Tuesday, October 15, 2013
31 Werewolves | The Howling
1981 was a big year for werewolf movies. It saw the movie version of Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen, it gave us this film, and there was a third one that we'll talk about tomorrow.
Like Wolfen, The Howling is based on a novel, this one by Gary Brandner. In the book, a woman is trying to recover from an extremely traumatic event and moves with her husband to a small town in northern California that unfortunately is populated entirely by werewolves. The film more of less follows the book's plot, but details are very different, including the nature of the lead character's (Dee Wallace) trauma and the community in which the werewolves live. In the movie, it's a resort instead of a small town. The film also includes a final, sequel-teasing act in which the main characters attempt to prove the existence of werewolves.
It's been decades since I've seen it, so I don't remember much, but it gets mixed reviews from critics and fans who either find it clever or silly. The Howling borders on camp, but it's intentional with tons of visual jokes and references to other werewolf movies. A lot of characters are named after directors of werewolf films from Wallace's therapist George Waggner (The Wolf Man) to her friend Terri Fisher (Curse of the Werewolf) and TV anchorman Lew Landers (The Return of the Vampire). The movie even makes room for cameos by Forrest J. Ackerman and Roger Corman, if that helps identify the tone it's going for.
The special effects were pretty remarkable for their day and would probably be more praised had their developer, Rick Baker, not left the film to work on the project we'll talk about tomorrow. Still, Baker's protege Rob Bottin took over and did a great job with the air bladders and latex faces to create the transformations.
One other bit of trivia: The Howling apparently takes place in the same universe as Gremlins. Both were directed by Joe Dante and include the role of the anchorman Landers played by Jim McKrell (who was also in Michael J. Fox's Teen Wolf). Gremlins also features a refrigerator decorated with the smiley face sticker that The Howling's serial killer character (Star Trek: Voyager's Robert Picardo) used as his calling card.
The Howling did well enough to warrant a bunch of sequels, though all but the first were direct-to-video:
Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985) - Wallace's brother investigates the events of the first movie and is talked by Christopher Lee into going to Transylvania to fight werewolf queen Sybil Danning.
Howling III: The Marsupials (1987) - Doesn't really connect to the previous movies, focusing instead on female werewolves in Australia who've evolved separately from other werewolves. It also makes the werewolves into sympathetic characters by having one of them as the lead.
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) - The first direct-to-video release of the series returns to Brandner's novel for inspiration and actually gets closer to it than the first film did.
Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) - A diverse group of tourists visit a newly opened castle in Hungary and suffer the werewolfy consequences.
Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) - Returning to the idea of sympathetic werewolves, this one has a wolf boy captured by a vampire as an exhibit in a traveling carnival.
Howling VII: New Moon Rising (1995) - Tying together characters and events from Howlings IV - VI, this one is set in a Western town that begins to suffer animal attacks when a stranger from Australia arrives.
The Howling: Reborn (2011) - A boarding school student has to defend his girlfriend from his werewolf mother.
Brandner also wrote a couple of sequels to his novel, though neither was used as source material for the other movies. His Howling II is about the main character from the first book, now living in Seattle until werewolves from her past return to stalk her. The final novel in the series, The Howling III: Echoes, doesn't include any characters from the first two and instead follows a werewolf kid from a town close to the one from the first book.