Monday, October 10, 2016

31 Days of Horror- Day 10: The Howling (1981)

(dir. Joe Dante)

Avco Embassy Pictures

*First time viewing

After a run-in with a serial killer, a news anchor and her husband go to an experimental resort called The Colony, whose residents are more than they initially seem.

It often seems like there a few unexplored places to go with our classic monster archetypes, and few have been explored so thoroughly as the lycanthrope. Released the same year as the more iconic An American Werewolf in London, Dante’s The Howling is usually regarded as second fiddle to Landis’s film. While Werewolf in London is the better crafted film, The Howling contains the more interesting ideas that actually do take the familiar to the unexplored.

The Howling is both a sexual and societal nightmare. Karen (Dee Wallace) is plagued by nightmares of her encounter with the serial killer, Eddie, an encounter that took place in a peep show and one filled with sexual overtones. Werewolf mythos are filled with the kind of raw look at sexuality that The Howling examines. The Colony’s leader, Doc, broaches ideas of tapping into one’s inner beast, and primal nature, which manifest in a lot of sexual tension throughout. Karen, and her husband Bill are sexually out of synch, repressed due to the nature of Karen’s trauma, but Bill has a sexual awakening once he’s bitten by Marsha. Their entire conflict of infidelity and sexual urges is explored through the existence of the werewolf, and transformation. With sex comes society, which is where The Howling’s most interesting ideas come into play.

Doc’s idea for The Colony as a sort of training ground for werewolves to learn to control their urges so that they can exist among society is rather brilliant narrative beat that we’ve seen with vampires but not with werewolves. The very concept of werewolves is predicated on the idea that they can’t be tamed. But The Colony as a means to create culture and society is a fascinating step. While the film is at times humorous, and occasionally plagued by a soundtrack that sometimes great and other times wildly out of tonal synchronicity, The Howling presents a far darker and more horrific look at the werewolf beyond body horror and death by silver bullet. Aided by Rob Bottin’s memorable special effects (not better than Rick Baker’s, but worthy to stand alongside them), and an ending that's unforgettable, The Howling is a top-tier werewolf movie that should be considered more classic than cult.

Scare Factor: 2/5 Through the werewolf transformation it’s easy to see where Bottin’s work would take him on The Fly and few years later. And Dante’s brutal blend of tragedy and humor is a clear precursor to Gremlins. While it’s neither artist’s finest work, The Howling is an impressive foundational piece for careers that would soon become legendary, and legends that had become too entrenched in their foundations.

1 comment:

  1. I watched this a couple times way back when I was a teenager and don't remember much other than liking it. Might be time for a revisit.