Directed by Joe Dante
Television newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) who was stalked by a serial killer is sent by her doctor to recuperate in a remote mountain resort after a near fatal incident with the murderer, unaware that the residents are werewolves and connected to the killer.
This is a tongue in cheek werewolf movie-sort of. What makes it into the story is serious and a touch weird. We have a mountain werewolf colony and even a werewolf serial killer in Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) who seems to keep coming back no matter how many times he dies. My knowledge of Picardo begins mostly with Star Trek: Voyager and largely ends with the Stargate franchise. To see him in a menacing role that he nails was a surprise. How he transitioned from darker stuff like this to lighter fair is kind of a reverse Lance Henriksen who started doing lighter things and is the guy that brings a dark cloud to a sunny day in films.
The humorous aspect come in large part from the referential nuggets and cameos that director Joe Dante inserted into the film alluding wolves, werewolf movies, or just horror in general. There is a bottle of Wolfen-brand medicine on the counter which Karen picks up the acid from that she uses on Eddie, in Karen and Bill’s cabin at the colony there hangs a picture of sheep killed by a wolf, there is a reference to (then) famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack, and Wolf Brand (not sure if that is a real brand or not) chili can be seen a few times among other references.
Several characters get names from horror directors of werewolf movies such as Karen’s doctor George Waggner (The Wolf Man-1941) who is played by Patrick Macnee, Charles Barton (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein-1948) played by Noble Willingham, Karen’s husband R. William “Bill” Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man-1943), Terence Fisher-here Karen’s female friend Terri-(The Curse of the Werewolf-1960) played by Belinda Balaski, Freddie Francis (Legend of the Werewolf-1975) played by the legendary Kevin McCarthy , Erle Kenton (House of Dracula-1945) and several others. John Carradine, who plays Erle Kenton in this movie, was also in House of Dracula.
Schlockmeister extraordinaire Roger Corman and this movie’s screenwriter John Sayles have cameos as does the mummified Grandmother from the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Aficionados and even casual viewers of older horror will pick up on most of these I am sure.
Horror movie fixture of the time Christopher Stone plays Karen’s husband Bill Neill. It was a bit unusual at the time for a husband and wife movie couple to not have the same last name but here we are. I am not even sure if it is too common now. Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks) is one of the colony members that seduces him and converts him during sex by a fire. While most of the effects are good for the time, this provides for a famously bad silhouetted human to werewolf transformation that is clearly animation. I applaud the effort, but they probably should not have tried it. Using animation in place of effects has never really worked. Have you seen the old Superman serials?
Starting in the 70s or so and continuing well into the 90s in my opinion largely many horror movies were filmed like TV movies. The sets looked sparse and the shots were tight and were not dynamic. Just my opinion. The very late 70s/early 80s were the darkest of times for this. This movie is a victim of that, and it is probably due to the generally smaller budgets of these movies.
The Howling is well acted which helps it overcome the flaws. All those involved gave it a serious effort and stayed away from camp despite the semi-humorous nature of things at times. The editing, much like the filming, had that TV movie vibe. It was a little clunky.
What really sells this movie is not the confrontation at the barn (which is great) but rather the closing minutes at the TV station with reporter Karen breaking the story worldwide and Marsha at the bar watching and being kind of cryptic. It is what I have heard talked about most in a positive way about this movie. And it is a shocking moment as well as being a rare instance of characters attempting to offer up real proof to those who were not there.
The Howling despite its flaws should be considered a classic of the werewolf horror subgenre. It is an interesting story with a better than most script. The acting is good, and this is a good early Joe Dante effort. You will not be disappointed.