Thursday, October 27, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: THE HOWLING (1981)

Back in the days of Blockbuster Video, I got my own membership later in high school and could rent any movie I wanted. One film I rented was The Howling, a well-regarded werewolf movie from the early 1980s. October 2022 is werewolf month on the film podcast Myopia Movies and this was one of the films I really wanted to do.

Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

In 1980s Los Angeles, television anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) has been getting phone calls from serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). In order to catch him, she agrees to meet up with him--with the police close by. As one might expect, this turns violent very quickly and the traumatized Karen can't remember precisely what happened. Dr. George Waggner, (Patrick Macnee), a local psychologist, invites her and her husband Bill Neil (Christopher Stone) to a rural commune called "The Colony" so she can rest and undergo group therapy. They arrive and meet various colorful characters living there, including Marcia Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), who is a little too interested in Bill.

And did I mention that Eddie's corpse has disappeared from the morgue? Karen's colleagues Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and Terri Fisher (Belinda Belaski) investigate that as things get progressively weirder and more dangerous at The Colony.

The Good

*There is some good foreshadowing, like a character early on who specifically wants to commit suicide by fire.

*There're some moments of humor, like when a snoopy character is caught going through a filing cabinet.

*There is also some good development for the supporting cast, like how Karen's boss at the station is depicted as a jackass. He signs off on the scheme to bait serial-killer Eddie never mind that it's putting one of his employees at great risk and a good number of people openly object to it, and when she's clearly upset by the experience, says it's just as likely she could be pregnant (sexism) and casually and profanely butchers the name of an Asian anchor the station could use if she can't handle being on-air (racism). The guy is a real tool, and we get that mostly in one scene almost as an aside.

*I can't go into too much detail for reasons of spoilers, but they do develop the villains as people. Some are content with living in isolation and hunting animals and even peacefully coexisting with ordinary people, but others are more overtly predatory and violent and the former have to resort to increasing concessions to the latter in order to (barely) keep them under control. The politics of it could have been developed more, but they are interesting.

*I liked the side story with Chris and Terri investigating the aftermath of Eddie's attack on Karen and how it ultimately links back up with Karen's stay at the Colony.

The Bad

*After the initial confrontation with Eddie, the movie slows down considerably. Not much happens of note until Karen and Bill arrive at the Colony and Karen starts hearing wolves howling outside. This section of the movie functions more like a mystery than a straight-up horror movie in the vein of Silver Bullet or An American Werewolf in London. If that's what you're into that's fine, but be aware.

*Per the above, the internal politics of the Colony could have come up earlier--perhaps when Terri comes to see Karen, the residents could argue among themselves about this new development.

The Verdict

A bit dull if you go in expecting a full-on monster movie, but if you go in expecting a mystery, it's better. 7.5 out of 10.

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