The Howling (1981)
The Howling (1981)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: April 10th, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joe Dante Actors: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo




Channel 6 Update News anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) has received several phone calls from a man calling himself Eddie – a deviant stalker and serial killer demanding that she meet him in person. In conjunction with her news team and the police, she participates in a sting operation to trap the perverted murderer, but it nearly kills her when a trigger-happy officer not only comes to her rescue later than expected, but also shoots wildly into the sex shop booth in which she becomes a temporary captive, forced to watch a rape snuff film. Back at the station, her husband, Bill Neill (Christopher Stone), coworker Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski), and a crew of technicians, fret over her wellbeing and the likelihood that the scenario will go south rapidly.

Though she survives unharmed, Karen is overcome with anxiety and flashbacks of the incident. Celebrity doctor George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), a regular television guest, convinces her to take a vacation up at “The Colony,” a secluded, experimental living community that he created along the California coast. When she arrives, she notices that the people there are immediately strange: some eye her like they’re hungry, others exhibit a phony friendliness, and one elderly man wishes to throw himself into a bonfire to end it all. Wiry T.C. (Don McLeod) seems to be part bloodhound, while witchy seductress Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks) is oddly handy with a knife. At night, Karen gets the sense that someone is watching her from outside her cabin, and hears all sorts of unnerving animal sounds. Only Donna (Margie Impert), a sensible young woman, provides any real comfort.

Meanwhile, reporters Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry research Eddie’s history and residence, hoping to uncover his motives. When they visit the morgue, they discover the body has been snatched – or, perhaps, came back to life and clawed its way out. Just as their probing unearths some legends about werewolves, they receive word from Karen that Bill has been attacked and bitten by a wolf.

Despite a bit of violence, a lengthy sex scene, creepy characters (with toothy grins), and an obscured werewolf ambush, very little excitement is to be found within the first 50 minutes. Considering that the picture only runs about one-and-a-half hours, more than half is wasted on establishing a storyline that audiences will surely be long aware of, as the silver bullet concept doesn’t deviate from basic werewolf ideas. And the title “The Howling” isn’t exactly subtle. Plus, an occupation with sleuthing and marital complications interferes with good old-fashioned monster mayhem, though these flavorless subplots are very loosely taken from Gary Brandner’s novel of the same name.

Where the project could have excelled is in the special effects. With Rob Bottin (“The Thing” [1982], “Legend,” “Robocop” [1987]) serving as makeup effects creator, the potential was certainly high. But even the best moments of gore can’t compete with Rick Baker’s work on “An American Werewolf in London” from the same year. The atmosphere is too bright and insincere, with a focus on creating dread through untrustworthy accomplices rather than terrifying bloodshed; even the big transformation scene, though impressively gruesome through the use of icky prosthetics and air bladders, lacks suspense or thrills – chiefly because Karen remains goofily frozen with fright for the protracted event. The visuals, no matter how amusingly disturbing, are unable to compete against the plodding nature of the evil creatures’ timid, poorly edited onslaughts – or the practically comical conclusion. The only unique element in this dull werewolf slasher is the monsters’ ability to mutate at will to parade around in oversized, hairy form in broad daylight.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10