Forgotten Gems: The Howling

Nerdling Tales takes a mostly spoiler free look at cult classics mostly overlooked by the public, movies that failed so hard they won, and the “what in the hell were they thinking” flicks.  Join her as she reminisces about what makes these movies so interesting and full of hopeful sequel potential, and yet the general movie going population tends to forget their existence. 

I know it is been a while since I have done one of these, but it is Halloween.  Time for some lesser known gems to enjoy and some werewolf shenanigans.

Released: January 21, 1981
Director: Joe Dante
Writers: Gary Brandner, John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Stars:  Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Margie Impert, Noble Willingham, James Murtaugh, Dick Miller

After her traumatic experience in helping the police capture a serial killer, Karen (Wallace) and her husband, Bill (Stone), head to a retreat known as “The Colony” run by the strange Dr. Wagner (Macnee), where she can heal.  There, the couple encounter some strange persons and some frisky residents.  But soon the reporter discovers the retreat is hiding some furry secrets in the woods.

If you are a connoisseur of werewolf films, then The Howling is the film for you.  While most of the movie is super serious, it does take the time to throw in a few tongue in cheek references to wolves (cartoons playing on TVs that feature the Big Bad Wolf, Wolf brand chili, someone reading Howl by Allen Ginsberg, just to name a few).  Some references are well over my head and had to be pointed out to me by someone else.

Image Courtesy of Avco Embassy Pictures

Image Courtesy of Avco Embassy Pictures

This dark and gritty flick would have probably been more of a pop culture staple than it is if it wasn’t for An American Werewolf in London hitting theaters a couple of months later, relegating The Howling to cult status.  While most people remember the game changing transformation scene in American Werewolf, The Howling’s transformations sequences are not to be sneezed at.  Rob Bottin, who’s work on The Thing the next year would make him famous, brought his A game.  Rick Baker was actually the original effects artist for the film, but left to do American Werewolf, allowing Bottin to step in.  Both artists used rubber and hydraulics to create the transformation from man (or woman) into wolf.

The Howling centers itself greatly on the dichotomies of man and nature, animal instincts vs human civility, and takes a more critical eye of the sexually violent nature werewolves are a stand in for.  The film starts off with Karen being used as bait by her TV station to lure out a serial killer who has eyes for her, Eddie Quist (Ricardo).  Her producers and husband are ambivalent to the dangers Karen is walking into, the story is just too juicy.  The news station continues to abuse Karen after the fact by placing her on TV to recount her experiences (which she has repressed in the shock of her attack and witness to a killing) and she freezes on camera. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) The film’s ending serves as a grim punchline for the abuse women suffer when coming forward after being raped.  Was she telling the truth, or was it made up?

Image Courtesy of Avco Embassy Pictures

Image Courtesy of Avco Embassy Pictures

If you are looking for a frighten good film for your Halloween weekend watching party, The Howling is definitely one to add to your list.  While several bits may be seriously cheese by today’s standards, many of the scares and effects hold up.  Just avoid the seven (yes, you read that right, seven) sequels.

And don’t go to any retreats that call themselves “The Colony” or have Colony in their name.  It just sounds like a haven for a cult.

Have you seen The Howling?  If you have, let me know what you thought in the comments section below.  Just remember to place a spoiler tag if you are going to go into too many details.

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About Nerdling

The Nerdling has an unhealthy obsession with books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars. She finds hockey to be the best sport in the world (Go Dallas Stars!) and is working on her first novel, but mostly glowers at a blank screen. You can find her on Twitter @nerdlingstale on Facebook @NerdlingTales or Instagram @nerdling_tales

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