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review added: 10/30/01



The Howling
1980 (2001) - MGM

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Howling Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D-

Specs and Features

91 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

The Howling is director Joe Dante's contribution to the realm of werewolf cinema. Mixing elements of horror and comedy, The Howling makes for an entertaining late night viewing session with friends, but falls well short of John Landis' similar horror/comedy entry An American Werewolf in London (which was released theatrically only several months after The Howling).

Dee Wallace plays Karen White, an investigative TV journalist who is invited to meet with notorious sex criminal/murderer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) for an exclusive interview. During the strange, tense meeting in a peep show booth, Eddie is shot dead by the police (or so she thinks) while making a physical transformation that scares the pudding out of Karen - so much so that she becomes emotionally unbalanced and can't remember what happened. While struggling with her trauma, Karen's psychiatrist (Patrick Macnee) sends her and her husband off to a nature retreat for some therapeutic R&R. After arriving at the retreat and meeting its very off-kilter inhabitants, Karen becomes haunted by mysterious events that unravel into a bloody mess of flesh, blood, hair and fangs.

The Howling is a fun little film that does have some humorous moments (and probably could have used a few more), but is most definitely rooted in horror. The acting is pretty bad, but that's okay, as this film does a wonderful job of guising as a modern B-movie. The special effects - most notably, the werewolf transformations - are mighty impressive. Rob Bottin (who went on to huge success with John Carpenter's The Thing) created groundbreaking makeup effects that not only make this film memorable, but also (in my eyes) surpass Rick Baker's work in An American Werewolf in London. But since Baker won the first Academy Award for makeup effects for Werewolf, he's the one who will be remembered for reinventing cinematic werewolf transformations.

The Howling unfortunately is a pacing nightmare. The first two-thirds of the film are long, drawn-out segments that desperately lack action. This is not a David Lean film - this is a mindless horror flick, which means that the audience wants to be scared and demands to see blood and gore, and lots of it… right now! It takes Dante a full hour to get to any serious werewolf action and, by that time, he has to cram 90-minutes worth of action into a half an hour. The addition of a little more humor would have helped move the first hour along more effectively, since the filmmakers tended to be stingy with the werewolf goodness. This is where An American Werewolf in London was a much better experience - the action was nicely spread throughout the film and the humor was plentiful, but never ever out of place. Still, as it stands, The Howling is still a worthy addition to any DVD collector's horror catalog.

Even though this is one of MGM's budget line of DVDs (you can pick it up for under a ten-spot at most stores), the studio thankfully decided to present the film in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The transfer looks nice overall, but there are noticeable amounts of print damage in the form of brief scratches and black spots. These blemishes aren't too distracting, but you'll definitely notice them. The color fidelity is nice, if a bit red in some areas, and black level and picture detail is respectable given the age of the film. Compression artifacting is never a problem. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is utilitarian, but gets the job done. Dialog is always intelligible, and music and sound effects sound natural enough. The only extra included is the theatrical trailer, which is presented in widescreen. There's not even an insert booklet, but for $10, who can complain? At least the film is in anamorphic widescreen... and, really, isn't that what counts the most?

The Howling is a good film, not great, but the excellent makeup effects help make the experience memorable. While not in the same league as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is a good companion piece and deserves a spot in your horror DVD collection.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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