Severely shaken after a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) takes some much-needed time off. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for "the Colony," a secluded retreat where her new neighbors are just a tad too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre link between her would-be attacker and this supposedly safe haven.
And when, after nights of being tormented by savage shrieks and unearthly cries, Karen ventures into the forest to find answers, she makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must fight not only for her life... but for her very soul!
Before being held captive inside a Ford Pinto by a maniacal rabid dog in 'Cujo,' Dee Wallace was taken hostage by a ravenous pack of maniacal werewolves in Joe Dante's cult favorite 'The Howling.' A cleverly deceiving and sly movie that seamlessly blends shock-horror special effects and an eerily ethereal atmosphere with a wicked, snickering sense of humor, Wallace stars as the familiar face of a primetime news cast snared into a secret society of weirdoes and eccentrics calling themselves "The Colony." What starts as a week-long treatment of relaxation with her husband (Christopher Stone) after Wallace's Karen White's brutal attack inside an adult video store, quickly spirals into a nightmare of dark conspiracies, scary sex by campfire, and the menacing howls of wolves.
As with her other memorable roles, most notably as Elliott's mom in Spielberg's enduring family classic 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,' Wallace comes with a pair of intensely piercing blue eyes that suggest a fragile state of mind, a woman that can break under pressure. However, those same baby blues imply an inner strength that's hidden deep inside and reveals itself as cold determination. This personality trait comes in handy as Karen's suspicions about wild animals in the woods slowly grows into the realization of a sinister plot within the resort supposedly run by her therapist Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee). The sultry, sensual beauty Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), in particular, has Karen turning from distressed victim to determined survivalist when things suddenly grow too hairy.
One of the aspects I've loved best about 'The Howling,' a little movie that has since spawned seven sequels involving the lycanthrope mythology in some silly form or another, is how quickly it jumps into gear right from the start. Working with police to capture Karen's stalker Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who is also suspected of being a serial killer, the story plunges audiences into the dark underbelly of society, namely the dark alleys and streets of Los Angeles where apparently Roger Corman and Forrest J. Ackerman walk about as regular, average Joes. With the experience leaving her traumatized, Karen goes to the resort at Waggner's request where Marsha's sexual advances towards her husband are fairly immediate and the behavior of the residents are creepily oddball, including wonderful character-actor John Carradine's suicidal old kook Erle.
Very loosely inspired by Gary Brandner's novel of the same name, John Sayles' script takes a witty self-aware approach to the material, carrying an air of melodrama with a healthy dose of mystery and dialogue that takes shrewd jabs at itself. Smartly, Sayles, who also makes an appearance as a morgue attendant, leaves plenty of room for director Joe Dante to expand on this and throw in several tongue-in-cheek gags, similar to his 'Piranha' and 'Gremlins.' There are many wolf-related products, and Karen's best friend Terri (Belinda Balaski) watches George Waggner's 'The Wolf Man' with her boyfriend (Dennis Dugan). One of the more curious, head-scratching allusions is Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which, of course, has nothing to do with werewolves but is used here for the convenience of the name sharing a similarity to the movie's title.
Carrying on the film's bizarre and warped sense of humor is the often amazing special makeup effects work of Rob Bottin. Working from notes and ideas developed by Rick Baker, who was originally attached to do the effects before fulfilling a promise to work on John Landis' 'An American Werewolf in London,' Bottin created an anthropomorphic monstrosity that is as equally terrifying as it strangely comical. By and large, the most memorable aspect of 'The Howling' is the transformation sequence when Karen confronts a ghost from her past, remaining amusingly startling and hilariously shocking as ever. Some thirty-odd years later, Joe Dante's cult horror classic continues to be a howling good time, delivering a great balance of comedy and entertaining horror.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Howling' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from Shout! Factory, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase!
The werewolf classic howls its way to Blu-ray with a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, breathing new life into a long-time cult favorite which outshines previous home video editions. Comparatively, the encode appears to be identical to the European release by Studio Canal. Looking its age but in pretty good condition nonetheless, the print used has been cleaned up a bit without any serious damage to its overall enjoyment. Some very minor artificial sharpening seems to be the most apparent culprit. Also, one or two scenes looks suspiciously too clean and smooth for their own good, but the majority of the picture is awash in a thin layer of natural grain, giving the presentation an appreciable cinematic quality.
Still, John Hora's photography remains faithful, showing a heavy use of diffusers to give the story a creepy and ethereal atmosphere. Fine object and textural details are plainly visible and distinct, revealing every hair in the creatures, every line in the surrounding foliage, every imperfection in the wood cabins and every thread in the costuming. Close-ups also expose every blemish, pore and wrinkle in the cast.
Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (OAR is actually 1.66:1), the high-def transfer also displays excellent balance in the contrast with comfortably bright whites throughout, providing good visibility of the small background info. Black levels are true and accurate for the most part with some of the best moments taking place at night. Shadow details are very well-defined, allowing fans to really appreciate the special-effects work of Rob Bottin and the amazing transformation scene. Colors are bold and energetic with rich saturation in the primaries, adding to the film's sly self-aware sense of humor. All in all, this is a great video presentation.
Like the video, there's a great deal to enjoy in this howling DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As in other Scream Factory releases, the Joe Dante horror classic comes with two listening options: a 2.0 stereo route which best matches the original mono design and what largely feels like a cheaply-done 5.1 remix. It's not difficult to guess which option I personally prefer, especially since the latter mix feels forced and only seems to increase the decibels while also ruining dynamic range, causing a bit of clipping in the higher frequencies. Added to that, surround speakers display a noticeable amount of audible air and noise, which pretty much proves no one took the time to actually give the design a proper upmix.
In the end, the movie is best enjoyed as a 2.0 stereo presentation, exhibiting a cleaner and more detailed mid-range. The few action sequences are precise and distinct, particularly in the various moments of high-pitched howling, and the music of Pino Donaggio comes with excellent clarity and fidelity within the orchestration. With superb channel separation and balance, imaging feels wide and varied with several great discrete off-screen effects which create an engagingly broad soundstage. Low bass is accurate and appropriate although mostly reserved for providing some hefty depth to Donaggio's original score. With well-prioritized dialogue reproduction in the center, the stereo lossless mix is ultimately the way to go for enjoying this werewolf favorite.
Shout! puts together a nice collection of supplements while also porting material from previous editions, including the laserdisc.
Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, 'The Howling' continues to entertain with its clever blend of horror, tongue-in-cheek humor, and shocking special makeup effects. Starring Elliott's mom as a reporter caught in a nightmare about a pack of mainstreaming werewolves, Joe Dante's film, from a John Sayles script, is a memorable and highly amusing cult horror classic. The Blu-ray arrives with a great picture quality, an excellent audio presentation, and a healthy collection of supplements, some of which are new to this collector's edition, making the overall package a recommended purchase for fans.