Plot: What’s it about?
Shout! Factory is one of my favorite film distributors mainly due to their label Scream Factory that focuses on pristine releases of cult classic horror films. Releases that the label is known for are titles like Sleepaway Camp, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Army of Darkness and numerous other gems. This week they had a sale on some of their titles, and as per usual, I went crazy and bought a bunch of stuff. The item I was most excited to purchase (aside from a couple John Carpenter classics) was Joe Dante’s The Howling.
I grew up watching a lot of Joe Dante’s films with The Burbs and Matinee being two of my favorites growing up. I also was obsessed with his show Eerie, Indiana, which unfortunately didn’t gain the audience it deserved when I was about eight years old. Ironically, I was not allowed to see three of his biggest films – Gremlins, Gremlins 2, and The Howling. Recently, I have been going back and visiting the films that were not allowed in my youth by directors I like. So, when The Howling went on sale, I bought it and immediately watched it.
The film begins following TV journalist Karen White (Dee Wallace) walking the seedy Adult district of early eighties Los Angeles. There has been a serial killer that has been contacting her. Even though she is being surveillance by the police and news station, she manages to get attacked by the serial killer. The serial killer is very different and she only catches a glimpse of his face before he is shot. This causes severe trauma and her lover Bill ( Christopher Stone) decides that she should undergo therapy. Her psychiatrist, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) suggests that they go to a colony to get their lives back in order. Upon arrival, Bill begins to develop an attraction for the mysterious Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks) and there may be more than meets the eye.
The Howling is unlikely to make most audiences really scared. That doesn’t stop it from being really interesting and fun. It also has a pretty sexy scene in it that will make most people blush. The acting is pretty good, with great cameos from actors as diverse as Slim Pickens and Patrick Macnee, and strong lead performances by Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone. The make-up effects still look really interesting if a bit overshadowed by the effects from An American Werewolf in London by Rick Baker. The score by Pino Donaggio is also very strong.
At the end of the day, Howl-o-ween is coming up next week and The Howling is a fantastic entry in the genre. It’s a little bit more sexually explicit than some horror movies, and less gruesome than most. By flipping some of these things on their head, the movie still feels fresh and fun today. Joe Dante is a talented director and this is a pretty good movie.
Video: How’s it look?
Shout! Factory did a fantastic job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. The transfer is another solid effort by Shout Factory and the image looks amazing for when the film was created. This is one of their best looking transfers, partially because the film uses color to its benefit throughout the film. I think people that watched this on VHS and DVD are going to be absolutely blown away!
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of The Howling was pretty dang good. This is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but the sound design bears the original sound design that isn’t going to tear your house down with effects. I did not detect any audio drops, hiss, or pops. Overall, solid work here. The small surround effects are best when the orchestration is playing and werewolves are attacking! The Pino Donaggio score is great, also.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Howlings Eternal with Steven A. Lane (1080p, 18:49) – a new piece for this release. A semi-hilarious walk through the admittedly much lesser sequels. Pretty funny where this series decided to go.
- Cut to Shreds with editor Mark Goldblatt (1080p, 11:20) – another new piece with the film editor. Pretty good, although it is a bit dry.
- Interview with Co-writer Terrence Winkless (SD, 12:32) – this screenwriter didn’t go on to have a career as interesting as his co-writer John Sayles, but his memories are pretty interesting. He also confirmed the Roger Corman cameo in the film.
- Unleashing the Beast – Making of The Howling (SD; 48:33) – a fantastic piece that MGM must have included on prior DVD releases. Interviews with the producer, director, and cast about the film. This supplement is extensive and very solid.
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: a Look At The Film’s Locations (HD, 12:15) – despite a terrible intro with awful pop-punk music and a slightly ridiculous host, this has some cool updates on the locations.
- Making a Monster Movie: Inside the Howling ( SD, 8:01) – an archival piece from 1981 with cool retro interviews with Joe Dante and others. Pretty cool to see these people at this point in their careers.
- Interview with Stop Motion Animator David Allen (SD, 8:48) – this is a little bit hampered by the fact that they used very little of his footage. I am typically really interested in this type of stuff, but not in this case.
- Deleted Scenes with Film Audio (HD, 11:29) – also available with directors commentary. These are for the completists. Not necessary, but there are a couple funny scenes.
- Outtakes (HD, 7:03) – looks like a fun set!
- Photo Gallery (1080p; 7:02)
- Theatrical Trailer (480i; 1:28)
- Audio Commentary with Joe Dante, Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo – a very fun and lively commentary where they laugh and reminisce about their time together. A fun track.
- Audio Commentary with the novelist Gary Brandner – the actual novelist talks about what inspired his novel and what he thinks of the adaptation which was very loose with his material. This is pretty fun and interesting.
The Bottom Line
The Howling is deservedly a well-regarded cult horror film. It was a success upon its release and paved the way for Joe Dante to work with Spielberg on Twilight Zone: The Movie and classics like Gremlins and The Burbs. Scream Factory has provided an incredible transfer of the film with perfect visuals and amazing supplements. Fans should already own this, but casual viewers should really check this one out.