Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Howling
Joe Dante is by far one of my favorite directors. He knows how to take a simple premise and it make it plausible while wildly inventive. He had kids visiting aliens, a teenager defending his town against little green monsters and a man going inside another’s body bite sized. His films are loaded with B-movie references, repeated actors and have this distinctive charm that gives it a likable quality even if its not his best. Well, considering we haven’t dipped into the world of Dante or talked about werewolves that much (with the exception of The Wolf Man), lets see what happens if these two collided in The Howling.
Dee Wallace stars as Karen White, a Los Angeles news reporter who acts like one of those “hard copy” anchors that we normally see on shows like 20/20 or WNBC’s Help Me Hank. The film starts off with her trying to get a scoop on a serial killed played by Robert Picardo who is surprisingly creepy in this role. Knowing Picardo’s comedic tone in later Dante films, its nice to see a chance of pace. The most notable and effectively moment is when Karen goes to the back room of an adult shop to find him there in one of the film booths. The darkened theater atmosphere really puts you in the moment as she sits in the dark knowing he is there. And when he does appear, he doesn’t play around like its a game. He really sees her as prey. Its a scary scene that is executed with tight close-ups and darkened lighting and that is the film’s first problem. Its such a climatic opener that almost feels like it would be great as the end. And that is where things go downhill.
Karen experiences a traumatic shock and is recommended to take a vacation in a countryside resort called “The Colony.” She takes her husband along and finds all sorts of strange and quirky characters including a sultry nymphomaniac that takes interest in her spouse. From here on, the rest of the movie takes a quiet backseat as we go between spa treatments to little intense moments. There’s a very slow pace that goes on in these scenes after experiencing such an adrenaline rush at the start. Its not long till its revealed the “Colony’s” inhabitants are really werewolves trying to live secretly. They try to make it a big twist near the end but its revealed too soon once Karen’s husband starts seeing the leader of pack more than his wife. The actual twist is really one of its inhabitants which I won’t give away but considering how big of an element this is, you wish there was more focus to it.
The folks in the “Colony” are not the kind of quirky folks you would see on Twin Peaks. Little time is spent with them to the point they feel like a plot element more than actually characters. It would have been interesting to see a sympathetic side or even view more of the place. In fact, I wish more time was spent on the resort and getting to know these people. The Howling runs at such a brisk pace that it doesn’t stop to take a breath or even build on atmosphere. Unlike House of Wax where it was good and calm for a good portion and built to a nail-bitting end, this one just trudges at a slow pace and that’s fine. Not all films need something energetic and grand but something about this idea and the movie as a whole doesn’t seem to pack much punch.
Rob Bottin does the special effects giving the transformation scenes a very gruesome execution seeing his “bubbling flesh” technique really feels effective but it doesn’t have that flare like An American Werewolf in London when we saw David Naughton’s body bend and break into a canine form. Here, its like watching soup take a solid form. Its hard to explain why I feel a tad underwhelmed about Bottin’s effects work here. His craft is unique but something about doesn’t fit here. Its too rubbery at times and the wolf designs look more rabbit and less dog-like. We even don’t get to see much of them near the end which is a bit disappointing. However, David W. Allen does provide some stop-motion animation but its only used for one shot near the end. Originally, his work would have been used in the climax but due to the limitation of stop-motion and seeing they were unsure of using anamatronics at the time, David’s work was reduced to a mere seconds on film. An interview detailing the work he did along with the unused shots can be viewed as a DVD extra and perhaps it was wise not to use these shots seeing they don’t match the rest of the film.
I feel bad seeing how I really love Joe Dante’s work but this wasn’t his best. The Howling did have a cult following and I can see why. The first scene is easily the best while the rest of the movie takes an absurd idea like a resort full of werewolves and make it believable. Dante succeeds as always but the slow pace and the the lack of seeing a full bodied werewolf or even a group of them ruined it for me. If there was more time spent with the strange folk and perhaps keep it intense as the first sequence, it would have been a better movie. To me, its really a mixed bag. I like the idea and some scenes are effectively scary but it makes you wish the rest of movie was like that and not so laid back.
Posted on October 15, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged 1980s, B-Movie, Colony, Halloween, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Joe Dante, The Howling, transformation, Werewolves, wolf. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.