LAST NIGHT: THE HOWLING (1981)
I have been informed by reliable and unimpeachable sources (my friend Trey Lawson, who also introduced me to this film) that werewolf fans divide themselves into two camps: American Werewolf in London partisans and The Howling loyalists. While I love both movies – and I love werewolf movies period – I have to give the edge to The Howling. Instead of focusing on one snarling lycanthrope, it gives us a whole colony of violent, depraved, campy puppies in heat.
Joe Dante’s low-budget creepfest starts out like a 80s serial killer film, with reporter Karen White (Dee Chamber, breathy) trolling the streets of seedy LA in search of a serial killer who recently contacted her. She undergoes a very freaky experience in a sex shop in which the killer Eddie (Robert Picardo, terrifying) is apparently shot by cops. To recover from her traumatic experience, her psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee, delicious) sends her up north to the Colony for some rest and relaxation. Because putting a bunch of paranoid schizophrenics in the same backwoods place is a brilliant idea.
Dante and screenwriter John Sayles throws everything but the kitchen sink into this one. Half the characters are named after the directors of werewolf movies (George Waggner, Terence Fisher, Sam Newfield, etc.); there are scenes from The Wolf Man playing on various TVs, one character reads Allan Ginsburg’s Howl, and everyone likes Wolf’s brand Chili. Slim Pickens is the local sheriff (because even in California the sheriffs are Texans) and John Carradine puts in a cameo as a somewhat grouchy werewolf. The special effects are spectacular – as they would be, coming from the mind of Rick Baker et al. Oh, and there’s werewolf sex. Animated werewolf sex. Right.
Admittedly, a little of my current love for this film comes from the presence of Patrick Macnee (that’s TVs John Steed) who gives everything he’s in an edge of eminent class. But the whole film has a marvelous combination of camp and legitimate horror. The Howling is an indulgent, vitriolic bit of fun.