The news that Andy Muschietti, fresh from revitalising Stephen King’s IT, is rebooting 80’s classic The Howling for Netflix wouldn’t surprise many genre fans; despite seven sequels, Joe Dante’s werewolf film is comparatively virgin ground in that none of them had a smidge of the impact on the public consciousness that the original film had. So while Carrie, Halloween, The Shining and others have been remade, this post modern take on the werewolf mythology has been rather neglected over the last four decades. There are reasons for that, but first of all, let’s remind ourselves why The Howling was a one-off success.
Tonally, The Howling starts more like a hard-bitten cop movie than a horror; reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) is on the trail of serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) and is used as bait for a police set-up which involves her encountering the killer in a run-down LA porn theatre. Quist is shot and escapes, but White is so rattled by their close encounter that she and her husband (Christopher Stone) decant to a remote resort community called The Colony for some recovery time. Run by the avuncular George Wagner (Patrick Mcnee), The Colony turns out to be a self-help group for those dealing with the rare medical condition of lycanthropy, and soon Karen is fighting for her life as not just Eddie Quist but an entire community of werewolves which sense her presence…
Freely adapted from Gary Brandner’s book, The Howling is often twinned with An American Werewolf in London in terms of mixing horror with comedy, but The Howling’s referencing of old horror movies is only one angle here. There’s choice satire of tv networks to bookend the action in John Sayles script, complete with a televised transformation that takes Network’s live meltdown a stage further, but also barbs thrown at psychotherapy in the fashion of Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. Being a werewolf is presented as a modern condition from an ancient root, and it makes sense that werewolves would prefer the company of those in their own condition; there’s a tribal element here, down to the bonfires on the beach where most of the socialising takes place. Sex is also very much on the agenda, from the horrible (fake) film Quist makes Karen watch to the full-frontal disrobing scenes that demonstrate that the wolves are very much red blooded creatures. There’s all kinds of knowing cameos, from Kevin McCarthy to John Carradine, although the best has to be Dick Miller’s chatty occult-book-store owner, who surely deserves a film of his own. Rob Bottin’s transformation scenes are still highly effective, and use practical effects to memorable effects; Quist’s transformation is genuinely nightmarish to watch, although the short, animated wolf-sex-in-the-moonlight sequence is regrettable.
This welcome restoration includes a feature-length twentieth anniversary documentary with amusing contributions from an outspoken Wallace in particular, and Dante admits to being pleased that the film has lasted so well, but admits that it wouldn’t get made like this today. The hot take on horror mythology, with everyone in the film aware of the same movies the audience remembers, was a novelty at the time, but has led to many lazily written films too quick to nod to the audience. The Howling feels very much like a Roger Corman film on steroids, with Sayles and Dante selling a very personal and idiosyncratic view of the genre. In short, while The Howling is ripe for a remake, it’s unlikely to be as edgy as the 1981 version, which still shocks and amuses in equal parts, but also works well as a commentary on the social and media concerns of the early 80’s.
THE HOWLING IS AVAILABLE ON 4K UHD COLLECTORS EDITION, STEELBOOK, BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL 25 OCTOBER 2021
4K UHD COLLECTOR’S EDITION – 3 discs, Poster, Booklet & art cards
4K UHD STEELBOOK – 1 4K UHD disc & 1 Blu-ray disc
BLU-RAY EDITION – 1 Blu-ray disc
DVD EDITION – 1 DVD disc
Thanks to StudioCanal for advance access to this title.