The Howling, 1981, 91 mins, 4K UHD
Watched Joe Dante’s The Howling for the first time in, oh, more years than I like to think. Twenty years or more, probably. Back in the VHS days this was a fantastic rental and a perennial favourite. This time around it was via Studio Canal’s recent 4K edition; it looks surprisingly good. I hate that over-used term ‘the best its ever looked’ but its true; and here its quite surprising, it was a low-budget feature and such films often seem to suffer under the scrutiny of ever more-unforgiving and demanding video formats. There’s some much more prestige pictures that have looked worse translated to the demands of 4K.
Back in the day I actually preferred this film to John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, but the years have proved kinder to Landis’ film, which holds up better now. Part of the charm of The Howling was its rough-and-nasty, four-colour comic-strip feel and of course it’s amazing creature effects by the great Rob Bottin. Those transformations used to be the chief ‘wow’ but they have inevitably dated, and are not helped by seemingly going on FOREVER. But nonetheless there is a lot going for The Howling. It has the feel of those 1970s/1980s cheap horror paperbacks my mate and I used to read back then (not surprising, as the film is based upon a Gary Brandner novel); lots of gore and a sprinkling of titillating sex seems to have been the blueprint for so many books that thrilled teens those days, before they were replaced by VHS video nasties etc. Anybody remember those The Crabs series of horror paperbacks by Guy N Smith?
Was it wrong of me to have a bit of a crush for Elliot’s mom from E.T.? Dee Wallace is very good in this, watching it today she’s very impressive indeed albeit really deserved a better script. Much of the rest of the casting -typical for Joe Dante pictures- features some genre faves, like the great Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo and Patrick Macnee (although I wonder how Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing would have been in that particular role?). As for Elisabeth Brooks as the nymphomaniac leather-clad witch/werewolf-bitch… ah, you gotta love horror films from back then.
I was horrified to learn awhile back that Brooks had died some years ago- back in 1997, at the far-too young age of 46. She was apparently quite bitter regards her rather (in)famous nude scene in The Howling, believing that she was misled onset regards just how much would be visible to the camera and in the film. She thought the flames of the campfire would be artfully positioned to preserve her modesty but Dante and the cameraman seemed to have other ideas. When I saw that scene again this crossed my mind; I don’t know how true it is regards her claiming to have been taken advantage of, but is rather sad if true. Movies. Hollywood.
On one of the (sadly rather few) extras on the disc, Joe Dante makes an interesting observation. The Howling was very much a b-movie, and he notes that he later found it very difficult working in Hollywood as budgets got bigger, and eventually what would once have been referred to as ‘A’ pictures were actually just b-pictures with bigger production values and tighter control from the studios. I think he’s right: look at most blockbusters now, they are usually very dumb and very safe. Its probably why I gradually gravitate towards watching older movies: they are often much more satisfying than the silly comic-strip adventures that pass as major motion pictures now. The b-movies took over, but even the b-movies of old are more sophisticated than what we get today.