Saturday, November 12, 2022

THE HOWLING, The Heroes Of Other Stories, and Fan Fiction Ideas

In the 1981 film The Howling, TV news anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) discovers a rural California community run by her station's psychiatrist has a dark secret. A very hairy dark secret...although the cover pretty obviously gives away the fact it's a werewolf movie, this isn't confirmed until about an hour into the film.

Although the film is kind of dull (I gave it a grade of C on my blog), the characterization is interesting. Several supporting cast members seem like they could potentially be the heroes of their own stories. Anybody who's a fanfic enthusiast (Archive of Our Own has a lot of Howling fanfic stories) is welcome to give these a spin. I posted about this on Twitter earlier this morning; here is my rambling in more coherent form, with some fact-checking.

Spoilers for a 30-odd year old movie below. I'll post the YouTube clip of the relevant scene that reveals a lot about the lesser characters to further block it off.

Dr. George Waggner (Patrick McNee)-The station psychiatrist and basically the cult guru in charge of "The Colony." He tries to get the werewolves to control their animal nature and live peacefully, but he cannot control the violent Quist siblings--serial killer Eddie, homewrecker Marcia, and creepy little brother T.C. Under California law, he's an accessory after the fact to several murders (possibly with rape to boot), since he knows about Eddie's crimes and seems to have done nothing but try to conceal them by luring the only surviving witness to his commune. If the cops (other than the local sheriff who's a werewolf himself) get involved, he's going to be doing some pretty serious time.

(You don't get the misdemeanor accessory charge for covering for a serial killer and Eddie has committed multiple serious crimes. That jail time piles up real quick, and him trying to plead coercion would involve revealing that he's the guru of a colony of werewolves.)

However, his options to deal with the Quists are rather limited. At the climax of the film, Marcia and one of her friends openly assault him when he tells them he won't let them kill Karen and it seemed to me his bad deeds (largely of omission rather than commission) are basically for damage control purposes. If not for him, many if not most of the werewolves in the community would start hunting and killing people before the government comes in and gives them the Waco treatment. He can't exactly go to the police for help--they wouldn't believe him if he said they were all werewolves and if they did believe it (say if he transformed in front of them), he and his would be hunted down and killed as monsters.

You could depict him as this morally gray version of Charles Xavier making harder and harder "lesser of two evils" choices to the point it's a relief when Karen's colleague Chris Halloran shoots him with a silver bullet. Hell, you could make him a full-on tragic hero. If Macbeth (traitor and murderer of families), Othello (domestic violence), and Hamlet (causes several deaths and the foreign invasion of his kingdom through sheer bumbling) can be tragic heroes, well, Waggner's crimes are much less extreme.

Jerry and Donna Warren (James Murtaugh and Margie Impert)-In this scene here, the werewolves detain Karen after Eddie kills her colleague Terri and she realizes just what's going on. The Warrens seem intent on recruiting Karen for the cult. Although I'd initially thought they'd found The Colony's secret on their own, had been given the choice between accepting "the gift" and being killed, and were desperately hoping Karen would be shown the same mercy, that doesn't seem to be what happened. It sounds like they'd be been bitten earlier and tried to resist the effects rather unsuccessfully, but then found Waggner on their own and Waggner taught them how to deal with it effectively. Just how that played out could be an interesting story, especially if the werewolf who infected them was unaffiliated with Waggner and The Colony. Who else is out there?

Erle Kenton (John Carradine)-He's the one who looks like Willie Nelson and attempts to kill himself when we first meet him. One could write him as someone who wants to follow Dr. Waggner's teachings but finds his struggle against his own nature so difficult that he becomes outright suicidal. When Eddie killing Terri causes a crisis at The Colony, he just says "screw it" and gives in to his animal side. This could be the story of someone with a mental illness suffering a breakdown or someone who's really repressed finally, to quote Elsa from Frozen, "Let[ting] it go." Only he's a bigoted murderous a-hole.

Bill Neil (Christopher Stone)-We see his whole arc on-screen so he's not really the hero of another story, but showing the whole situation from his POV could be interesting. He goes from being a vegetarian and a faithful husband to Karen (he even gets violent with Marcia when she puts the moves on him) to killing and eating animals, cheating on Karen with Marcia, and assaulting Karen when she calls him out on it. And some viewers think he's the one who infected Karen in the climax of the film. What is it like to have your worldview shift so much in less than a week?

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