The Howling (1981 USA)

howlin The humour may be the most widely regarded facet of this furry tale. However, in the end this is a horror film, and a damn scary one, largely because it never gets carried away with the comedic elements. Director Joe Dante, who at this point was best known for the cult classic, Piranha, updated werewolf folklore by applying it to two of the more popular horror trends of the time: female paranoia, and the fear of non-urban environments.

Dante makes the most of these two thematic elements, while also cultivating a classic, spooky atmosphere rarely seen in post-Psycho horror movies. Dante also manages to tap into primal childhood fears of the dark, the woods, the fog, and The Big Bad Wolf. In fact, some of the film’s most terrifying scenes make their mark because they so aptly recreate images from Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Looking back, it really is shocking how ahead-of-its-time this movie was. Not only did it turn the mirror on horror films of the past and present, but it also offered a shockingly accurate, post-Network glimpse into the media.

From what I have read, the novel The Howling by Gary Brandner is vastly different, particularly in this regard. Instead of being an author (as she was in the book), Karen is a reporter, and this allows Dante to explore the notion that the American public was so desensitized by 1981 that television had to resort to extreme shock tactics to maintain viewership. Yet even more innovative is the similar viewpoint that people were also too sophisticated to believe anything even if it happened right in front of them.

The Howling

In a time of unprecedented cynicism and complacency (not to mention being the era of `reality shows’), Dante’s message is more relevant than ever. When The Howling was released, it was extremely well received by critics and became a box office hit. The scenery is simply top-notch. It has an undeniably grimy atmosphere which is perfect. High on mood and when it shifts to its foreboding, foggy woodlands its hard to escape the nightmarish feel. Especially at night with eerie howling sounds. The Howling is a  pastiche that delivers the goods, insisting it is the real thing to some degree. It even supplies guys like John Carradine and Patrick MacNee with juicy supporting roles. They even throw in Slim Pickens.

Casting all the right people, playing its own creative variations on a classic old-hat plot device. It engulfs us with reminiscences of other films and media like it, and at the same time giving it a real-world edge. The Howling so consciously plays upon fantasy and allusions to midnight movies of yesteryear and werewolf lore, and reintroduces common, prototypical features of style. And there is always something about that self-aware quality that frees us from taking it seriously, so we have so much more fun with it. It also has that 1980’s tacky seediness if you are feeling in the mood to re-live that glorious decade. So… enjoy!




  1. My first werewolf movie all those years ago. What made me love those furry doggies too.

    Liked by 1 person

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