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Friday, October 25, 2013

31 Days of Scream-O-Ween! - The Howling

By Adam Ruhl

There’s no chance you haven’t already seen The Howling. If you enjoy horror films enough to read a month’s worth of reviews and somehow missed this movie stop right now, add it to your bucket list, and get to it. While that one reader watches the film (hopefully an older version so they have a good basis of comparison), we’ll proceed to talk about Joe Dante’s classic 1981 horror film that Scream Factory has brought screaming ‘howling’ back to life with their new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.

The Howling
The Film:
Newscaster Karen White is nearly killed when she goes alone to interview a serial killer in a porno booth. She decides to recover from the trauma at a retreat staffed entirely by werewolves (not intentionally). Various maimings, devorings, and acid attacks ensue.

The Howling is based on an earlier novel by Gary Brandner and carries director Joe Dante’s signature blend of mildly cartoony antics and horror. It features Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, and Dante Veterans Dick Miller and Robert Picardo.
The Howling shares a weird kinship with 1981’s other werewolf movie An American Werewolf in London. They were released just five months apart (The Howling came first in April), both contain werewolves, and have some extremely dark humorous undertones to their stories. One more thing connecting them was their creature designers. Around the turn of the century I attended a late night screening of Joe Dante’s personal copy of The Howling with him in attendance (the theater tore the print by the way, there was a gasp from the crowd). Dante mentioned that initially the effects were to be done by Rick Baker. He was pulled away by a prior agreement to work on American Werewolf. In his place, Baker’s protégé Rob Bottin made a stunning solo debut with Howling’s effects work. He made the stunning transformation of Eddie Quist and I’ve always thought that compared to American Werewolf, his werewolf design may have been slightly less pure wolf, but a lot more terrifying.


The Disc:
The picture quality in the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition is finally the treatment this film deserves. There’s a nervous moment before I see any Blu-ray transfer; worries about will they get the colors right or will they scrub the film grain out of existence. The Howling is shot on 35mm, mostly at night so my fears were magnified. They did a superb job, the blacks are crisp with very little charactering or ghosting. The grain appears to be fully intact with no loss of detail.

The disc cover sports a beautiful illustration by Nathan Thomas Milliner and as with many of the Scream Factory releases; the cover is reversible to reveal the original poster art for those who prefer a nostalgic look.
For those with an interest in the history of the making of The Howling; Scream Factory has packed in a bunch of extras. Taken together we hear from the Director, author of the novel, Writer, Producer, Effects men, Actors, and Editor.

The Features:
  • Audio Commentary With Director Joe Dante And Actors Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo – Carried over from older release, Christopher Stone passed away in 1995.
  • Audio Commentary With Author Gary Brandner – new commentary track.
  • Howlings Eternal with Steven A. Lane – new material.
  • Cut to shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt – new material.
  • Interview with Co-Writer Terrence Winkless – new material.
  • Interview with Stop Motion Animator David Allen
  • Unleashing the Beast: Making of The Howling
  • Deleted Scenes with film commentary and film audio
  • Outtakes
  • Making A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – A Look at the Film’s Locations – new material.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer


The Specs:
  • 1080p Hi-Def widescreen 1.85:1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • English-only Audio & Subtitles
  • Original Release: 1981
  • Runtime: 91 minutes
  • Rated R

Curiously the slip cover for the disc says it includes Blu-ray and DVD discs but only the Blu-ray is included.

Final Grades:
Story: A / Great moments though some of the middle becomes muddled and its easy to lose track of who’s doing what in the plot and why.
Presentation quality: A / Rich blacks and plenty of original grain.
Scare factor: B+ / More great atmosphere and tension than cheap thrills and jumps.
Gore Factor: B / Bloody and graphic for the era but somewhat reserved by modern standards.
Repeat view-ability: A / This is a classic Werewolf horror movie and its direction, effects, and cinematography make it a great view at least once a year.  

Add The Howling to your collection, click HERE!

Check out yesterday’s Scream Factory review, Cockneys vs. Zombies!

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