“The Howling” (1981)

“When we were making these movies, the general feeling was they would play the theaters and then they would go into syndication and then they’d end up as the midnight movie and that would be the end of it.”
Joe Dante

Karen White, portrayed by Dee Wallace (Cujo), is a television news, anchorwoman, for KDHB television. At the beginning of the film, she is out on an assignment, in a seedy part of Los Angeles, working as a part of a sting operation, in conjunction with law enforcement. Karen is headed to meet serial killer, Eddie Quist, acted by Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager). He has been communicating with Karen, and will only give his story, and his reasons for killing, to her. Quist, the viewer will learn, is more than your average psycho. He has arranged to meet Karen in a peep show booth of an adult video store. Once inside the booth, Eddie, who is already there, lets Karen know that she is the only one who can understand him; additionally, he has something he wants to show her. While the obvious jokes can be made, given the location, what he wishes to share is neither sexual nor comedic; turning around to face Eddie, Karen screams. A rookie police officer, after hearing she is in distress, fires a series of bullets into the booth, and fortunately, only Quist is killed.

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After the attack, Karen is haunted by nightmares, but can’t remember particular details of what exactly took place when she was inside the booth. Returning to work, too soon after the attack, when it is her turn to talk during a live broadcast, she freezes and remains mute. Her actions prompt the ire of the station manager, Fred Francis, played by Golden Globe winner, Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Francis will not have her return to live television, until she works out her issues from the traumatic experience she suffered interacting with Quist. In addition, Karen has no desire to be touched by her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone). Her friends and fellow colleagues, Terry (Belinda Balaski) and Chris (Dennis Dugan) want her to get away for a while.

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Karen and Bill, head off to a place known as ‘The Colony’ for some rest, as well as for her to get therapy. ‘The Colony,’ is a densely wooded retreat, that also has its own private beach, and is run by Patrick Macnee’s (The Avengers) character, Dr. George Waggner, who is a psychologist. At the start of the film, while Karen was on her way to meet Quist, the news station was interviewing Dr. Waggner. He was discussing the self-help book he wrote, which deals with human beings repressing the more feral side of their nature, and the stresses that can be caused by it.

The well executed film, “The Howling,” was directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins). The movie was written for the screen by two time, Academy Award nominee, John Sayles (Passion Fish). The source material was taken, although altered quite a bit, from the novel of the same name, written by Gary Brandner, which was published by Fawcett Publications in 1977. The movie, which has a runtime of 91 minutes, premiered at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France, in January of 1981, where it won the Critics Award. Pino Donaggio (Carrie) provides a fantastic score for the film, which captures just the right balance of eeriness to compliment what is transpiring on the screen. Oscar winner, Rob Bottin (Total Recall), did an excellent job, within limited budgetary constraints, of producing high quality and imaginative special effects, especially for the time period. (As an aside: Jack Conrad (Country Blue) was originally hired to direct the film, but had trouble with the studio and left the project, also Terence H. Winkless (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) was working on early versions of the script, but what he envisioned wasn’t what the studio had in mind, so he too, exited the production).

After arriving at ‘The Colony,’ Karen and Bill meet an assortment of people: one couple is married and seem to possess cheerful dispositions; others, like Emmy award winner, John Carradine’s (The Grapes of Wrath) character, Erle, wants to commit suicide; another of the group’s members, the sultry looking, Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), who lives at ‘The Colony’ with her brother T.C. (Don McLeod), takes an immediate interest in Bill and the feeling is mutual. Karen receives therapy, while Bill does his best to occupy his time with activities such as going on a hunting trip with the other men of ‘The Colony,’ which include among their number, Slim Picken’s (Dr. Strangelove) character, Sheriff Sam Newfield. Instead of helping to ease Karen’s dark thoughts, the place is having the opposite effect. Cows are being mutilated, and during the evenings, while trying to sleep, she is kept awake by the howling of wolves. One night, Bill takes it upon himself to investigate, and for his trouble, he is attacked by something. Afterward, Bill, who was a vegetarian prior to his encounter in the woods, not only takes to eating meat, but he can’t resist his urges to cheat on his wife, with Marsha.

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Karen calls Terry and asks her to come out to ‘The Colony’ to keep her company. She and Chris have been investigating the life of Eddie Quist, and have made some startling discoveries; not the least of which, is that his body has disappeared from the morgue. While at ‘The Colony’ Terry figures out, based on a drawing she and Chris found while searching Eddie’s apartment, that he spent time there. Rather than letting Karen know what she has learned and making the case that they should leave, Terry, instead, places a phone call to Chris, and while talking to him, she gets to meet the real Eddie Quist. Chris, who is very concerned, and rightfully so, heads off to ‘The Colony,’ but not before purchasing silver bullets, at an occult-bookstore he and Terry had been to during their investigation. The store is owned and operated by Dick Miller’s (Piranha) character, Walter Paisley.

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What was at first meant to be a relaxing and therapeutic escape, turns into a nightmare, when it is discovered, that the other guests at the secluded location, are anything but human. Instead, they are werewolves, and ‘The Colony,’ acts as a place for them to be their true selves. Will Chris make it in time to save not only Terry, but Karen and Bill as well? Is it too late for Bill? Has whatever attacked him, and the fact that he is under Marsha’s spell, made him lost to the outside world? What is Eddie Quist’s connection to ‘The Colony?’ What are Dr. Waggner’s motivations for setting up such a place? Is it just to have a hunting ground for the werewolves, or does he have another agenda?

Trivia buffs take note: The special effects for the film were originally worked on by Rick Baker, but he left to work for director, John Landis on “American Werewolf in London.” Ten character names, (for example, George Waggner and Freddie Francis), used in the film, were taken from the names of directors of movies about werewolves. One of the sequels to the film, “Howling IV: The Original Nightmare,” was also based on Gary Brandner’s novel. Forest J. Ackerman, the editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” has a cameo in the movie as a book store patron; he can be seen carrying copies of the magazine. In addition, B-film producer, Roger Corman, also makes an appearance, toward the beginning of the movie, as a man waiting for Dee Wallace’s Karen to get off a pay phone. Screenwriter John Sayles play the morgue attendant in the film, who relates a story to Terry and Chris, about a man named Stu Walker. Walker was the first person to direct a werewolf film, “Werewolf of London,” after films began to have sound. For fans of 80s horror, and werewolf films in general, who have never seen the movie, this is a must watch.

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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26 Responses to “The Howling” (1981)

  1. table9mutant says:

    Nice review! I saw this such a long time ago – I keep meaning to re-watch it. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  2. Awesome review! I haven’t watched this in a long time either, but this is the perfect month for it! 😊

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Thank you so very much for reading and commenting. It is much appreciated. If you get chance to see it again, it is certainly worth the time you’ll spend re-watching it, and as you mentioned, the perfect month to watch the film.

  3. jmount43 says:

    The Howling, in my opinion, to this day still has the greatest transformation scene in cinema history and, aside from Dog Soldiers, some of the fiercest werewolves to ever grace the screen. I saw this movie on opening day and have owned it on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. It is, again in my opinion, the greatest werewolf movie ever made.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      No argument here, I love the film. I agree with the points you make regarding the transformation scene, as well as the look of the werewolves. I haven’t seen “Dog Soldiers,” I have heard nothing, but great things about it, so I am definitely adding it to my must watch list.

      Thank you for reading and commenting; it is very much appreciated.

      • jmount43 says:

        Dog Soldiers is written and directed by Neil Marshall; he is also the writer/director of The Descent and has directed epsisodes of Game of Thrones, Black Sails, Constantine and Hannibal. This may sound cliché but think of ‘Soldiers as “Aliens with werewolves” and you will be in a good mindset when you watch it.

        As for reading and commenting you are most welcome but I also must thank you for your support. Thank you.

      • robbinsrealm says:

        Thank you for the information. I have to move “Dog Soldiers” to the top of my watch list.

        My pleasure. You’re welcome.

  4. le0pard13 says:

    Totally agree. This is a must-watch for October, or anytime really. So many werewolf movies came out during the ’80s, a number of them in the ‘great’ category. Arguably, and believe me many do start when it comes to which was the best that year, as well as the decade: this or ‘An American Werewolf in London’. While I favor the latter for the honor, ‘The Howling’ remains a very close second. Makes for a great double-feature. Top-notch review, Jonathan.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I also like “An American Werewolf in London.” I find it to be a really well executed horror and psychological thriller. I think Rick Baker’s makeup effects have stood the test of time, especially since they were done years prior to the advent of CGI. He won a well deserved Oscar for his work on the movie.

      As much as I enjoy watching “An American Werewolf in London” and recognize all of its wonderful attributes, “The Howling” remains my favorite werewolf film.

      Thank you for not only reading, but for your kind words. As always, when someone takes the time to do either of those things, I greatly appreciate it.

  5. The Howling had the right mix of visceral effects and mysticism to keep the werewolf lore interesting. Loved the more dog-like/canine werewolf effects in the film compared to ‘wolfman’ style movies that had come before it. I remember being in awe of the whole movie when it came out. 🙂

  6. Haven’t seen this in a while and have been meaning to watch it again. Good review.

  7. sweetarchive says:

    Sounds like one I should definitely watch! I’m a Joe Dante fan ever since The Burbs’. Great review 🙂

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Thank you very much for your compliment on my blog and for taking the time to read it; as always it is very much appreciated. I hope when you get a chance to see it that you enjoy it.

  8. One of the classics in the horror genre and arguably the best werewolf movie.

  9. Reblogged this on Sherlockian's Blog and commented:
    A must watch for fans of Werewolf movies.

  10. Victor De Leon says:

    Great Review! My favorite Werewolf film. Bottin’s practical make up FX are top notch imo. Love the camp, references, history and affection put into the project by everyone involved. The Donaggio score and Dante’s compositions give the film that indelible finesse and spookiness that harks back to the old Universal Studios monster flicks. Great job on this post!

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Mine too. I couldn’t agree more with you regarding Botin’s effects. Like yourself, I appreciated the various references to other Werewolf movies, such as the character’s names. Donaggio has composed some of my favorite film scores, and his work in “The Howling” is excellent.

      Thank you very much for reading, and for your kind compliment on my post.

  11. Pingback: Winter’s Tail: Year of Bests – 2015 | It Rains... You Get Wet

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