The Howling Review

The Howling is a 1981 horror film directed by Joe Dante, and starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Elisabeth Brooks, Belinda Balaski, and Robert Picardo. Serving as the first installment in the The Howling film series it is based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner. The film follows a television newswoman, Karen White (Wallace), sent to a remote mountain resort after a fatal incident with a serial killer, Eddie Quist (Picardo), unaware that the inhabiting residents are werewolves.


Positives:

  • Good characters
  • Good performances by the cast
  • Interesting story
  • Good use of practical and make-up effects
  • Good score
  • Great suspense

Negatives:

  • Lackluster characters
  • Lackluster performances by supporting cast
  • Comical practical effects

Plot:  The subplot about Karen could’ve been executed a bit better because her encounter with Eddie felt unnecessary or mishandled.  If there was actually more interactions between the two that leads into the events of the film then it would’ve worked better.  The film is subtle and does take its time as it gradually reveals this big mystery.  Chris and Terri’s subplot as they try to uncover the mystery of Eddie was actually the most compelling and interesting aspect of the film. (3 out of 5)

Characters: Karen is the main protagonist of the film and she is a likable character.  She’s strong and she has her vulnerabilities and has to deal with this traumatic event.  There is her husband Bill, and they have a good relationship, though as a character Bill becomes less interesting as the film progresses. There are some obvious characters who just seem…cartoonish.  Marsha is a big example of this. Terri and Chris are likable supporting characters.  Karen, Terri, and Marsha are without a doubt hot women.  Eddie wasn’t particularly interesting. (3 out of 5)

Cast: There are good performances by the cast.  Wallace does a great job as Karen giving a strong yet believable feel to the character.  Balaski and Dugan give good performances. (3 out of 5)

Visuals: Great use of practical effects, not only when it comes to the transformations but also the werewolf designs themselves.  There was one sequence where the visuals did border cartoon and it did look ridiculous (to be more specific the scene referred is Bill and Marsha’s transformation sequence).  Some of the werewolf designs are questionable, such as Karen’s who looks more like a teddy bear.  Some of the effects do look comical, more like rubber actually.  Some of the camera angles do seem ridiculous, focusing more on close ups in more intense sequences or shot at ineffective ways. (3 out of 5)

Score: The score is good.  It does a great job of building and maintaining suspense. There are also moments of beauty that help to flesh out characters. (4 out of 5)

Writing: There are some moments where the editing does feel mishandled.  An example of this was the encounter between Karen and Eddie when the cops show up.  Although the dark silhouette of Eddie was done well his death felt all over the place.  Another moment in the script that stands out is the scene where Marsha is exerting anger towards Waggner and after letting slip some important information they both stop and look at Karen who is looking and listening to them. Some of the editing could’ve been done better. Also, there an extremely problem with emphasizing certain sequences.  Eddie’s transformation felt like it took nearly ten minutes. (3 out of 5)


The Verdict:  In the end, The Howling is a decent monster flick.  Despite some of the conveniences in the plot, lacking performances, some lackluster characters and some comical use of practical effects, the film does feature good performances, great suspense, good use of practical effects as well as make-up, a good score, and an interesting plot.  The Howling gets 3 out of 5.

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