A masked killer, wearing World War II U.S. Army fatigues, stalks a small New Jersey town bent on reliving a 35-year-old double murder by focusing on a group of college kids holding an annual Spring Dance.
A team consisting of a physicist, his wife, a young female psychic and the only survivor of the previous visit are sent to the notorious Hell House to prove/disprove survival after death. ... See full summary »
Television newswoman Karen White takes some much-needed time off after a traumatic incident with a serial killer. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for The Colony, a secluded retreat where the creepy residents are a little too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre connection between Eddie Quist and this supposedly safe haven. And when, after nights of being tormented by unearthly cries, Karen ventures into the forest and makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must not only fight for her life... but for her very soul! Helped launch the short-lived werewolf craze in the early 1980s. Written by
Tim Kretschmann <Tim.K@VirComm.com>
Originally, Rick Baker was doing the special effects for the film, but he left the production to do An American Werewolf in London (1981). Baker left the effects job for this film in the hands of assistant Rob Bottin. Both this film and An American Werewolf in London were released the same year and both received praise for their makeup work. See more »
When Eddie has Karen White in the porno booth, he says, "None of them do. They're not real, the people here. They're dead. They could never be like me," but his mouth is almost always closed the whole time. See more »
Dr. George Waggner:
Repression. Repression is the father of neurosis, of self-hatred. Now, stress results when we fight against our impulses. We've all heard people talk about animal magnetism, the natural man. the noble savage, as if we'd lost something valuable in our long evolution into civilized human beings. Now there's a good reason for this.
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The opening credits roll over TV static and features dialogue snippets from the movie. See more »
The Howling demonstrates Joe Dante's penchant for exploitation aesthetics, ironic revision and the subversive critique of genre staples, the combination of the sensibility of a cartoonist and a social satirist. It escapes me why this film is seen as no more than a werewolf slasher pic even by respected critics, because in a sense, it did what Scream did fifteen years later: self-deconstructing. It is not about the plot. It is about itself. It comments on all the conventions it happily plays upon itself. The violence, gore and werewolf metamorphoses are disarmed by the ironic way Dante utilizes and annotates them. He inserts countless in-jokes and references, often veiled and subtle, not just to movies and TV like with The Big Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs but also concerning characters eating Wolf Brand Chili, the momentary glimpse of a copy of Howl by Ginsberg, mention of DJ Wolfman Jack, characters with names like Terri Fisher, which could be a reference to the British director Terence Fisher, who did direct a film called Curse of the Werewolf. The focus of this extremely hip post-modern wolf man movie is mostly on the humor, satirizing pop culture and the self-help craze, gaining comic effect even from some of the special effects.
But it goes much much deeper than merely being reference-happy. What is really clever about The Howling is its pervasive visual references to a variety of media forms and aspects of popular culture themselves. We see cameramen, bystander-like TV sets and movie posters galore, we go behind the scenes of a network TV station. There is stop-motion animation and puppetry as well as special effects by Rick Baker and Rob Bottin that were state-of-the-art at the time. A silhouette of one of the monsters is obviously a cartoon animation (not unlike in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein). John Sayles (who co-wrote the blatantly metatextual script) and Roger Corman have cameos. Dee Wallace-Stone plays a Hollywood TV news anchor who is being stalked by a serial killer. In cooperation with the police, she takes part in a sting to capture the killer by meeting him in a scuzzy porn theater, where he forces her to watch a film of a young woman being raped, before she sees him emerging from the shadows. The final scene is a brilliant diametric reversal of this scenario in terms of the role of what's really happening, what's happening on the screen, and in what way horrific reality is stopped by bullets.
The brave anchor nonetheless submerges the memory of the tremendous sight which she cannot accept, so her therapist, Dr. George Waggner, named after the director of The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney and Claude Rains, sends her and her husband, Bill Neill, a thinly disguised reference to the director of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, to a secluded countryside resort for treatment. As expected, the colony is chock full of oddball characters, and eventually werewolf sex, frightening shapeshifting and silver bullets abound. But all this elemental and earthy stuff takes place outside of the reach of mass media, at least to some extent, so a TV news anchor returning from this experience is going to want the world to know! But how can she? In a society surrounded and inundated by all kinds of bright, flashing mass broadcasting all the time, how can she make them truly connect and believe her claims no matter what she shows them?
As befits a real B-grade horror flick, the leads are all basically interchangeable. Most of the more solid moments are left to the character actors, played by B-movie vets like Slim Pickens, John Carradine, and Dick Miller, as well as Patrick Macnee, who plays Wallace-Stone's shrink. I tend to nix comparisons to Tarantino because his fans tend to write off a lot of interesting filmmakers as QT wannabes, but this movie was made long before Tarantino burst onto the scene: The Howling is like the Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill of horror movies. It's a post-modern pastiche that arrives insisting it is the real thing to some degree, casting all the right people, playing its own creative variations on a classic old-hat plot device, engulfing us with reminiscences of other movies and media like it and at the same time giving it a real-world edge. The Howling so consciously plays upon fantasy and allusions to midnight movies of yesteryear and werewolf lore, and reintroduces common, prototypical features of style. And there is always something about that self-aware quality that frees us from taking it seriously and we have so much more fun with it.
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