Do you remember when you used to tune into a Horror movie and secretly kind of freak out because you were stupid enough to watch it by yourself in a darkened house? Yeah, that was me at some point in the ’80s. I lived in a fairly remote part of the world, a valley surrounded by lots and lots of trees. My nearest neighbor was nearly a mile from doorstep. My backyard was one of the darkest places in the world – no street lights, nothing reflective, just utter darkness…and the endless forest.
I was probably in my early teens when “The Howling” came to TV. As fate would have it, my family went out that evening and left me alone. I was so excited to watch what I was sure was going to be a cool Horror film! (Back then, a movie premiere on TV was a seriously hyped affair.) Sometimes when you are a teenager, you don’t think things thorough clearly enough. In this instance, I wish I could have said it aloud to myself “Horror movie set in the woods, featuring werewolves, and you are home alone, for hours, with dogs outside, and lots and lots of woods.” It was a bad idea.
“The Howling” for the record scared me a lot more than I think it would have in a different setting for my 1st viewing. However, that’s not how it went down for me and the end result was me petrified to even look outside my window. I was never so happy to see my brothers come strolling in through the downstairs door!
The film started out clever enough. A female TV journalist wants to be the gritty reporter and lands a whopper of a story. She becomes involved with a serial killer and now he only wants to talk to her. This culminates in a TV reporter going undercover into a seedy porn shop to meet the killer, Eddie Quist, face to face. The cops are ready to spring into action, but then something goes horribly wrong. Eddie wants to reveal something to Karen (the reporter) and she can’t quit see what’s happening in the dark of the booth they are in but she screams, then cops barge in guns firing and Eddie dies. Karen is so psychologically traumatized after the incident that she seeks counseling from the Doc that moonlights as a guest on her TV channel‘s news program.
At no point in this beginning did I see “werewolf” advertised or even hinted at – other than of course the title of the film. This is one of the best set-ups for a Horror movie I have ever seen. It’s brilliant. Everything seems very grounded and pretty believable. Karen is having bad dreams and she can’t work, and she is having marital problems. This all looks like some other kind of film, but certainly not a werewolf-movie!
The end result of Karen’s counseling is that she is invited to the Doc’s little retreat up the coast called “the Colony”. Uh oh. Anytime anybody in any film refers to a place as “the Colony”, it never ends well. It’s other some kind of Satanic cult hiding there, or pagans sacrificing humans to appease the old Gods, or ghost children that haunt the place, or something else that basically makes my mind think “Colony = bad place”. (I Invite anyone to track down a movie reference to “the Colony” that isn’t a bad place.)
I am not going to get into the rest of the story, because it is far better to let anyone who hasn’t seen “the Howling” to experience it first hand. What I will say is that this movie has a LOT going for it. Eddie is an awesome villain and creepier than Hell in appearance. The actor’s name is Robert Picardo. You may know him from the TV shows China Beach or The Wonder Years or (more recently) Star Trek: Voyager or even more recently Stargate SG-1. Yes, THAT Robert Picardo. (I know, I was shocked too!) Dee Wallace plays Karen kind of like a whining, overly-emotional woman that is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Not the greatest actress I have ever seen, but fitting enough for this role. There are also some great cameos and smaller roles filled in with some incredible talent: John Carradine, Noble Willingham, Kevin McCarthy, and (my favorite) Slim Pickens.
It also has killer special effects! No lie here: these are the best werewolf effects ever created – and they have yet to be beat. It won a Saturn Award for Eddie’s transformation scene. This is work of legendary masters Rick Baker and Rob Bottin. With all of today’s advances in the field, and even the surprise hit TV show FaceOff on Sci-Fi Channel, Baker & Bottin’s work is the stuff of true genius. It is part editing work and part straight-up awesome make-up work. These werewolves are terrifying! (That they are 7′ tall doesn’t hurt either.)
I don’t know what every other film critic thinks, but I can say that outside of “Wolfen” “Dog Soldiers” and “The Wolf Man“, “the Howling” ranks as one of the best werewolf-based Horror films out there. So, instead of turning on some shitty gore-fest this Halloween season, turn on “The Howling” instead and spend some quality time alone…in the woods…named the Colony…and get freaked out (you know the rest of the story).
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.
- The Howling (1981) (screamsearch.wordpress.com)
- The Howling (1981) Movie Review (theeradicatorreviews.com)
- Horror Scenes I Love: The Howling (unobtainium13.com)
- The Wolfman (reelvoice2013.wordpress.com)