Monster Monday Part 15: The Howling (1981)

Monday, Monday gotta get down on Monday... Down with what? Down with monsters, of course! Yes - it's your favorite time of the week: Monster Monday! Today we'll be looking at a truly excellent monster movie from 1981 - THE HOWLING. Often considered one of the best werewolf movies in existence, the Howling is an exceptional case of awesomeness. So, let's get started!

The Plot:

Television newswoman Karen White takes some much-needed time off after a traumatic incident with a serial killer. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for The Colony, a secluded retreat where the creepy residents are a little too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre connection between Eddie Quist and this supposedly safe haven. After nights of being tormented by unearthly cries, curiosity and boredom triumph, as Karen ventures into the forest and makes a terrifying discovery. Now faced with this newly discovered threat and seemingly no method of escape, Karen must fight to survive as her animalistic antagonists roam around looking for bloodshed. - IMDb

The Monster:


I'm especially excited this Monday for a few reasons. Primarily, you'll notice that the focus of today's Monster Monday will be placed on a special kind of monster. Namely, I'm referring to the werewolf. Unlike the Monster Mondays prior, werewolves themselves denote a specific classification of monsters which have been incorporated into horror for quite some. (check out our full list of 80s werewolf movies here) And, while it's true that we could probably classify monsters featured in previous Monster Mondays as well, it seems quite apparent that none of them fit into a well known mold as nicely as the werewolves in The Howling do. For me, this is exciting because werewolves more than any other type of monster have held a special kind of appeal. The reason for this is uncertain, but it's certainly the case that I've generally preferred werewolf films over other popular monster type sub-genres (like Vampire movies, for example).

Considering that preference, then, it should come as no surprise that I hold The Howling in such high regard. It is, without question, one of my favorite werewolf movies and, additionally, contains what I deem to be the best werewolf transformation ever filmed. While I'm sure that some will be shouting "BUT WHAT ABOUT AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON," it should really come as no surprise to anyone that follows my articles that I prefer The Howling's transformation to AWIL. In fact, I would even be willing to admit that in terms of pure craft, AWIL's transformation is actually better; however, the standards by which I personally judge transformations has more to do with subjective aesthetic preferences which don't necessarily focus on the stylistic tendencies or craftiness of the scene. Instead, peculiar kinds of makeup effects and monster designs are more appealing to me than the way in which the transformation was captured. So, while it's true that the use of music, the tendency towards self reflexivity, and the overarching tonal shifts manifested in the AWIL transformation were superior, I still find the The Howling's transformation more appealing. But, I'm babbling again.

My history with The Howling is a little ambiguous. As far as I can remember, I probably first saw the full movie in my late teens (around 2001). But, this is where things get a little blurry. There is this tendency, which I'm sure some of you will identify with, to manifest a feeling of deja-vu when watching a movie. In this case, you begin watching a film and spontaneously start to vaguely recall having seen some of the images (or entire scenes) previously. You may be uncertain when or where you saw them, but there's a feeling of striking certainty that you've it before. This was my case with The Howling. It became apparent to me that I must have seen at least part of the movie before, but I couldn't place where or when. Ultimately, this isn't really all that important, but, for me, it does sort of add to the overall mystery of the film. I ultimately concluded that I must have seen certain scenes during one of my childhood USA Up All Night binges, but, for some reason or another, never watched the full thing.

I definitely feel like I've seen this face before...

Since that first viewing, however, I've seen the movie a handful of times. Additionally, I've seen all the sequels. The Howling, I think, is interesting partially because its sequels are so awful and nonsensical. Relatively speaking, it really allows one to gain some perspective on how good the movie actually is. While the sequels steer the series in a really... strange direction, the original plays it pretty cool and level headed. Many of the tropes, however, are well implemented and appeal to some of my favorite kinds of plot types. "The Colony," as it's called, is nicely developed and sufficiently creepy. As some of you might recall, I really love allusions to cults and, more specifically, the eerie notion of a supposed safe haven hiding something sinister beneath its surface. In the case of The Howling, this kind of illusory normativity is cool because the reveal is done gradually, allowing the viewer to progressively recognize that something isn't quite right (even if they're left guessing what that might be). At this point, I think everyone pretty much knows going in that this "hidden secret" below the surface is, in fact,  a werewolf colony, but I don't think having knowledge of this fact entirely ruins the mystery and intrigue.

Even werewolves cry!!!

But, let's be real here: The Howling rules primarily because of its werewolves. This is the movie's bread and butter, and with good reason - the effects are radical (especially given that the movie was only made in 1981). Some people tend to giggle at some of the wolves in a fully transformed state, and it's true that more recent werewolves have certainly improved upon the werewolf design (specifically in Dog Soldiers), but I find the wolves pretty convincing. To me, werewolves should reach a middle ground where they're clearly not quite human, but also aren't simply a wolf on steroids. In the original Wolfman, we're given what seems to be a man with a lot of hair. It's too human (at least for me) and thus the design isn't ideal. In something like American Werewolf in London, I feel that the werewolves are too wolf like, to the point where the human element is lost. But in The Howling, the sweet spot is reached: the wolf is clearly not human, but there is still a human aspect to it. Their movements seem anthropomorphic and they even at times exhibit human emotions which add to this dynamic. This, in my view, is precisely how a werewolf ought to be and represents the area where The Howling really shines.

But, unfortunately, this is also part of the problem. While I do like the Howling a whole lot and recognize that it has tons to offer, some of the pacing and, more specifically, the order in which the wolves are revealed, tend to disrupt the flow of the movie. Now, this isn't really that serious and is certainly not a major critique, but it does illustrate that the movie is not without its flaws and, additionally, shows that sometimes peaking too early can interfere with the viewers' emotional response. For instance, the major transformation scene is quite long - around 5 minutes. This scene represents the pinnacle of the effects work in the movie, as well as serving as by far the most memorable moment. This scene, however, takes place about 25 minutes before the conclusion, and serves as the initial scene leading into the finale. The finale itself never lives up to this scene, which results in a kind of anticlimactic ending. Again, this isn't disastrous by any stretch of the imagination, but it is at least worth noting for criticism purposes.

4 Scars

4 Scars

That being said, there isn't a lot to complain about with The Howling. It is, without a doubt, one of the pivotal and most notable horror movies involved in the transition from late 70s into 80s horror in terms of aesthetic and atmosphere. Its effects remain top notch and hold up well, and the story is sufficiently satisfying to entertain for the full 90 minutes, even if you're not particularly that interested in werewolf flicks. Although it does lose some steam during the final half hour (after the transformation), the movie ends on a positive note with an awesome and though provoking ending (which definitely seemed "Network" like for me). If you haven't seen this one, definitely give it a shot! Watch the full movie right here on!