Joshua Reviews Joe Dante’s The Howling [Blu-ray Review]


With a recent renaissance, albeit one that doesn’t seem to have implanted its fangs to deeply with filmgoers around the globe, the subgenre of horror pictures looking at those with a penchant for getting a little more primal, werewolf films, have become a popular source of inspiration for many modern horror pictures. Be it dreadfully dull indies like Skinwalkers or just as dreadful big studio remakes like The Wolf Man, lycans have seen a resurgence of sorts on the big  screen..

And yet, many of the subgenres classics are relegated to nothing more than annual Halloween night viewing material. However, with regards to a picture like Joe Dante’s The Howling, some deserve far greater appreciation.

Scream Factory, the Shout Factory subsidiary, has released a new Blu-ray of the underrated horror classic, and it’s a thrillingly vital update of this unsung gem of a thriller.

Leaps and bounds past anything effects wise that the horror world had seen previously, Dante’s picture follows the tale of a news reporter named Karen White, who after being accosted by the evil murderer Eddie Quist, becomes haunted by memories of her attack. Suffering from amnesia afterwards, her doctor requests that she head up to his secluded compound, and attend intimate group counseling to work through her issues. However, as life on The Colony becomes more and more bizarre, the truth about the land and its inhabitants becomes clear. Crystal clear.

Dante, best known for a film like the impossibly dull Gremlins, is the star here. Elevating the world of werewolf cinema to something far greater than it had been since Universal’s classic Wolf Man, the picture has a great sense of black comedy and also dark thrills embedded within it thanks to Dante’s filmmaking and the brilliant script co-penned by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. Dante’s filmmaking evokes classic Gothic artwork during many sequences, and the effects work from Rob Bottin is legendary. From a haunting fog-filled shot of a person traveling through the woods or the film’s magnum opus, the major transformation by the film’s primary baddie, the film is brooding, darkly funny, and features some gorgeous frames that should have any cinephile left startled, mouth agape.

Now over 30 years old, the picture hasn’t aged a day. Every performance here is solid, particularly that of lead Dee Wallace. She plays Karen White, a beautiful news anchor who has no problem thrusting herself into the middle of turmoil. Introduced to her as she’s making the rounds during a sting of sorts, she’s a fearless woman who would do anything for a story, and yet feels completely helpless when something terrible does happen to her. Never able to shake her attack, the fear felt by Karen is palpable, and the chemistry she has with Christopher Stone who plays her husband Bill is really the emotional core of the picture. You feel the love between the two, and it is within this relationship that most viewers will connect deepest with. The pair of Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski) are the center of the film’s second plot, playing two of Karen’s co-workers firmly on the hunt of the man who they believe attacked Karen. This arch plays as the film’s most narratively focused and forward thrusting, pairing rather well with the drama playing out on The Colony.  A superbly paced picture, the performances hold a lot of that weight strongly on their shoulders.

Inherently satirical and defiantly political, the film is a rather thrilling bit of intellectual cinema as well. Finding all of our main leads somehow related to the world of broadcast news, the film (particularly given its final moments) is a stark look at then-modern news and the politics of such. There is also an abundance of pure sexuality. With our first major bit of violence taking place in a smut shop’s porn video booth, the attack that sets our plot in motion is played opposite a rather striking bit of literal torture porn, playing into the inherent sexuality that comes with horror cinema, and that of films pertaining to such things as werewolves, vampires, etc. It’s a rather stunning bit of genre work from a director who has yet to make a better motion picture.

And this new Blu-ray is just the type of release this film deserves. Transfer-wise, the film has never looked better. The score here is absolutely fantastic, and the new transfer gives the film a haze that adds to its overall gothic aesthetic. The update in quality doesn’t hinder the effects work, which looks great here, having a sense of tactility that makes the film feel all the more pertinent. Dante is featured opposite Wallace, Stone and co-star Robert Picardo in a commentary, and there is a multi-part making of that adds a great deal of context to the picture that goes great opposite a smaller making of that treads similar ground. The release is rounded out by a series of deleted scenes, a look at the locations and a collections of photos and trailers, all making for a really top notch, context-filled home video release worthy of a classic horror picture like Dante’s masterpiece.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.