Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Howling - Scream Factory Blu-ray Review

The Howling
"The Manson family used to hang around and shoplift. Bunch of deadbeats!"

The Howling [Collector#39;s Edition] with Exclusive Poster!

Director: Joe Dante
Writers: John Sayles & Terrence H. Winkless
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Robert Picard & Dick Miller (the 'Burbs called, they need their garbage men back)
Year: 1981
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Studio: Scream Factory
Region: A
Subtitles: English

Courtesy of Scream Factory, Joe Dante's lycanthropian classic The Howling is finally making it's way to Blu-ray. Actually, let me start this review by correcting myself, there was a Blu-ray release already, but that was in France, this is the long overdue US Blu-ray debut. I'm certain that at least 90% of the people checking this review out have seen The Howling, but if you haven't and you've ever wanted to see the director of Happy Gilmore kill a bunch of werewolves with a rifle, look no further.

Since it's such a well known film, I'll keep the plot summary brief. Anchorwoman Karen White (Dee Wallace, Cujo) works with the police to catch serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo, The Wonder Years). Eddie has contacted Karen about meeting her, and somehow Karen, the entire police force and her TV station all agree that this is a good idea. With police tailing close behind she arrives at the agreed upon meeting place, a seedy porn shop that looks like something straight out of the beginning of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. She meets Eddie in one of the movie booths where he forces her to watch a pretty rough snuff film (not like the gentle snuff films I grew up with) and just as he is set to do her in police bust into the porn shop to paint the walls with Eddie's brains.
 
Karen is very shaken up by this whole ordeal, frequently waking up screaming in terror, and even ordinary acts like sex with her husband Bill is too much for her to handle. After a disastrous first night back as a newscaster she decides to begin therapy with famous quack George Waggner (Patrick Macanee, The Avengers). She tries a few group therapy sessions, but when that doesn't seem to do the trick Dr. Waggner suggests she join him at a lakeside relaxation retreat he calls "The Colony". It's like a summer camp for mentally distressed adults, and totally not a resort for werewolves.

I know the The Howling is a classic and considered one of the all-time best werewolf films, but it's never been one of my personal favorites. It's by no means a film I dislike, it's a pretty good film, but in my opinion it never quite reaches a level of greatness, I don't really like the look of most of the werewolf designs, and I think there's a lack of actual werewolf on human carnage. I'm more partial to say American Werewolf, Curse of the Werewolf, or even Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves. The Howling would still be in my Werewolf top 10, but there are several werewolf films I much prefer

Even though I don't love the film as a whole, there's still plenty to enjoy in The Howling, thanks in part to the several solid performances from a group of talented actors. Robert Picardo is one creepy fucker, his serial killing wolfman Eddie is certainly someone you wouldn't want to run into in a darkened porn booth. Dee Wallace goes a bit too over the top at times, but she is very good as the vulnerable and damaged Karen. According to Dee in an interview elsewhere on the disc she is a rather squeamish person, so she seems to be able to use that to her advantage here, her discomfort in the porn shop is very real, as is her fear in the many werewolf attack sequences. Of the 4 principle cast members Christopher Stone kind of gets the shaft here, his character Bill didn't really get to do much after the first 25 minutes other than punch Karen, eat ribs and boff a werewolf. 

Faring much better were Belinda Balaski (Piranha) and Dennis Dugan (Unidentified Flying Oddball) as Karen's friends Terry and Chris. Dugan is especially good here, sure he looks like David Spade in Tommy Boy, but he makes for a surprisingly adept werewolf killer. Kind of a shame he stopped acting (outside of bit parts in his own movies) and ended up directing Adam Sandler crap like Jack & Jill and the woefully unfunny Grown Ups. Of course Grown Ups made like $160 Million, so I'm sure Dugan doesn't miss acting too much.


One good thing about a Dante film is that even if you don't love the film there are still tons of little inside jokes and horror references you can have fun discovering. We get some fun cameos from Forrest J. Ackerman and Roger Corman and countless hidden wolf jokes; a Wolf Chil can, a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, a photo of Werewolf Extraordinaire Lon Chaney, Jr. on an office wall. In addition many characters are named after werewolf film directors - George Waggner, Roy William Neill, Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis... I could go on, there are like 8 more of them. These nice little touches from a director who is clearly a huge horror fan end up making The Howling a lot more enjoyable for me.

Sex/Nudity
Marsha the slutty werewolf loses the leather for an overlong sex scene by a campfire. Pretty boneriffic scene for about ten seconds. Then they start wolfing out and it starts to get weird quick. And then the scene goes on for about 3 more minutes, which seems like an eternity when you're watching a pair of werewolves bump uglies. So yeah, weird scene, but for the ultimate in weird werewolf sex, see The Howling II.

Gore/Violence
Gore isn't plentiful, but it is wet when we get it. Gory highlights include: Shredded throats. Beheaded bovine. Partially dissected brains. Partially masticated hamburgers. 

The werewolf designs vary wildly, some are great, some are kind of ridiculous. The design of Wolf-Eddie is very cool, the final werewolf in the film on the other hand... 

As for which side I stand on the classic "Howling Transformation vs. American Werewolf Transformation" debate I personally much prefer the transformation of the naked American man who stole that kid's balloons over the transformation of Murdering Wererapist Eddie Quist. I love Rob Bottin and he's one of my favorite all-time effects guys but I think he went a bit too crazy with the bladder effects in this one. Is Eddie turning into a werewolf or is he being boiled?



 
Things to Watch For:
  • Coach Cutlip: Professional Sex Murderer
  • The Howling is brought to you by Wolf brand Chili
  • Walter Paisley the Third (First was in Bucket of Blood, the Second in Hollywood Boulevard)
  • Cattle decapitation
  • Werewolves on the windscreen
  • Forrest Ackerman buying a few issues of Famous Monsters at Dick Miller's occult book store. You'd think the editor of a magazine would be able to score free copies.

The Disc

Unlike most Scream Blu-rays released thus far The Howling is not a combo pack, but there is a separate DVD only release for those of you without a Blu-ray player. The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio is great, Pino Donaggio's score comes through loud and clear, and the sound of the werewolves howling in the woods has never been spookier. The 1080p 1:85.1 transfer is the same found on the French Studio Canal disc. It's a decent enough transfer but not great. But then The Howling has always had a really soft look to it, not really Scream's fault, I can't imagine the movie looking much better than it does here. Here are some screens to give a better idea of what I'm talking about:







 Screenwriter Sighting!







Scream has ported many of the extras from the old MGM Special Edition over while providing several new worthwhile extras. The list:

ALL-NEW SCREAM FACTORY™ EXTRAS



  • Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary from Director Joe Dante
  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds: A look at the film's location
  • Interview with Stop-Motion Animator Dave Allen
  • New Interviews with screenwriter Terence Winkless, Executive Producer Steven A. Lane and editor Mark Goldblatt

    Extras carried over from prior DVD release
  • Audio Commentary With Director Joe Dante And Actors Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone & Robert Picardo
  • Unleashing the Beast: The Making Of The Howling Multi-part Documentary
  • Outtakes
  • Making Of A Monster: Inside The Howling Documentary
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailers

  • Unleashing the Beast is a 48 minute long feature with tons of interviews with many people involved, though sadly lacking Rob Bottin and Dennis Dugan. Dugan was probably busy shooting Grown Ups 2, which is due out this summer may god help us all. The documentary has many great stories from Dee Wallace and especially Joe Dante. Dante's sense of humor is as huge as his love for Dick Miller, who also turns up to discuss his countless Joe Dante film appearances. 

    Horror's Hallowed Grounds is another very enjoyable feature, the host seems to be having a good time and gives us interesting before and after look at several of the film's locations. I don't want to spoil too many of the features but there are hours worth of features here, by the time you're finished you should know more about The Howling than any human should.

    Final Thoughts
    While it does take quite a while to get to any actual werewolf action - nearly an hour before a death by wolf scene, The Howling is a very likeable film with a smart script packed with lots of patented Joe Dante inside humor and horror references. Scream's Blu-ray looks decent, sounds great and has hours worth of entertaining extra features. Werewolf fans, this is a must have release. Releases 6/20, preorder it directly from Scream: The Howling [Collector#39;s Edition] with Exclusive Poster!


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