There are several great werewolf movies in the horror genre, so I wanted to know what it is about THE HOWLING that makes it stand out from the pack. I spoke to various creative professionals to ask them why this movie means so much to them. Here they are, in their own words! — Jeremy Lowe.
GARY PULLIN – horror artist, RUE MORGUE
Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING has a mean streak running through it that you don’t find in most werewolf films. People often talk about the film’s sense of humour, but it’s more concerned with terrifying its audience than making them laugh, and you can chalk up Eddie Quist [played by Robert Picardo] as the creepiest, most unsavoury lycanthrope ever put to film. Rob Bottin’s werewolves are straight-up scary and his work on the transformations are truly incredible. THE HOWLING is always worth a watch, preferably when the moon is full.
ANGUS MAPLE – adult film star, SWINEY’S PRO-AM
THE HOWLING II played a vital role in my all important adolescent years. To my fevered teenage mind, which was clogged with hormones, stolen beer, and horny desperation, HOWLING II was nothing short of a godsend! It wasn’t exactly the movie per se; which was pedestrian at best and narratively incoherent at worst.
It was the end credit sequence. In what I can only assume was a mandate from the producers to wring every last dime of value from Sybil Danning’s salary; the credit sequence replayed the shot where she tore her top off, exposing her fantastic voluptuous rack… SEVENTEEN TIMES!
In the course of about three minutes of credits the teenager me got to see Sybil Danning’s ripe, magnificent tit-flesh pop out of a black leather top, SEVENTEEN TIMES! (Eighteen times, if you count the original scene.)
There is very little else I can say about the movie, but that one gift from on high was enough. Thank you, HOWLING II.
GEOFFREY CHADSEY – artist and activist
Most werewolf movies are about a lone wolf: The subject or victim coming to terms with their uncontrollably emergent monstrosity. THE HOWLING is a goddamn community. And it’s getting organized. First, it’s about controlling these monstrous impulses. Just eat cows and sheep! Then the rogue wolves move toward embracing their murderous fang-dom. So what’s it about? Emergent modern sexuality! Or rather, this movie makes that metaphor –always there, more overt. A contagious or consuming monstrosity. Either you’ll become it, or you’ll be eaten by it.
The first werewolf appears in the darkened porn theater. The community (Big Sur, den of ’70s sexual iniquity!) to where they track him is modeled on a kind of an EST Robert Bly rhetoric: face the animal within! Nurture it but control it! The husband is attacked by the wolf lady in the woods after first being turned on by her… and when he converts a few days later, they fuck. Plus, there is Slim Pickens turning into a wolf, which is just fucked up.
Older werewolf movies (even AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) are more tragic — watching the subject figure out what’s going on and then suffer for not being able to control it. He has to reckon with the damage he is doing. THE HOWLING, the subject is the unmonstrous human figuring out the mystery of an alien emergent slightly-hip group. You feel stalked. You feel like prey. It’s the straights freaking out about the queers, the swingers, the rockers who like to fuck; it’s the fear of the straights that they’re going to fall into that lifestyle, or be wiped out by it.
JT HABERSAAT – stand up comedian
My lone complaints were always — why was Dee Wallace chased through the woods during the day? It kind of messed with the moon concept, but maybe they can shape-shift at will? Who knows, but it was a head-scratcher. And while I loved the on-air Dee change, her werewolf looked like a weird terrier puppy. Never got that, but the ‘go-to commercial!’ jump to the dog food plop in the bowl is fucking genius. Still my favorite werewolf movie, although THE HOWLING 2 is so amazingly bad and hilarious, I may have watched that one more often while drunk, hahaha.
GREG GUNTER – actor, BEAR CITY TRILOGY
Bites, blood, transformation, the full moon, and thankfully, rampant sexuality: Werewolf Movies. When I was a lad with a secret, the tormented Lon Chaney, Jr.’s plaintive Wolfman seemed truly cursed. Maria Ouspenskaya, mother to the other featured creature with a furtive life, seemed the only one to understand his haunted life. Oh the happiness he had – prior to that … BITE! Before what was hidden was unleashed! Repressed in early black & white movies, werewolves received a dismal comeuppance by the end of each tale. Curse ended, they reverted back to “normal.” Read into it what you will, but for this kid, it meant those with macabre lupine secrets would come to a naaasty end. Only later was I savvy enough to realize it also meant they’d live it up in the meantime! Timewarp to the overt, orgiastic, rampantly-hormonal lycanthropes of THE HOWLING.
Bursting into my early teens, THE HOWLING represented horrors of lust gone wild, lechery run amok. Ground-breaking pulsating, viscous SFX were sensuous as they were revolting; the debaucherous, transformation into our beast selves desirous, despite middle-America warnings, and messy, dirty, unseemly… HOT. Beloved horror queen Dee Wallace, a burgeoning actress at the time, having done THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE HILLS HAVE EYES – plays reporter Karen White. She meets a masher in a porno theater, full of sleaze, dirty men … a creepy, carnal place. Watching in the dark, I felt like the werewolf. Secret life: only coming out in moonlight because a 16 year-old secret shapeshifter in the South couldn’t really be open. With THE HOWLING, however, there would be no pathetic ending … sure, some of the monsters met foul ends. But the curse persisted, as it were, tearing its way into mainstream culture.
Only a few years later when I was an AIDS Educator, THE HOWLING & werewolf movies served as metaphor for how the Moral Majority treated HIV/AIDS. Those scary people in that wanton community seek out the innocent, biting “them,” transforming “them” all into …… ? Until recently, this slant on history might seem laughable, or some may wince at my allusion, but if you were a teen/twenty something back then witnessing how our brothers & sisters were ostracized, how reasonable people might launch into a, “We can’t have sex any more ‘cause some faggot had sex with a monkey,” or how your own family might label all the cups at home so as not to drink after you …. lest they be transformed … even if you were never “bitten” — it felt like we were starring in a monster movie. THE HOWLING served to remind people that life was messy.
HARRISON SMITH – director, DEATH HOUSE
Well that’s pretty easy. In my opinion the original film is the only one that stands with one of the best of the genre. The rest of the films are sequels in name only, and range from bad camp to just inept.
THE HOWLING took steps to bring us a female werewolf, and explored a post -Watergate feeling of residual conspiracies. The Reagan ’80s had just started falling into place, and THE HOWLING maintained that dark, conspiracy feel left over from the ’70s.
Dante’s quirky directing, Dee Wallace’s All-American girl with guts performance, and Bottin’s practical effects work made a nice perfect-horror-storm. It was offbeat, still had the ’70s gritty feel, and most of all, it was a well-made movie.
JOHN BOROWSKI – filmmaker, SERIAL KILLER CULTURE
THE HOWLING always frightened me as a child. The dark lighting and practical effects were absolutely terrifying to me as a young boy, and I loved it!
JAY LENDER – director, THEY’RE WATCHING
“I want to give you a piece of my mind.” THE HOWLING is a fanboy’s dream: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, baby Robert Picardo, and Meshach Taylor — cameos from Forry Ackerman, Roger Corman, Dick Miller, and Kenneth Tobey! Stop motion AND cel animation! Tits, blood, mayhem, proper wolf-legs, and a Rob Bottin transformation scene so gripping that it’s totally believable that the heroine would stand there riveted for all 3 minutes of it. And what an adorable, sniffly werewolf Dee Wallace makes! What a fun flick! “Silver bullets my ass!”
RICHARD TANNER – director, ROOM FOR RENT
When I was a child, the scariest thing I could imagine was a werewolf. I would have nightmares for a week if I so much as walked in on TEEN WOLF. I fully blame this on THE HOWLING, because to this day, I still assume that those monsters aren’t special effects… Somehow they found actual werewolves, and paid them to transform on camera. I finally got over the fear as the franchise grew: Specifically, when I saw THE HOWLING 3: THE MARSUPIALS. I couldn’t stop watching this train wreck of a film– while the special effects were still crazy good… It’s hard not to laugh at an evil kangaroo that is trying to bite people. Then again… Australians might not find it so funny.
DEREK SHEEN – stand-up comedian
In 1980, the transformation scenes in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON were a game-changer. No one had ever seen anything like it, and when Rick Baker was nominated for an Oscar, I did an end-zone dance in front of the television. I was eleven years old, and already my room was a hoarder’s paradise of movie magazines, jars of latex, amalgam, and life casts. I was already convinced that I was on my way to becoming the next Savini, Baker, or Shostrom.
In 1981, I entered a nearly-empty rural cinema to take in an afternoon showing of THE HOWLING. I had read a little about Rob Bottin’s work, but up until then, I had only seen stills and very little else, so I was excited to see how his transformation scene would compare to Baker’s.
I left with my mind blown.
The fact they did that whole scene with very little cutting and lots of close-ups…
I was in love, and I’d found a new hero.
That next year was spent primarily on researching air bladders, hydraulics, and puppetry.
Then, in 1982, I saw Bottin’s work on THE THING and not unlike Jefferson Starship refusing to go up after Hendrix, decided I could never do anything as good as that, and took up guitar instead.
Also, Dee Wallace as a Pomeranian!
NATHAN ERDEL – writer, HEADLESS
1981 may have been the year of the werewolf, as movie-going audiences were blessed with THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and WOLFEN, all in the same, wonderful year. While WOLFEN deals with werewolves in New York C, and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON deals with werewolves in… well, London, THE HOWLING gives us a full colony of werewolves in the American countryside, setting the stage for a slightly more traditional werewolf tale. WOLFEN and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON arguably, and admirably, go for an “Old World terror let loose upon the New World,” THE HOWLING deals in more traditional werewolf lore, commenting on the subject matter in a SCREAM-esque meta fashion. Werewolf lore and films feature in the proceedings, along with cameos ranging from Roger Corman, Dick Miller, John Carradine, and Forrest J. Ackerman.
Let’s not be coy here: THE HOWLING is sort of batshit nuts, reveling in its takedown of New Age feel-goodery and self-help mania, all the while crafting an excellent werewolf tale. Dee Wallace is a wonderful final girl, and the twist ending dealing with her character remains one of the best finales horror has to offer. The performances range from effective — Christopher Stone as Wallace’s philandering husband — to the effectively camp — Carradine’s appearance as a would-be suicidal werewolf, and the script bounces from near-satire to full-on, balls-to-the-wall horror; for this, THE HOWLING remains a smart and sharp take on the werewolf mythos.
THE HOWLING, as directed by Joe Dante, is smart without losing its humor, clever without being too jokey, and features some really wonderful special effects. It is often, unfortunately, overshadowed by AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON— much like NEAR DARK was overshadowed by THE LOST BOYS. I feel this comparison is apt, especially when you compare the sheen and polish of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to THE HOWLING’s slightly more grindhouse feel. Both films are excellent, but AMERICAN WEREWOLF seems to have more commercial appeal, while THE HOWLING feels, through and through, like an honest-to-God MONSTER MOVIE. To be completely honest, I *do* think that, if standing toe-to-toe with each other, An AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON DOES feel like a slightly better film than THE HOWLING, but I’d argue that THE HOWLING feels more in line with what I’d expect from a werewolf movie: multiple werewolves, copious werewolf action, some decent gore, and wonderful special effects that are ONLY rivaled by the ones found within AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON will most likely be remembered as the reigning lycanthrope film of American cinema, but, for my money, THE HOWLING is a strong, original, and, most importantly, enjoyable werewolf film.
Latest posts by Jeremy Lowe (see all)
Tags: Angus Maple, Dee Wallace, Dennis Dugan, Derek Sheen, Dick Miller, Forrest Ackerman, Gary Brandner, Gary Pullin, Geoffrey Chadsey, Greg Gunter, Harrison Smith, Interviews, Jay Lender, Jeremy Lowe, joe dante, John Borowski, john carradine, JT Habersaat, Kenneth Tobey, Kevin McCarthy, Nathan Erdel, Patrick Macnee, Richard Tanner, Robert Picardo, roger corman, Sequels, Slim Pickens, sybil danning, The 1980s, The Howling, Werewolves