The Howling is a movie that any fan of horror in their late twenties will fondly remember. I watched this movie recently, however, and it suffered; The Howling wasn't quite the werewolf masterpiece I had envisioned it to be.
The opening segment is certainly memorable, amalgamating the seedy back-street porno theatre experience (as endured by a lone female reporter) and the carnivorous werewolf theme. Unfortunately, it's all very quick, and soon enough we're back in the familiar woodland environment that werewolf flicks seem to favour: with log cabins, camp fires and full moons aplenty. The opening had promise, exploring the sexual fear of a woman who is arranging a meeting with a man she knows to be serial killer-- if this plot was stretched over the whole movie it would have been improved.
Karen (Dee Wallace Stone), the courageous female reporter, who is understandably traumatised by her ill-thought out meeting, is advised to spend some time with her husband at 'The Colony', a therapy-based community in a forested area. The Colony is suspicious from the outset, soon enough wolves are heard howling at the moon. To complicate things further, Karen's husband is enticed by the local vixen. Once again, Karen is alone. Her only hope being two news journo colleagues who, while researching the serial killers, find themselves researching werewolves (gasp!) and realise Karen is in trouble.
This doesn't sound too bad, except it isn't scary and it banks on the audience's knowledge of the werewolf genre, there are explanatory notes for the less informed (ie- an old clip from The Wolfman where Lon Chaney is explained werewolf lore). We are never allowed to linger on Dee Wallace Stone's suffering, conjuring no sense of dread. At one point, the actress actually looks bored as she is forced to watch the presumed-dead serial killer transform (for the second time) into a werewolf. I thought she was going to politely excuse herself from this situation.
Next to An American Werewolf In London (made in the same year) this film comes over as a prosaic genre pic, whereas AAWIL was a fresh and powerful horror with lashings of dark comedy. That film also had a sense of subtlety, Landis didn't feel the need to explain everything. The lore was sketchy and given sparingly - he was bitten so he will turn on the next full moon, all his victims are undead - nothing more. The film was naturalistic with wonderfully humane performances from its cast, whereas this feels as if it is scripted down to the last scream.
Put simply, The Howling is a dumb American horror movie, if that's your thing, then fine. It satisfied me as a child, years ago I would have allotted it 4 stars, today it gets 2. Time isn't kind to every film. The werewolf genre has since seen innumerable gems gracing our screens, from Ginger Snaps to Dog Soldiers. Often these films pump new life into the hairy old sub-genre, with its tired, gnashing teeth; unfortunately this film supports the 'putting down' of such a beast. A drizzle of nostalgia that left me with a bland taste in my mouth.