Tuesday, 3 November 2009

"They Are Neither People Nor Animals..."

"...but something in between"

Yes that's right, I'm talking about WEREWOLVES. In anticipation of the release of The Wolfman next year, and because, y'know, it was Hallowe'en, I decided to investigate a classic of the genre from 1981- The Howling.

Although somewhat overshadowed by the better known American Werewolf in London, I'd definitely recommend this film first. It opens with popular TV anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace, aka Elliot's mum from ET, fact fans!) as she tracks down notorious serial killer Eddie the Mangler to a porno shop in LA. After a traumatic encounter he is shot dead by police, and Karen is left physically unharmed but severely mentally scarred and unable to remember what happened. Following a breakdown live on air, her psychiatrist Dr. Waggner recommends she and her husband Bill re-locate to his remote resort in the country, known as The Colony, to relax and hopefully piece together her ordeal. However, after hearing howling in the middle of the night, and discovering the mangled corpse of a sheep the next morning, she discovers that all is not what it seems in the idyllic retreat. As it happens, The Colony is home to a pack of....WEREWOLVES!! Eeek!

I'm always a bit dubious about horror films involving things like werewolves. Older films tend to look clunky and, well, a bit crap, while modern films are so over-CGI'd that it's impossible to feel remotely scared because it feels like you're watching a computer game. I mean, where's the threat in that? Van Helsing is one such film which suffered badly from CGI-saturation. Good premise, terribly executed, and oh-so-painfully slick. Silent Hill suffered a similarly tragic fate, although it's let off on the grounds that it's actually based on a video game (and a bloody good one at that).
No such problems with The Howling! It's a genuinely frightening gem, which fully deserves its reputation as the film that revolutionised the genre.
The human-to-werewolf transformations alone make it worth the watch- bearing in mind this was made almost 30 years ago, before the dastardly dawn of computer special effects (as you can probably tell I'm not a fan). A werewolf transformation sex-scene is a mid-point standout. As the human character's nose grows into a snout and his teeth into snarling fangs, you can see why the film earned is revered as such a classic of its time.
The atmosphere of The Colony is captured perfectly by the cinematography- the eerie crackling darkness, the lingering fog, the neon lights of sleazy downtown LA... The editing is also really good, keeping the pace slow and creepy when Karen is tracking down Eddie, and fast paced and frantic when she's stumbling around the woods or trying to escape.
The story is tightly plotted and keeps us hooked even beyond The Final Reveal. The twist at the end, where Karen reveals the truth about what she's learned on air, is spectacular, and I genuinely didn't see it coming- it was a proper "WTF?!" moment, and I've not witnessed one of them in a horror movie for quite a while. The only area where the film stumbles is the somewhat patchy acting, but then again, I didn't watch this film expecting a Laurence Olivier masterclass- I watched it to be scared. And I was.
All in all, I can't recommend this film highly enough. A masterpiece of its time, and genre, it's easy to see why it paved the way for the onslaught of 80s horror which ensued. It has the right mix of horror and delicious irony, tongue in cheek but genuinely fearty at the same time. (to give an inkling, and perhaps a gentle introduction to the style, director Joe Dante went on to helm Gremlins).
Apparently the sequels are terrible but, like Psycho, The Omen, Hallowe'en and The Exorcist, I've chosen to stick with the original. Definitely perfect full moon viewing! (....sorry, had to shoe-horn that in somewhere...!)
CIAO FOR NOOOOOOOWWWWWW! <---that's a howl by the way. It's funnier when you hear it, honest...........


  1. This sounds really interesting! Do you have it on DVD? If so, could I possibly borrow it...? *hints*

  2. It's AWESOME, Ross has it so I shall ask if I can have a wee borrow :)