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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Howling (1981)

Chris: We'll find out if any of these killings happend during a full moon.
Walter: That's a lot of Hollywood baloney. Your classic werewolf can change shape any time it wants. Day or night. Whenever he takes a notion to. That's why they call them shapeshifters.

- Chris (Dennis Dugan) Walter (Dick Miller)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 27, 2001

Stars: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan
Other Stars: Christopher Stone, Elisabeth Brooks, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Piccardo
Director: Joe Dante

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (violence and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:30m:29s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 027616865489
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+C-C- D-

DVD Review

1981 was a landmark year for fans of werewolf movies, with the release of both American Werewolf In London and The Howling. Both featured cutting-edge transformation effects, for the time, and stories that introduced their own particular twists on the mythos of werewolves. Along with the 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. classic The Wolf Man, these three films form a sort of holy trinity among werewolf buffs.

Director Joe Dante has always enjoyed entertaining audiences by taking a seemingly mundane situation and injecting into it some component of bizarre unreality, as shown in his memorable work on Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, Small Soldiers, and The 'Burbs. A Dante film will generally be laden with smart pop culture references amidst the chaos, and The Howling is certainly no exception. Under Dante's control, I found The Howling to be a far more clever film than it's cinematic sibling, John Landis' American Werewolf In London. While Landis went more for the literal jugular, Dante chose to pace his film at a surprisingly more sedate, overall tempo, which allowed the interjection of a nice mix of his trademark subtle humor and in-jokes.

Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a Los Angeles news anchor who suffers some sort of amnesia-based breakdown after an undercover meeting with Eddie (Robert Picardo), a possible serial killer, goes horribly awry. Their meeting place is a sleazy adult book store, in one of the darkened peepshow booths. Eddie, of course, is actually a werewolf, and we can barely see him make his transformation from man to wolf in the deep shadows behind her. This is a tense scene, and Dante builds suspense and fear rapidly as Karen is almost killed before Eddie is shot dead by a nervous police officer.

Unable to remember anything at all about the incident, and now prone to nightmares, a visibly shaken Karen is ushered off to The Colony, a sort of rural experimental living community run by psuedo self-help guru Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee). In a typical example of a Dante in-joke, the character of George Waggner is named after the director of The Wolf Man. Accompanied by her husband Bill (Christoper Stone), the two retreat to the remote wilderness of The Colony to sort things out and to attempt to regain her memories. It should go without saying that more horrific problems await Karen than she initially bargained for, and Dante swiftly turns The Howling into a funhouse ride. Surprisingly, we don't get our first partial glimpse of a werewolf transformation until about 49 minutes into The Howling, and the biggie doesn't occur until almost 68 minutes in, but Dante still maintains tension and suspense without an abundance of money shots.

The script for The Howling, for those that may have forgotten, was penned in part by another talented writer/director, John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Matewan, Lone Star). He even manages to insert himself into the cast, with a brief uncredited role as a jaded morgue attendant. In my mind, having both Sayles and Dante directly involved in a project is sort of the equivalent of Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer singing a duet. They're two of my favorites, and the end result of working together is almost destined to be entertaining.

Besides an effective performance by Wallace as the troubled Karen, Dante has packed this movie with a marvelous secondary cast of players. Classic film vets John Carradine, Slim Pickens, and Kevin McCarthy have supporting roles, as does Dante fixture Dick Miller. The late Elisabeth Brooks, here in her film debut, is without a doubt the sexiest werewolf ever and gets the film's single best line of dialogue. Dante also includes quickie cameos by low-budget horror king Roger Corman and Famous Monsters Of Filmland's Forest J. Ackerman, in addition to the aforementioned Sayles appearance.

Rob Bottin's impressive effects look a bit dated, but compliment the tone of the film so well that it matters little. Remember that in 1980, these human-to-wolf transformations were considered startling and exciting, and Dante wisely uses them sparingly, which enhance the viewing experience even twenty-plus years later. After all, the Lon Chaney, Jr. transformations from 1941 look a little hokey now, but don't hamper the enjoyment of the film at all.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: MGM has released Dante's classic werewolf film in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Apparently a pristine print just does not exist. At times grainy, with excessive nicks, scratches and blemishes, MGM has done little in the way of restoration on a title that deserves better treatment than this. Colors are rich, but suffer from occasional bloom. Shadows offer little depth and tend to have diffused detail.

I demand an image overhaul on The Howling.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have any audio option you want as long as it's mono. The Howling is presented with only a mono English track, and despite any real punch, sounds relatively full. Even with its limitations, it is fairly clear and crisp. There really isn't too much to say about this particular mono mix other than it's as good as you would expect from a film from 1980. I can only imagine how incredibly cool this would sound with a remixed 5.1 track.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: MGM has done nothing to enhance the appetite of bonus-material-hungry viewers on this particularly lackluster release. A grainy, 1.85:1 theatrical trailer is the only 'extra' to be found here. An adequate set of 16 chapter stops, and subtitles in French and Spanish are also provided (no English).

The supplementally superior 1994 laserdisc, which I believe was released by Image, contained commentary by Joe Dante, Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo, as well as an isolated music score, outtakes and stop-motion production footage. Yet in 2001, DVD fans get zero. I would love to see MGM unleash a fully-loaded DVD special edition, one of these days.

The lack of any substantial bonus material is even more frustrating when one realizes that an extras-loaded Collector's Edtion of American Werewolf In London will be released in September 2001.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

With a cheap MSRP of $14.95, The Howling is certainly worth purchasing. It has earned a spot as one of the definitive werewolf films of all time, and even with a pitiful absence of supplemental material and a less than perfect transfer, you need this title in your collection. But I'm still waiting, MGM...

 


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