The Howling

Oh you're transforming into a werewolf? That's okay, I'll just wait.
★★★
☆
Released: 
1981
Director: 
Joe Dante
Starring: 
Dee Wallace, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Patrick Macnee
The Setup: 
New Age resort turns out to be werewolf enclave.
Discussion: 

This is one of those things that everyone has seen as has become a standrd part of most people [of a certain age's] consciousness--and yet I had never seen it. So off to recify that situation immediately, and now that I have, I can authoritatively say: yup, there it is.

This stars horror icon Dee Wallace as newscaster Karen White, is co-written by John Sayles, has music by Pino Donaggio, and is directed by Joe Dante. We first meet Karen walking through an alley, where a hot bearded dude propositions her. Ah, for the days when horny hot bearded dudes dressed like truckers were just hanging around alleyways. Karen has been sent to meet with a stalker who has been hounding her, and is wearing a wire connectd to her news station. It's all going to be part of a news exclusive. We soon learn that her signal is spotty at best, placing her in mortal danger, which the news crew only shows so much concern about. Present in the studio is smoldering mustachioed man-hunk Bill, Karen's husband, and pretty much the only one worried about her. Karen goes into a porn store, then into a booth, where she soon realizes she is not alone. On screen in the booth is a rape video, where we see a woman being tied up and attacked by two guys with stockings over their heads. Effective use of this movie within the movie to indirectly bump of the threat of what will happen to Karen. So Eddie, her stalker, comes out of the darkness and, presumably, reveals himself as a werewolf. Karen freaks, but by then the police are there and she barely escapes as Eddie is repeatedly shot right in front of her. Afterward, Karen is in deep shock, and does NOT seem like she's going to be okay.

Present at the news station is Dennis Dugan as Chris. Dugan made an unforgettable impression as an uber-flamboyant gay boyfriend in Norman, Is That You?, which I confess has colored my impression of him ever since. He has since gone on to become the director of all those recent Adam Sandler movies. Anyway, Karen is deeply traumatized, and goes catatonic on air her first day back on the job. She's also having issues with intimacy, which her husband, who is a man who has needs, is not exactly sensitive to. She gets sent to a psychologist, Dr. Waggner, who sends her out to this new-agey retreat on the California coast to recuperate. There they meet all the resident messed-up weirdos during the required bonfire on the beach, which is where we meet black-clad super-vamp Marcia. She's got her lusty eye on Karen's steaming hunk of man-slab Bill, and who can blame her when he poses so provocatively in his red and white nylon racing jacket.

Meanwhile, back home, Karen's co-workers Chris and Terry are continuing to investigate the case of Eddie the rapist from the beginning, finding spooky drawings in his room, then discovering that his corpse has gotten up and walked away. They go to a witchcraft supply store which the movie establishes, as a blinking title says "Crucial Exposition," keeps silver bullets in stock.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile, Karen’s husband Bill has proven himself not to be a sensitive 70s hunk after all but rather a callous 70s douche, becoming all frustrated with Karen’s ongoing trauma, particularly when it means lack of sex for him, or being woken in the middle of the night. He ends up in the home of sultry Marcia, who makes it clear that he can shake his pepper on her eggs any day. He resists, barely, and is attacked and bitten on the way home. By the way, we learned, back in the exposition shop, that this movie will NOT respect the whole full moon thing, but that it will arbitrarily maintain the whole silver bullet thing. Don’t ask impertinent questions. That afternoon, formerly vegetarian Bill is seen tearing into a chicken drumstick, never a good sign, and ends up walking out into the woods in the middle of the night, looking for love in all the wrong places, after once more receiving not so much as a toejob from his traumatized wife. Why, who should be out there by the fire but lusty Marcia, and they go at it. But soon they’re growing big teeth and drooling all over each other, in one of the scenes I’m SURE your friend with cable had you over to watch when you were a horny teen, and finally resolving into some ANIMATION that show us the people transforming while scrumping. Talk about the beast with two backs.

Meanwhile Terry has come up to investigate, and soon recognizes the cove as the place they saw in Eddie’s drawings. Then she gets attacked, and it’s all run, run, chase, chase, and I must admit by now I was kind of losing interest. She chops off the hand of the attacker, and it turns obviously hollow and rubber, then turns back into a human hand. Then she goes to this office and calls Chris, who is watching some cartoon with a wolf [basically, every possible wolf reference is worked into the background somewhere]. Chris can barely hear what she's saying because of the TV, to the point where you want her to say "Can you turn of the fucking TV and listen to me?!" Especially since we saw them in bed together earlier, so they're not just good buddies [although maybe they are--it's not for me to judge]. Anyway, Chris does the whole "It was probably just a bear" thing, and assigns Terry to rifle through the files in the office and dig up some info. She finds some info--but also a werewolf, who chases her around the doctor's office. At one point she turns on a bright light that causes the werewolf to recoil in horror, after which she clearly thinks "Great! Now let me abandon the one and only thing that has offered me any protection, and get back in the open where I am much more vulnerable to being disemboweled!" Which is precisely what happens.

Next it's Karen's turn to do something phenomenally stupid. She's in the same office, where she finds Terry's body, and also Eddie, who wants to show her what he was going to way back in the porn booth... his Holly Hobbie collection! NO, silly, he turns into a werewolf right before her eyes [which seems to involve his cheeks and brow bulging a lot], a process that takes a full minute of screen time, while Karen considerately stands by, doing absolutely nothing, just standing, staring. Maybe she thought it would be rude to look for something to defend herself? I mean, how would that make him feel? He might be offended. No, better to just stand there staring like a dope, Karen. Good job. It must also be noted that Wallace looks pretty bored. She finally grows a brain cell and throws some random fluid at him, which, lucky for her, turns out to be acid! Because it's not labeled and, frankly, it looks like Mountain Dew. Poor dumbfuck Karen would be pretty fucked if it was Mountain Dew, huh?

As you can tell, by now I had pretty much lost all interest and just wanted it over with. So the doctor shows up and drags Karen out to the big barn dance, where we find out--surprise!--that everyone at the retreat is a werewolf. You'll notice around this time that Karen's husband Bill has simply VANISHED from the film and what's more, she doesn't seem to notice. Some marriages are like that. Anyway, terror, terror, until Chris shows up with his rifle full of silver bullets. Only it's one of those things where the werewolf is advancing on him slowly and he refuses to shoot. You know, I understand we want to create suspense here, but when your characters are acting like idiots, it's easy for us, the audience, to lose respect for them. Especially in the case of Karen, who at least has been a stone cold moron from the start, making it consistent with her character when she seems to decide "Yeah sure, my friend with a gun is right over there, but maybe I'll just stay here surrounded by werewolves for a while." I think she's too concerned with other's feelings, frankly, which may be why she married such a self-centered prick. But I digress. We barely have time to wonder at how Chris' rifle seemingly need never be reloaded before they get in his car and escape, a journey punctuated by several additional wolf attacks I fast-forwarded through.

For a big finish, Karen decides that she must go on the news and let the public know about the werewolf menace. So she starts reading her own speech, then transforms right on air. We have a smattering of viewer reaction, including some kids who casually tell their mom "The newslady turned into a werewolf," and two guys at a bar, one of whom believes, but the other saying "It's amazing what they can do with special effects these days." Then Chris shoots her right on air! And without so much as a parental advisory. Well, there go opportunities for a sequel, but--DOH!
< < < SPOILERS END

Sometimes it's hard to watch these things decades later and get into it the way one might have when it came out and was new. For the first half I was fairly into it, mostly for the energetic oomph of Dante's direction and the film's sense of fun, both of which go a long way. But after a while the film simply drops the interesting personal melodrama and social and sexual issues--for example the non-resolution of Karen's marriage and the abrupt vanishing of her husband--and it just becomes a series of stalkings and chases that are not particularly distinguished. Not to mention that as it goes on it becomes quite apparent that these characters are a touch more obtuse than most, and act in certain ways just to extend the running time of the film or evoke certain effects--which can distance one from the characters, and thus the story. If they keep doing things just to extend suspense, and that it quite obvious, it takes one out of the story and reminds you that you are just sitting there watching a film. Plus, one has to face that by now--and even when this was released--we had seen all this stuff many times before.

Nevertheless, it's good fun for a while, and one can appreciate how when it came out things like the werewolf sex scene and the newsdesk transformation were new and kind of awesome. And even now I suppose it's good to have seen, just to complete one's 80s horror movie knowledge. Yeah, I wish I could get more excited about it.

Should you watch it: 

If you like 80s horror, it's kind of fun.