Confession: Somehow The Howling had eluded me until my viewing last night. Sadly, I have seen most of the sequels (probably what put me off in the first place) and wouldn’t even recommend those films to people I hate. The positive: Watching 365 horror films for this project provides me an opportunity to fill in gaps in my book of horror knowledge.
Having not seen the movie as a kid (or a teen) I didn’t have nostalgic memories clouding my vision about the merits of the film. Is that good or bad? You be the judge.
Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Piranha), The Howling is a werewolf film with a lot more substance than other similar films. It takes a while (understatement) to get going, but when it finally does the payoff is more than worth it. Is it as good as An American Werewolf in London? No. It is however, a lot better than say, Silver Bullet. The Howling does win the werewolf sequel battle by a mile, with seven and counting.
The film follows a news reporter who, after an encounter with a serial killer/werewolf, heads out to a getaway woodland retreat for some R&R. And then the story ends. Okay, it doesn’t end there because if it did it would make for a terrible movie. In a more interesting turn, the camp isn’t what it seems. Queue impending doom music.
It seems some of the people at camp are, get this, werewolves! The reporter’s husband is eventually bitten setting forth a whole bunch of events that involve people looking for things and uncovering ancient mysteries. It’s fairly basic mysterious-creature-lurking-on-planet-Earth-for-thousands-of-years-only-to-be-had-by-a-nosy-reporter. Happens all the time (at least in the movies). The fun is in the semi-comedic, self-aware take on all of this, not to mention the horror homages (Roger Corman cameo, names of characters, etc). It’s more serious and scary at times than AAWiL, but still throws in just the right amount of humor to allow you to relax. For a minute or two.
The production values, acting, music, FX and direction are all top shelf. The Howling looks and feels like an A-list film. The careful attention paid to the script was the most surprising and rewarding part of the film for me. It’s not often you get any character development in a horror flick, so the significant amount spent here was a most pleasant surprise. And, oh yeah, the ending was truly fantastic!
Overall, I can safely say this film has catapulted up into my top five werewolf films. And that is coming from a relatively unbiased perspective.
That list as it stands now:
- An American Werewolf in London
- Ginger Snaps (depending on the day, it could be #1)
- Dog Soldiers
- The Howling
- The Wolfman (1941)
Snore Factor: Z (Will keep you up, even at 3AM)