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Howling, The - Special Edition

Review by: 
Billion$Baby
Release Date: 
1981
Studio: 
MGM
Genre: 
Werewolf
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
1 NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Joe Dante
Cast: 
Dee Wallace
Patrick Macnee
Christopher Stone
Robert Picardo
Slim Pickens
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
4
Bottom Line: 
4

 Well, they might have a point since John "Alligator" Sayles' co-written script is another witty tongue-in-cheek affair which pokes much fun at the realms of television news and psychiatry. Plus it has supporting actor roles played by Slim Pickens, Patrick Macnee, Joe Dante regular Dick Miller, John Carradine and Robert Picardo (who's probably doomed to be known as the Star Trek hologram doctor for the remainder of his career!). Also keep an eye for fun cameos from the likes of John Sayles and Roger Corman. 
 
The Howling's lead actress is ET's Dee Wallace. Here Wallace plays a journalist who becomes actively involved in the search for a serial killer called Eddie. When Eddie is gunned down, the traumatised journalist and her husband leave home to visit "The Colony" upon Macnee's psychiatric advice. Thing is, lycanthropes soon recover from normal bullets so Wallace's ordeal is only just beginning.
 
Surprisingly The Howling isn't actually that violent a film. The most violent sequence is easily when a werewolf arm is chopped off. Which is actually a great special effects moment as we then see the hairy arm revert back to human form. Rob Bottin's effects are merely adequate bar that changing severed arm and obviously the film's BIG scene - watching Robert Picardo changing into wolf mode in a lengthy almost real-time sequence.
 
Other than those moments, this low budget film's effects are just...adequate for want of a better word. There's some cool animation and stop motion lycanthrope moments to be seen (wisely kept very short) but other than that, it's all Rob Bottin's early efforts. Are you thinking that I forgot all about the final transformation? If you are, you're mistaken 'cause how could I ever forget?! I absolutely loath the film's final woman into Yorkshire Terrier dog transformation! It really lets the picture down badly. Why couldn't she change into a normal bloody werewolf?!
 
BTW There is actually a daft flaw in this film (although it's probably not advised to take a film like this too seriously!!). Early on in the film, police handgun bullets stop Eddie yet he mockingly hands a rifle back to a male reporter just before he attempts to change form again. Handgun bullets knocked Eddie out for 24 hours the first time around...so why would he give someone a rifle and dare them to use it? Surely shooting him with a rifle will render him unconscious as it did much earlier? He was even in werewolf form when the police took him out. Maybe I'm taking this way too seriously.
 
Direction wise, Joe Dante performs reasonably well. There's some nice stylised moments such as the intro credits (usually an annoyingly wasted opportunity for most films) and a few cool camera movements. And the film features some nice fog filled woods cinematography and boasts a score by Pino Donaggio. Is The Howling really such a classic? Well...I'm not too sure I'm afraid. It's certainly above average and enjoyable but I'll never be able to understand quite why some folks claim that this is a better film than Landis' American Werewolf In London which was released shortly afterwards. Maybe it's just because the werewolves stand on two legs?
 
This MGM DVD's picture quality and 5.1 sound impresses but what makes this disc stand out so much are the extras. The original DVD release of The Howling was a bare bones affair so it's pleasing to see that MGM have given the film the full Special Edition treatment this time around. There's a widescreen or full-screen option (it was shot full-screen and matted later) together with:
 
A VERY enjoyable commentary from Dante, and actors Wallace, Stone and Picardo.
 
Over 60 minutes of featurettes on the film. All good fun but it's rather disappointing that there isn't any RECENT interview footage with Rob Bottin.
 
Deleted scenes and amusing out-takes.
 
And photos, posters and trailers.
 
Summing up, there's enough extras here to sway those who weren't already huge Howling fans into picking up this release, and also to appease those fans who felt seriously short-changed with the previous crappy version. So kudos to MGM for re-issuing this film as such! Oh, and it's cool to hear Joe Dante remark on the commentary that he doesn't mind that the film spawned quite so many sequels as that's usually a staple of this genre. Mind you, he might also like that as they probably make his original film look even better!

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