Leave it to Joe Dante to work in a Looney Tunes clip at every opportunity!
Screenplay By: John Sayles & Terence H. Winkless
Directed By: Joe Dante
The classic debate among horror fans, at least I think it’s a classic debate, is which 1981 werewolf film reigns supreme. John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London has certainly gone on to win the war when it comes to the two films in popular culture. But, popular culture doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean much to any horror fan worth their salt. In this case I’m pretty sure that hardcore horror cinephiles align rather symmetrically with popular culture. Most horror buffs would choose An American Werewolf In London over The Howling. I’m not someone who has ever gone all googly eyes over Mr. Landis’ werewolf entry, but The Howling didn’t light my world on fire either. I’d actually say that both films are relatively equal, but when push comes to shove I would take The Howling over An American Werewolf In London by the slightest hair on a werewolf’s nose.
Maybe that little breakdown wasn’t necessary, but it felt like it was needed and I got it out of the way as soon as I could. All comparisons removed from the discussion, The Howling is a pretty good werewolf film that has its share of flaws. I spent a good chunk of my time watching The Howling waiting for something to happen, and not in a “man, this film is building a lot of suspense” sort of way. Once things started to happen I realized that there was going to be a key moment when one character would kill another. The problem was that the relationship between said two characters hadn’t been built up to the level that it should have. The more I think about The Howling the more I know that it’s a film that heavily depends on the practical effects work from Rob Bottin and Rick Baker.
I’ve always been a fan of Joe Dante, and his fingerprints are on certain elements of The Howling. The sexual repression angle didn’t strike me as something from Mr. Dante, that was more of a John Sayles touch I believe. The tactile nature of the violent scenes was all Mr. Dante though, and that is when the film is at its best. In its violent moments The Howling makes the most use of its practical effects and the skills of Mr. Dante to make what’s on screen come across as real. There weren’t enough moments grounded in tactile reality, but there were just enough to make The Howling more than what it otherwise would have been.
The Howling takes too long to get where it’s going. The characters weren’t fleshed, pardon the pun, out enough for my liking. However, for all of its faults I still enjoyed The Howling at its core. There are some good horror tropes on display, and I really dig the practical effects from Mr. Bottin and Mr. Baker. I wanted more from The Howling, but I was still satisfied with what I was given nonetheless. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see a werewolf movie that is better than just above average, but I’ll take the above average machinations of The Howling over something like Twilight any day of the week.