howling which despite its low budget had the first signs of his regular trademarks – Dick Miller was to become a regular feature in all of his films and the film is chock full of in-jokes – the characters are named after several horror film directors and there are cameos from cult figures Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) plus Sayles as well as a sneaky cameo from Roger Corman who gave Dante his big break by letting him direct Piranha. In a homage to a scene from ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Corman waits outside a phone booth before going in and checking the phone for any loose change – a sly dig at his notorious penny pinching and corner cutting for his own productions.
There’s plenty to enjoy here with the practical effects a refreshing change from today’s CGI overload and Rob Bottin would take his skills to the next level when he went on to provide the effects for John Carpenter’s brilliant remake of ‘The Thing’. The Howling despite only having a budget of less than $2m would go on to make almost $18m worldwide inevitably prompting a number of increasingly inferior sequels. Audiences loved it and the film found a fan in Steven Spielberg, an increasingly powerful figure in the industry and he would cast Dee Wallace the following year in ET and Dante would be taken aback when he found Spielberg posting him the script for Gremlins which remains one of Dante’s most loved films to this day.
Now released on UHD Collector’s Edition, steelbook, blu-ray DVD and digital to celebrate the films 20th anniversary with a restoration supervised by Dante and includes the following features:
- NEW Featurette: Inside the Career of Joe Dante
- Documentary: Welcome to Werewolfland
- Deleted Scenes
What it does miss though is a Dante commentary and for our money an interview with Rob Bottin would be an essential but Bottin has become increasingly reclusive over recent years. That aside The Howling remains one of the great horror films of the early Eighties and is always worth a revisit.
Here’s the Howling trailer……..