The Howling (Joe Dante, 1980)
[originally posted 19Jul2001]
Joe Dante has done some amazing work in his time. He’s also done some godawful things for which he should be ashamed. The Howling falls dead in the center of those two. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and effective, due in no small part to the incredible talent assembled behind the scenes (John Sayles adapted Gary Brandner’s novel; Bottin produced; Dante directed). Unfortunately, it also shows exactly why Dee Wallace never made it past B movies, with the arguable exception of E.T., and disease-of-the-week TV flicks. I mean, she’s just bad. The rest of the cast makes it work, though, including “holographic doctor” Robert Picardo in his big-screen debut as the serial killer obsessed with Dee. His line “I’m going to give you a piece of my mind,” and the action that follows it, are some of the finest moments in horror film.
As a sidelight, this was also the only major film in which the late Elisabeth Brooks appeared (as Marsha, the seductress who goes after Dee Wallace’s husband). Brooks is worth seeking out in just about anything, but this is the only flick you’re likely to find on rental-house shelves. (She actually made four; the other three were all late-eighties products that have unfortunately faded into obscurity.)
If you didn’t see this when it came out, you’ll probably find it somewhat on the cheesy side. Well, okay, it is, but remember that in 1980 this was groundbreaking stuff by anyone’s standards. For those of us who did catch this one back in the day, it makes for a great nostalgia trip. Makes a great double bill with its contemporary Wolfen (1981). ***