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Blu-ray Review: The Howling

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The Howling was directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Inner Space) who went on from 1978’s Piranha to this tale of werewolves in the woods. He brought along Piranha screenwriter John Sayles and, with Rob Bottin (John Carpenter’s The Thing) working his magic with the makeup, went on to create what was then one of the best on-screen transformation ever seen. The film was loosley based on Gary Brandner’s novel The Howling.

Dee Wallace (E.T.) stars in the film as a news reporter sent to a remote mountain resort, called The Colony, after being attacked by a serial killer. She then comes to realise that The Colony is home to a pack of werewolves.

I have always had a bit of a soft spot for The Howling. It is arguably one of the most famous werewolf movies along with John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London and I find it strangely comforting that both employ lots of black humour alongside the gore and werewolf transformations.

Out of the two, I do feel that The Howling seems to have aged the most. That could be simply due to the fact there are many more characters, meaning we see lots of early 80s fashion and technology. That’s no bad thing of course, but it definitely has a feel of its time. While Bottin’s werewolf makeup and transformation scenes are outstanding, they never quite brought the horror as much as those in An American Werewolf. Plus I always felt that the main transformation scene of Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) as went on too long as Karen White (Dee Wallace) stands there.

However, I still love the film. The whole idea of this pack of werewolves trying to stay hidden, while one of them left to become a serial killer is great. In fact, the opening scenes with Dee Wallace helping the police trap the killer is a brilliant opening and part of me wished that the film had kept more of that initial tone throughout the rest of its runtime. Still, heading up to The Colony does build on the central mystery and leads to many creepy moments out in the woods as Dee Wallace tries to figure out just why everyone is acting so strangely.

There is also a great sense of dread that builds throughout the film. We, the viewer, know what is going on yet have to watch helplessly as those poor victims stumble upon the truth before getting killed or turned.

The film gives us a chance to see so many cool cameos and star turns from the likes of Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Kenneth Tobey, Slim Pickens, Forrest J. Ackerman, Roger Corman and more.

Then there is that ending. I won’t spoil anything, but I always liked how things were brought to a close. The reactions of those watching the events also felt quite realistic. Many of us would not believe our eyes if we saw that.

StudioCanal’s newly restored version is a delight. The picture quality is superb and there is still a lovely bit of natural grain here and there, which adds to its charm and keeps that proper movie feel. There are a couple of brief moments when scenes have been cleaned up a little too much making things too smooth, but they are not enough to spoil things. There is excellent balance in the contrast. Black levels are true and accurate meaning the night time scenes work extremely well. The colours are bold when they need to be and shadow details are excellent which means Rob Bottin’s amazing work looks brilliant. That cartoon transformation sex scene near the campfire still looks lousy, but that is always going to be the case.

The sound quality is clear and crisp with those wolf howls coming at you from all over the place on the surround sound.

As for the extra features, we get the following:

  • Howlings Eternal with Producer Steven A. Lane
  • Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt
  • Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations
  • Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen
  • Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner

They were all good to watch, but some did feel a little brief.

If you are a fan of the film then I would say it is a must buy, although if you already own the 2013 version from Scream Factory then this could be a little redundant and I don’t think this new release has as many extra features as some previously released.

The Blu-ray is released on 9th October 2017.

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