1981 was a wonderful year for werewolf films. The year saw the release of John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London, Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen and Joe Dante’s The Howling. Landis’ film was the bigger hit of the three and Wolfen has all but faded into obscurity (a shame because it’s rather great) but The Howling went on to have a major cult following, spawning a plethora of sequels (seven to date!).
The Howling sees Dee Wallace’s journalist taking time out in a retreat after she was attacked by a vicious serial killer. On the surface it might seem like a relaxing cabin in the woods, but when the moon comes out The Howling begins.
Dante’s horror gets all the genre elements right. He creates plenty of mystery and makes the creature transformations the star of the show. Rob Bottin’s work is exceptional, perfectly highlighting the beauty of practical effects. This is the type of film that serious horror geeks adore and we’ll sadly probably never see the like of this again. Dante would parlay the success of The Howling into a wonderful mainstream career, which would see him direct the likes of Gremlins, Interspace and Movies In Focus favourite The ‘burbs.
Dee Wallace makes a solid lead and Avengers (not the Marvel kind) star Patrick Macnee adds a touch of class as the doctor treating our intrepid reporter. However, the best value for money on the acting front is Dennis Duggan and Belinda Balaski as a pair of journalists who are the first to realise there’s more to their story than meets the eye.
The Howling is a good old fashioned horror movie, one with great monsters and tremendous sense of tone.