The Howling (1981)

the howling poster 1981 movie werewolves
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Great transformation scene, smart script

Some FX near the end don't match up with the great earlier effects, hate those claymation wolves

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Howling

Studio:  Avco Embassy Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror/Comedy

Release Date(s): January 23, 1981 (France)/March 13, 1981 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

the howling robert picardo eddie quist sex shop dee wallace

Don’t turn around, Karen…not yet

When serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) targets anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace), she agrees to help the police out with their sting…leading to tragedy.  Now, Karen is unsure of what she saw and unable to cope with the trauma.  The station’s resident psychologist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) has invited Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) up to “the Colony” where he hopes to uncover what Karen cannot remember.  The Colony is populated by strange people all under the doctor’s care, but Karen and Bill are about to discover that something evil is lurking in the woods.

the howling werewolf kills terri belinda balaski

Hey Terri…want to neck?

Directed by Joe Dante, The Howling is a horror movie with comedic elements.  The film was loosely based upon the 1977 novel The Howling by Gary Brandner but with a script rewritten by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless.  The film was released to mixed to positive reviews and has become a cult classic.

My monster growing up was the Wolf Man so I always had an affinity for werewolf films.  1981 was a banner year for werewolf films with The Howling released in March, Wolfen released in July, and the werewolf movie that rivals (and barely tops The Howling) An American Werewolf in London released in August.  The release of the films all close together forever put them locked in combat for fans of horror…and though I love An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is a close second.

the howling robert picardo eddie quist transformation

Wolverine has nothing on me!

Both The Howling and An American Werewolf in London play with the idea of werewolves for humor.  They are the blackest of black comedies, but generally feel like horror with some comedy.  The Howling plays with the myth of werewolves for a lot of laughs and what it would be like for werewolves to live in a modern society…where they still need to eat.  The picture is (for the most part) smartly told with some good scares along the way.

Dee Wallace is part of the reason the film does work.  She brings a lot of sympathy to her role as Karen which is why she was one of the premiere scream queens of the time.  She’s backed by her real life boyfriend (and future husband) Christopher Stone and a bunch of great supporting actors like Patrick Macnee, Kevin McCarthy, Slim Pickens, Robert Picardo, John Carradine, Noble Willingham, and Joe Dante mainstay Dick Miller among others.  There are also cameos by Forrest Ackerman, Roger Corman, John Sayles, and Mick Garris.

the howling tc quist don mcleod ending

I bet Sonny Bono was mad that TC got blood all over his vest

Part of what made The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were the transformation scenes.  The Howling in a way almost feels like more of an accomplishment since it had a relatively small budget behind it.  The Howling werewolves were humanoid in nature and there were a few times they attempted to use stop-motion to create the wolves (there is a little animated werewolf scene too).  Robert Picardo’s transformation however is the highlight and still looks good today.

The Howling is a horror classic, and any fan of werewolf movies will enjoy it.  Sayles and Dante play with the origins of the horror and utilize everything they can to prop up werewolves in history be it legend, books, or films.  The film is a rewarding watch just to see all the werewolf references.  The Howling started a franchise (which was far less successful or good) and was followed by The Howling II:  …Your Sister Is a Werewolf in 1985.

Related Links:

Howling II:  …Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)

Howling III:  The Marsupials (1987)

Howling IV:  The Original Nightmare (1988)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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