The Howling: Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Directed by Joe Dante
Written by John Sayles and Terrence Winkless
1981, Region A, 95 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on June 18th, 2013
Dee Wallace as Karen
Chris Stone as Bill
Belinda Balaski as Terry
Dennis Dugan as Chris
Patrick Macnee as George Waggner
Robert Picardo as Eddie Quist
Elisabeth Brooks as Marsha
Following a risky assignment to catch a possible serial killer, newscaster Karen White suffers from nightmares and a case of limited amnesia that prevents her from understanding the traumatic experience. Her therapist, Dr. Waggner, invites Karen and her husband Bill to "The Colony", a beachside retreat for some advanced counseling. It is here that she is introduced to a group of people in search of solace.
Karen feels something is not right and enlists the help of her co-workers Chris and Terry to investigate the evidence in the case of Eddie Quist, the scumbag at the center of her amnesia. What follows is a series of increasingly bizarre events that will test the limits of Karen's marriage and her sanity. More than thirty years after its release, I am comfortable revealing that there are werewolves involved in this crime story, but there is a lot more going on that best plays out unspoiled.
For decades, director Joe Dante (Gremlins) has enjoyed thrilling audiences, making films across several genres and each of his pictures contains a dark sense of humor. An avid fan of the horror genre, he began his career working for the legendary Roger Corman. With The Howling, he was able to lampoon both the gritty crime dramas that were so popular at the time and re-introduce a monster largely absent from the movies for twenty years. The approach was both refreshing and unique, and offered audiences an alternative to the glut of "dead teenager" slasher films crowding theatres. Dante's skill as a director is already evident in this early work as he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace while introducing a lot of clever subtext into each scene.
The cast is top-notch and filled with lots of familiar faces, colorful character actors and a few amusing cameo appearances along the way. Dee Wallace (The Frighteners) headlines as the emotionally damaged Karen and delivers an excellent performance as a woman ready to fall apart at the slightest pressure yet carries herself through many harrowing scenarios. Chris Stone (Cujo) is instantly sympathetic as the protective husband Bill, who is eager for his wife to recover and get back to civilization. His character disappears for a large portion of the third act, but not before enjoying one of the most memorable campfire scenes in the genre. Wallace and Stone were married in reality and share a great on screen chemistry.
Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore) does a fine job as Chris, the hero of the picture, and he went on to find success as the director of a dozen comedies starring Adam Sandler. Belinda Balaski (Piranha) gets the honor of appearing in the film's best fright sequence and does a fantastic job as Karen's best friend Terry. Robert Picardo (Innerspace) is particularly threatening in the role of Eddie and owns every scene he is in. Patrick Macnee (Waxwork) lends just the right touch of credibility to the role of the therapist and genre fans are also treated to supporting roles from Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles), John Carradine (The House of Long Shadows) and Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood).
The story originated in Gary Brandner 's novel of the same name, but underwent major rewrites from Terence Winkless (The Nest) and John Sayles (Lone Star), both of whom went on to lengthy directing careers. The film also benefits from the art direction of Robert A. Burns (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), who fills each set with elements of creepy design and biting satire with the selection of certain props. Cinematographer John Hora (Matinee) offers two distinct looks to the picture as the gritty urban world contrasts distinctly from the almost dreamlike settings at the commune. The Howling also benefits from the superior editing skills of Mark Goldblatt (Halloween II) and a haunting score by Pino Donaggio (Dressed to Kill).
The Howling features some amazing makeup effects courtesy of legendary artist Rob Bottin (The Thing). The transformation sequence is pretty remarkable, but a little excessive on the bladder work and the finished product offers some unique and intimidating creatures. 1981 delivered two additional werewolf pictures; Wolfen and the Academy Award winning An American Werewolf in London. Dante's film holds its own and is never fully eclipsed by the competition and debuts now to a new generation of film goers. If you haven't seen it before, now is a perfect opportunity to check out a classic genre film made by a true genre fan.
Video and Audio:
The Howling has never looked better and longtime fans will be happy to dance on the grave of the old VHS transfer that originally plagued this film. Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release features a gorgeous picture that improves upon the earlier DVD and John Hora's cinematography looks fantastic here. The picture is presented in a nice 1:78.1 aspect ratio (opened up slightly from the original 1:66.1 theatrical ratio) with strong vibrant colors and excellent small object detail. Night scenes look better than expected with great contrast and solid black levels.
The original mono soundtrack is presented in a sweet DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix for purists and is also opened up nicely with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that works quite well. The expanded track makes good use of the surround channels during the numerous wooded sequences and even delivers during the clawing of the opening credits. English subtitles are provided.
Scream Factory has gone all out and combined all of the extras from the earlier DVD and Laser Disc releases and commissioned new goodies in the form of assorted interviews and a bonus commentary track!
Starting things off is the original audio commentary recorded in 1995 for the Laser Disc release featuring director Joe Dante joined by actors Dee Wallace Stone, Chris Stone and Robert Picardo. The group is clearly having a fun time and share several amusing anecdotes from the production.
New to this release is a second commentary with author Gary Brandner, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher. The discussion covers the writer's career in full and while not as engaging as the earlier track, contains lots of information and a few humorous moments whenever there is onscreen nudity. Brandner has never pretended to be a fan of Dante's film and makes a few candid remarks concerning this movie and some of the sequels.
Howlings Eternal with Steven A. Lane (19 minutes) is a nice interview with the man responsible for keeping the franchise alive through the first six sequels. The executive producer shares how the film came to be and briefly recaps the numerous follow ups in the series.
Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt (11 minutes) is a very informative piece discussing the editing style of the picture. Goldblatt's enthusiasm for the material is infectious and fun.
Interview with Co-Writer Terence Winkless (13 minutes) in a self explanatory piece the writer discusses his work on the script, his thoughts on Dante's direction and other aspects of the finished project.
Horror's Hallowed Ground: A Look at the Film's Locations (12 minutes) features Sean Clark touring the many filming sites of The Howling.
Returning from the previous release is a wide variety of supplements created for the 2003 DVD.
First up is Unleashing the Beast (49 minutes) an incredible five part documentary that includes interviews with several members of the cast and crew. This is a highly entertaining and well crafted retrospective piece that should not be missed as it is a real highlight to the disc.
Interview with Stop Motion Animator David Allen (9 minutes) is a self explanatory featurette, finally restored to the full length it originally appeared on the Laser Disc release (later edited for the DVD). Allen discusses his extensive work on the picture and is clearly disappointed that 99% of his efforts were removed from the finished film.
Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling (8 minutes) was originally created to promote the 1981 release of the film and features brief interviews with several members of the cast and crew.
Also included are a series of deleted scenes (11 minutes) that offer little to the film but should be viewed with the optional commentary from Joe Dante. His comments on the discovery of this material are particularly informative.
Next up is a surprisingly fun batch of outtakes (7 minutes) featuring humorous goof ups of the cast and crew.
A collection of marketing material including the original trailer and a photo gallery round out the listed special features, but play around with the remote to access an awesome Easter egg!