We continue our journey through a month of frightening, bloody and violent films. For more, check out our 31 Days of Horror homepage.
Synopsis: People probably know Joe Dante best as being the guy who directed Gremlins, that movie about goofy little green monsters that still managed to be pretty creepy. But a couple of years before Gremlins got big he made a full-on creepy werewolf movie called The Howling. The main character is a news reporter named Karen (Dee Wallace). When we first meet her she’s trying to help the police in a sting operation meant to catch a serial killer. The cops plan to use Karen as bait in order to flush the killer out, but things don’t quite go according to plan and she ends up seeing something that leaves her traumatized and experiencing a slight dusting of amnesia (hint: the serial killer is a werewolf). In order to get over the traumatic experience, her psychiatrist advises that she and her husband spend some time recuperating out at this hippy commune in the woods named The Colony. That doesn’t quite go as planned either though, as the members of The Colony all have their fair share of dangerous secrets (hint: they’re all werewolves). Once things really start going south, Karen finds herself faced with the daunting task of hacking, slashing, silver-bulleting, and burning her way out of there; making her probably the most put-upon news reporter since Lois Lane or April O’Neil.
One night, after Karen’s husband Bill (Christopher Stone) gets attacked by a wolf on his way back to the cabin, he wakes up with an itch that can’t be scratched. He finds himself drawn outside to a huge bonfire where the hot but evil-looking hippy chick Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks) is waiting for him. She disrobes. Bill follows her lead and the two of them start going to town right next to the raging fire as a pack of wolves howl out in the distance. Eventually the sex gets so hot and heavy that they both start turning into werewolves; their skin stretching, their bones cracking, and their claws tearing at each other’s flesh. If ever there was a scene in a movie that effectively showed doing it as being a transformative experience where you give in to your animal urges, then this is it.
It takes a good hour and twenty minutes for The Howling to build up to the good stuff, but once it gets there things get pretty crazy. We get a cool scene where a girl hacks a werewolf’s hand off with a hatchet, and then we watch it as it twitches, pulsates, bleeds, and eventually turns back into a man hand. We get a guy with half of his face ripped off walking around oozing and pussing everywhere, and eventually getting shot with a rifle through the throat, causing blood to pump out of his throat wound in buckets. We get a bunch of the characters locked in a building and roasted alive while they scream and howl in agony. And that’s on top of all the typical werewolf slashings and bitings. Pretty violent stuff.
There are only two spots where sexuality sneaks into this movie, but they’re both pretty hardcore. There’s the killer scene that I described up top, which features full frontal female nudity. And also there’s a scene early on in the film, where Karen finds herself in a movie booth at a porn shop with the creepy werewolf serial killer standing over her shoulder. He makes her watch scenes from a porno that plays out some sort of gang rape fantasy, and flashes plenty of boobage in the process. All the sexuality in this movie is presented in pretty horrific contexts, but hey… boobs.
The Howling sets a pretty strong mood with lots of darkness, fog, and shots of the moon, but the main event when it comes to scares are the transformation sequences. This movie has probably my favorite werewolf transformations ever. They’re all done old school, with monster makeup and practical effects, and they’re slimy, gross, screaming affairs that are all fangs, hair, and slobber. The effects guys on this one really go to the extreme to convey what a painful and horrific experience changing forms would be: picture having a baby if your entire body was made up of tearing vaginas.
This movie isn’t perfect. It’s got its fair share of bad acting and slow spots. But it’s also got a really killer final scene that wraps the whole thing up and keeps it from being just a decent werewolf flick. Just when you think things are settling down in to a nice little resolution, Dante and company have another surprise up their sleeves, and the movie ends up turning into a werewolf version of Network. There’s a smattering of subversive commentary, and even some throwback references to old werewolf movies that keep this from just being your standard humanity vs. savagery werewolf script. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially since it initially got overshadowed by being released the same year as An American Werewolf in London.