The Howling (DVD)
DVD, director Joe Dante recounts screening the film for some children, one of whom asked why the heroine didn't flee during the big transformation scene, instead of watching helplessly as a bad guy slowly becomes a werewolf. That's a perceptive question, but it's also the sort a true horror buff wouldn't ask, since transformation scenes function as a werewolf movie's money shots. Accordingly, Dante's much-loved 1981 cult hit affords the audience time to appreciate every intricate detail of the sequence, created by monster-makeup guru Rob Bottin. The Howling was released the same year as John Landis' similar horror comedy An American Werewolf In London, which is funnier and scarier, and features more convincing werewolves; The Howling's lycanthropes look a little bit like the Big Bad Wolf on stilts. But the artisanship on display throughout the film appeals to the adolescent Fangoria subscriber in everyone. The first movie Dante made after graduating from Roger Corman's low-budget stable, The Howling stars future E.T. mom Dee Wallace-Stone as a newswoman sent to a rural retreat after a traumatizing run-in with a mass murderer. Her stay proves less than peaceful, however, particularly after her husband is bitten by a strange creature and devolves from a meat-averse Alan Alda type into a wantonly carnivorous, brutish adulterer. The Howling was budgeted at a little over a million dollars, but Dante's years with Corman–who makes a cameo–taught him to stretch every dollar until it screamed for mercy. Laden with visual puns as well as subtle and not-so-subtle tributes to werewolf movies past, The Howling looks terrific, and benefits from a fine cast populated by such B-movie icons as Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, and Dante
fixture Dick Miller, who strikes just the right note of gruff skepticism as a cynical occult-bookstore owner. Subsequent werewolf movies like Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers have taken greater risks with the genre, but The Howling retains its loopy charm 20 years later. A decade and a half before Scream, Dante's love-letter to the werewolf movie proved that acknowledging the horror geeks who make such films possible is a smart move, both artistically and commercially.