Review: The Howling

11 Oct

October Horror Month

It’s about time I reviewed a werewolf film and since I’ve already reviewed American Werewolf in London it’s now it’s the turn of the other werewolf film that came out around the same time. We were really lucky back then because good werewolf films are not very common. CGI transformations really don’t yet have the same visceral effect as the best in physical effects. While American Werewolf took a more traditional werewolf story where the werewolf condition is a curse that falls on a normal guy and ends in tragedy this film gives us a more sympathetic look at werewolves with a more complex life who don’t necessarily believe themselves to be cursed.

Karen White (Dee Wallace Stone) is a TV news anchor with a very worrying fan, a serial killer called Eddie (Robert Picardo) who has gotten in touch with her. He wants to meet with her and she agrees to help the police to catch him. They have her wired up and she’s giving them a running commentary. Her producer Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) is following the action and is ready to cut their studio programme to go live to Karen. She goes to a phone booth and waits and eventually Eddie calls her. She heads to the red light district and the police lose the signal so they send a squad car to look for her. Karen goes into a seedy porn shop and into the film booths at the back. Eddie has put a smiley face sticker on the door of one booth and Karen goes inside. Eddie is there and he makes Karen sit down while he stands behind her and puts the film on. While Karen sits uncomfortably with the porn film playing in front of her she hears Eddie’s voice change and he tells her to turn and look at him. When she does she screams and a cop rushes in and shoots Eddie several times killing him. Karen is in shock afterwards and can’t remember what happened.

Chris and his assistant and lover Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski) have done some digging around and have found Eddie’s apartment. The set-up is pure serial killer, the walls decorated with newspaper clippings of reports of his murders and a lot of pencil sketches of people with a bestial look. They also find a landscape drawing of coastal scenery. They take the drawings and show them to psychiatrist Dr George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) who has advised the police on the case.

Dr Waggner also tries to help Karen with her amnesia. Since the night Eddie was killed she has had flashbacks and nightmares. When she tried to return to work she froze on air and they had to cut to a pre-recorded editorial from the studio boss Fred Francis (Kevin McCarthy). Waggner wants Karen to go to his retreat up north called The Colony where she can relax and he hopes he can help her.

Karen and her husband Bill Neill (Christopher Stone) arrive at the colony as they are having barbecue on the beach. The other residents are very mixed bunch like suicidal old-timer Erle Kenton (John Carradine), the chatty Donna and the leather clad nymphomaniac Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks). When she meets Bill he says he’s looking for his wife and Marsha just asks him why.

Karen does not sleep very well, getting disturbed by howling noises in the woods. She sure she hears someone prowling around and calls the police. Next day she’s more relaxed and the local sheriff Sam Newfield (Slim Pickens) tells her that it must be coyotes. Later the men all gather for a hunting party to see if they can find anything and Bill goes with them.

Back in the city Chris and Terry got to the morgue to see if there’s anything strange about Eddie’s body but it has gone missing. They go to an occult bookstore run by Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) who gives them books that talk about werewolves. He mentions a couple of key points that set up some of the rules they are using in this world. Werewolves can change any time they want to and they cannot be killed except by a silver bullet or fire otherwise they will heal and come back to life.

At the hunt Bill kills a rabbit. Marsha’s brother TC tells him to take his kill to Marsha and she will cook it for him. Marsha puts the rabbit away and she jumps Bill kissing him but he pushes her away and leaves. One the way back to his cabin He gets attacked by a werewolf and gets bitten on the arm. Waggner treats Bill at the clinic but Karen is upset and just wants to leave, Waggner tells her that could be dangerous with the bite. Karen calls Terry, who is in bed with Chris watching The Wolf Man, she and tells her about the bite. With thoughts of werewolves in her mind Terry says she’ll head straight up and Chris will follow later.

Terry arrives and has brought meat for lunch and apologises for forgetting Bill is a vegetarian but Bill is happily scoffing down the meat anyway. In bed that night Karen is in the mood to make love but Bill says he’s still too drugged-up and tired. While Karen sleeps Bill goes to Marsha and they make love by a large fire in the woods and turn into cartoon werewolves.

Next day Terry wanders around and she gets to cliff looking out over the sea. The scene looks familiar and she pulls Eddie Quist’s landscape drawing out and it is clearly a drawing of this same scene. She goes through the woods and she hears a voice calling to her. She follows the voice to a shack covered in animal skins and with bones hanging on strings. Inside she finds drawings just like the ones in Eddie’s apartment in the city. Then a werewolf comes into the shack and attacks her but she manages to get away by getting into the tight space under the shack. A werewolf tries to grab her but she cuts its hand off. She sees the hand turn into a human hand.

Terry manages to get out and runs back the Colony’s main building and goes into the clinic where she finds a phone. She calls Chris and tells him about everything that’s happened and especially discovering that Eddie Quist had lived here. Chris gets Terry to check the filing cabinet in the office and she finds three Quists, Marsha, TC and Eddie. Just as she goes to lift out Eddie’s file a werewolf hand reaches over and grabs it. Terry tries to get away but the werewolf seizes her and kills her. The werewolf look in this film is fantastic and looks very scary. This look seems to what inspired the look of the werewolves in the excellent British film Dog Soldiers.

Chris hears the attack and he goes to Walter Paisley shop and buys a load of silver bullets then he races up to the Colony as fast as the traffic will allow. Back at the Colony Bill finally goes back to their cabin but Karen knows he’s been with Marsha and screams at him. He slaps her and angry at him she leaves.

Karen goes to the clinic to look for Waggner and finds Terry’s body. She turns to make phone call but he phone is dead. There’s a covered body on the trolley where Terry’s body was a minute ago. It’s Eddie hiding under the sheet and he wants to carry on with showing Karen what he was going to show her before he got shot. We get a long icky transformation scene involving ingenious use of bladders and puppets and the scene may show it’s age now but it’s still pretty good. Once he’s fully transformed and about to attack Karen she throws a bottle of acid on him and gets away.

Karen tries to get in her car but two of the Colonists grab her and take her to a barn which is full of Colonists. They also have Terry’s body laid out. They are very angry with Karen’s presence and want her killed. The only problem is that her fame means authorities will definitely look into it. Waggner comes into the barn and she goes to him, hoping for help but he reluctantly pushes her away.

It turns out that they are all werewolves and had been trying Waggner’s plan to avoid coming into conflict with humans but too many of them are too wild to hide their nature. Bringing Karen there was big mistake and they also think trying to supress their true nature was a mistake. Then Chris arrives and he threatens them with his gun and they laugh at him. TC walks towards him transforming as he goes and boasts about how useless guns are. Chris shoots him and TC is shocked that he’s been fatally wounded. The other werewolves don’t know what happened but Chris mentions he has silver bullets. Another werewolf takes his chance and gets killed for it. Then Waggner comes for him to force Chris to kill him and he thanks him as he dies

Chris grabs Karen and forces the werewolves right inside the barn then shuts them in. He splashes petrol around the barn and sets it on fire. I’m not sure how many of them die but plenty of them manage to break out and surround Chris’s car as they try to get away. They think they’re free and clear and are relieved to spot Sherriff Sam but he’s a werewolf too and shoots at them. He wrecks their car but Chris kills him and they take his car with several werewolves catching up to them. One breaks through the window and scratches Karen but Chris kills it and when it turns human it turns out it was Bill.

Karen wants to warn everyone about the werewolves so she and Chris go back to work. Karen gives a speech on air warning people secret society living among them. Fred Francis thinks she going crazy again and is about to pull the plug on her but Chris stops him. Karen transforms but she’s not a really a wolf but more like a Yorkshire terrier. Then Chris takes his gun and shoots her and Fred orders them to cut the feed from the studio.

This is an excellent film that was thrown together on a limited budget. It has really great performances from the main cast but especially Dee Wallace Stone. The film has a sense of humour and there is something inherently funny about a bunch of werewolves in group therapy. I like that the film took a different approach with its werewolves instead of going for the familiar tragic curse story. I know it has sequels but they were forgettable

Rating 9.0/10

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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Entertainment, Film


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2 responses to “Review: The Howling

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