Dante handles it all with equal measures of humor, sex, gore, and horror, pulling out all the stops when the ravenous Eddie (Dante favorite Robert Picardo, later known as the Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager) transforms into a towering, bloodthirsty werewolf. (Bottin's mentor Rick Baker would soon raise the makeup ante with An American Werewolf in London.) As usual, in-jokes abound, from characters named after werewolf-movie directors, amusing cameos (Corman, Sayles, Forrest J. Ackerman), and hammy inserts of wolfish cartoons and Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." It's best appreciated now as a quintessential example of early-'80s horror, with low-budget limitations evident throughout, but The Howling remains a giddy genre milestone. --Jeff Shannon
MGM first released "The Howling" in a no-frills DVD that let the movie down: no extras, a cheap and scratchy transfer, and a very dull mono soundtrack. Thankfully, they realized the popularity of the film and are now giving us a nice edition with revamped sound (5.1 Surround), a sharp picture, and a big bowl full o' extras.
John Sayles's script (co-written with Terence H. Winkless) unapologetically drops the classic werewolf legend into the modern-day -- in this case, the world of television news and the fad of self-help psychology. News anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace-Stone), while on a special assignment to lure out a serial killer (Robert Picardo from "Star Trek: Voyager") in the city, is attacked by something bestial. On the advice of psychiatrist Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), Karen and her husband (Christopher Stone) head to Waggner's clinical retreat in the woods. However, there's something very disturbing about the other patients in the colony, and those weird wolf howls at night won't stop...
The werewolf transformations supervised by Rob Bottin still have an amazing effect on viewers. Using air bladders, make-up, rubber, and pneumatics, Bottin was able to create a real-time transformation of a human into a nine-foot two-legged wolf. We see limbs snap, snouts grow, claws sprout, the whole deal, and it's damned incredible. (Amazingly, only six months later Rick Baker would do this movie one better with the transformation in "An American Werewolf in London.")
The cast goes a long way to making the film work away from the effects. Dee Wallace provides the serious angle to the film, and is convincingly fragile. The rest of the actors add a wonderful loose humor: Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Belinda Balaski, and director Joe Dante's favorite actor, Dick Miller. The beautiful Elisabeth Brooks steals every scene she's in as a femme fatale who burns with sensuality, mystery, and one weird leather fetishist outfit. Director Joe Dante, who would go on to direct such wacky films as "Gremlins" and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," puts his nutty sense of humor all over the film and packs it with in-jokes. The names of many of the characters are directors of werewolf movies, werewolf films and cartoons pop up on the televisions, and "wolf" items are scattered all over the place (Wolf Chili, a book by Thomas Wolfe, a reference to Wolfman Jack, a copy of the book "Howl"...and so on).
The extras, most of which are on the flip side of the disc, are excellent. There's a feature-length commentary by Joe Dante, Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo. Dante has plenty to say and is a very lively commentator, and this is a generally enjoyable audio track. "Unleashing the Beast," a fifty-minute documentary (divided into separate parts, but you can play them all together) goes into great depth on the making of the film. It includes new interviews with Joe Dante, producer Mike Finnel, cinematographer John Hora, writer John Sayles, and actors Dee Wallace-Stone, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, and Belinda Balaski. Conspicuously missing is effects wizard Rob Bottin, but you can see him on "Making a Monster Movie," an eight-minute featurette that was made in 1981. It also contains vintage interviews with Joe Dante and Patrick Macnee. The extras also include two trailers, production photos, and deleted scenes and outtakes (some of which are very funny). But the really major extras for most people will be the new picture quality and the remixed 5.1 sound. If you're a purist, you can still listen to the original mono mix -- it's here too.
"The Howling" makes most early 80s horror films, with brute slashers cutting down dumb teenagers at summer camps and slumber parties, look pretty awful. This is fun, funny, scary, smart -- and the effects will still make your jaw drop or maybe your fangs grow.