Rick Baker was originally doing the special effects for the film, but he left to do An American Werewolf in London (1981), leaving the effects job for this film in the hands of assistant Rob Bottin. Both this film and "American Werewolf" were released the same year and both received praise for their makeup work.
There were times during shooting when Robert Picardo was very despondent about the hours he had to spend in makeup. On the Special Edition DVD, he remarked, "One day, after spending six and a half hours in the makeup chair, I was thinking, 'Trained at Yale, two leading roles on Broadway. My first acting role in California, my face gets melted in a low-budget horror movie.' All the crew had to say to that was, 'Bob, next time read the script all the way through first!"'
This film and Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) are both based on the same novel by Gary Brandner. Interestingly, "Howling IV: The Original Nightmare" actually represents the more faithful adaptation of the book than this film does.
Art director Robert A. Burns had previously worked on the sets for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). In fact, many of the grisly set dressings for this film were hold-overs from "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"; most notably the corpse in the armchair seen in Walter Paisley's bookstore.
Jack Conrad was originally set to direct and write the film, but troubles with the studio forced him to leave the project. In addition Terence H. Winkless was writing the script at one point, but when his version proved unsatisfactory, he left the production. This eventually fell into the lap of director Joe Dante, who brought aboard John Sayles, with whom he had previously worked for Piranha (1978), to write the screenplay.
In one scene, Erle (John Carradine) mentions UFOs and cattle mutilation. Around the time he wrote the screenplay for "The Howling", John Sayles was also working on a script for Steven Spielberg known as "Night Skies", which involved UFOs and cattle mutilation. The project was dropped, however, when Spielberg chose to make "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" instead.
Director Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles had previously collaborated about three years before on Piranha (1978) in those capacities with Sayles taking a role in the director's later movie Matinee (1993).
Roger Corman: Uncredited, the famed B-movie producer, who had mentored the film's director Joe Dante, as a man waiting to use a phone box after Karen White (Dee Wallace). When Corman checks the pay-phone for change, this is an in-joke reference to the producer's legendary penny-pinching.
Besides the many 'wolf' sight gags, character names and in-joke references, the book Bill is reading in bed after being bitten is by author Thomas Wolfe, as mentioned by another trivia entry. The title of the book "You Can Never Go Home Again" is also an in-joke, referencing the fact that now that Bill is also a werewolf and forever changed, he too "can never go home again", making this a double in-joke.