The art house crowd considers John Sayles a high brow auteur with his masterworks of Lone Star, Matewan and Eight Men Out. But there was a period of time when Sayles knew how to crank out monster flicks that pleased the drive-in lovers. He typed big bites with Piranha and Alligator. He re-teamed with Piranha‘s director Joe Dante to tackle a hairy menace. Werewolves had been a favorite of the horror set. Who didn’t enjoy changing under a full moon? Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolf Man and his follow up films showed him as a tortured soul needing to be cured. Even An American Werewolf in London featured a lead that wasn’t happy at being a wolf. Sayles took the unusual tactic when writing The Howling to create a group of people who are happy to be werewolves.
TV Newscaster Karen White (E.T.‘s Dee Wallace) puts herself in jeopardy in order to make contact with Eddie the Mangler (Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo). Things get extra hairy when he directs her to meet in a peep show booth. Before anything gruesome can happen to her, the cops rush to her rescue. She swears something extremely weird happened in the booth. The trauma leaks into her dreams. She’s losing her sanity. Dr. George Waggner (The Avengers‘ Patrick Macnee) recommends she and her husband (Wallace’s real husband Christopher Stone) visit an beachside retreat known as The Colony. This place is populated a quite a few familiar faces including Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles) and John Carradine (House of Dracula). Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks) has her eyes on Karen’s husband. He’s a good husband, but she won’t to back down. She has a plan to make him see things her way. Back in the city, fellow reporters Chris Halloran (Unidentified Flying Oddball‘s Dennis Dugan) and Terry Fisher (Piranha‘s Belinda Balaski) investigate Eddie since his body has vanished. See if you can spot John Sayles’ cameo during this scene. The reporters track down information that Eddie might be connected to the Colony. This won’t do good for Karen’s recovery efforts. Turns out there’s more than wildlife in the woods. Can Karen expose this horrible plot involving shapeshifters?
While The Howling was made at Avco Embassy, Dante brings his New World connections into the action. Roger Corman has a tasty guest appearance. Kevin McCarthy returns after his time on Piranha. Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) gets a tasty role. Rob Bottin created the werewolves after his fine work with the giant white mouse in Rock N Roll High School.
The upgrade in resolution really brings more to the screen. Dante’s visual fun that can now be seen clearer in the 1080p image. Perhaps the most horrifying part of The Howling is realizing that Dennis Dugan the actor turned into Dennis Dugan, the director of Adam Sandler movies. He won the Razzie for calling the shots on Jack and Jill. How am I supposed to hope he lives through the werewolf attacks knowing he’ll be giving us Al Pacino’s lowest career moment?
While some ’80s horror films have lost their power to scare an audience, The Howling‘s jolts remain solid. John Sayles provided a fine script that played for the creeping fear before the fangs come out. He’s able to mix a level of conspiracy with the normal supernatural beast on the loose. The ending touches upon what would be a real reaction from the public to the events. The Howling is what happens when a real writer elevates a genre film.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The high definition transfer brings out the details in the image. Bottin’s werewolf transformations look good and disgusting. There’s been discussion about the grain levels, but it was a movie shot with low light which brings out the grain in 35mm. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Audio Commentary features Joe Dante, Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo. This is was recorded a while back since Stone died in 1995. There’s also a commentary with Gary Bradner, the author of the book. He’s not a fan of the adaptation.
Howlings Eternal With Steven A. Lane (18:49) has the executive producer discuss how he put together the film project. He also breaks down the numerous sequels he has made over the years. He says hasn’t become mega-rich from the series, but it does keep him flying over the world.
Cut to Shreds With Editor Mark Goldblatt (11:20) lets him confess his love of working on horror films.
Interview with Terence H. Winkless (12:32) lets the other writer talk of his contribution to the script. He wrote the original script before John Sayles was given the script. He’d go on to direct The Nest, Bloodfist and numerous episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (12:15) lets Sean Clark visit locations from the movie including The Colony and the former site of the peep show booth.
Making of a Monster: Inside The Howling (8:01) is a vintage promo from the original release. Does Joe Dante still have that brown tie?
Interview with Stop Motion Animator David Allen (8:48) is a vintage talk. He had to come in to help make the werewolves move.
Unleashing the Beast: The Making of The Howling (48:33) is from the MGM Special Edition DVD released way back in 2003. So much gets covered with most of the key crew and cast contributing to the tale.
Deleted Scenes (11:29) can be watched with the raw sound or Joe Dante’s commentary. He explains why moments were snipped. There’s a hot tub surprise for Dee Wallace involving Slim Pickens and John Carradine. She’s probably still traumatized from it.
Outtakes (7:03) are quite a few bloopers including Joe Dante working a tape recorder.
Theatrical Trailer (1:28) goes for the big scare with screen slashes.
Photo Gallery (7:02) are dozens of publicity and promotional pictures.
Easter Egg (3:28) is more time with Dick Miller. He speaks of being a thespian.
The Howling: The Collector’s Edition truly is the one to collect. The movie looks and sounds great. They’ve brought over the features from previous DVD and laserdisc releases. Hard to think of anything else that could be added.
Scream Factory presents The Howling: The Collector’s Edition. Directed by Joe Dante. Screenplay by: John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick MacNee, Dennis Dugan and Slim Pickens. Running Time: 91 minutes. Rated: R. Released: June 18, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.