Recap #94: The Howling (1981)
Summary: After a bizarre and near fatal encounter with a serial killer, a television newswoman is sent to a remote mountain resort whose residents may not be what they seem.
Tagline: Imagine your worst fear a reality. [Wing: Worst fear. Right.] [Bat: Being a werewolf isn’t my worst fear…]
This was baby!Wing’s first werewolf movie, her first horror movie, and I will forever love it for giving me all that it did: a love of werewolves, a love of horror movies, a love of dramatic full moon shots and cheesy dog and wolf puns and silver bullets, certain iconic images — I watched it at a fairly young age, despite the fact that neither of my parents like horror movies and we weren’t allowed to watch them growing up. [Bat: This explains SO. MUCH. I’ve known Wing ~20 years and now I understand the werewolf love all the better.]
My dad was a truck driver, and I often spent large chunks of my summer and holidays with him on the road. (Why I love road trips and driving to this day and can’t settle down in one place too long before I’m itching to leave and have an adventure.) One night, we had a break at a truck stop. I’m not sure how old I was. Maybe nine or ten? Eight or eleven? I’m not sure. Anyway, we were hanging out in the trucker’s lounge, and The Howling came on. My dad swears he doesn’t remember this at all, and probably he had fallen asleep, but I watched the entire movie, enthralled, and then when we headed out to the truck later, we had to walk through rows and rows of idling eighteen wheelers, and I kept picturing werewolves leaping from trailer to trailer. That thought still makes me catch my breath every time. [Bat: Why haven’t you written a long-haul werewolf trucker story, Wing?] [Wing: That is a very good question.]
Welcome to the first ever Snark at the Moon! recap. Every October and November, Bat and I will be recapping werewolf movies and the recaps will go live on the full moon. This year, October’s moon is the Harvest Moon, one of my favourites. (Why yes, I have a favourite full moon.) Take a look at it tonight, but keep an eye out for werewolves. You never know when you’re living a horror movie life.
All the title screens, particularly the “an AVCO Embassy film” one, really set that we’re at the end of the 70s/the beginning of the 80s. So much neon and blocky design. I’m nostalgic already.
Cheesy as it is, I will always love the claw scratch + howling title setup. It makes me smile every single time I see it. (I’ve seen it a lot.) [Bat: I like it; from a design stand point, it’s very effective.] The broken glass that follows it? Cheesy in a terrible way. *headdesk*
We open on a flickering tv screen, as if the signal isn’t coming in clearly, and snippets of audio from what’s playing, including a bit about an animal head and a reporter (our hero) asking if they know what did it. (At least, I think that’s her. I’m not great at voice recognition, with a few exceptions.) (I can identify Vin Diesel’s voice off about two syllables most of the time. Sometimes just one.) [Bat: I can do that with Kiefer Sutherland. No surprise there.]
Anyway, there have been a fatal string of attacks, the second victim was left in a park, a woman’s voice says that an unidentified “she” is theirs, and finally it settles on Dr George Waggner explaining on a special edition of Perspective. Dr Waggner’s voice runs through the background of the rest of the title cards, with other people speaking over him, about finding pictures and “him” losing control.
The audio and visual align and we see Dr Waggner talking about repression being the father of neurosis and stress results when we fight our impulses. While he keeps talking, we switch to a greasy, animalistic man sitting in a room and staring at a mix of newspaper clippings, photographs, and drawings pinned to his wall. The clippings are about the murders, the pictures look like stalker photos, and the drawing is of a werewolf woman.
Back at the tv studio, Dr Waggner talks about the “noble savage” and how everyone talks about how we’ve lost something valuable in our evolution to civilized human beings, and he agrees, because man is a combination of “the learned and the instinctual, of the sophisticated and the primitive.”
“We should never to deny the beast, the animal within us.”
In the control room, an old white guy tells a younger white guy that the minute anything breaks, they have to cut to Chris, and that Dr Waggner won’t mind because he’s been coaching Karen on how to talk to this psycho anyway. Karen is our hero, and the “psycho” is the killer, obviously. [Bat: I know old white guy from multiple movies, he’s Kevin McCarthy. He was the “baddie” in Innerspace, as well in UHF.]
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1)
Cut to Karen walking down a narrow alley complete with scattered paper trash and a blue neon light. Warning: I love the hell out of Karen. She’s stopped on her way out of the alley by a guy who asks her how much, but he’s not the Eddie she’s looking for, and she’s not intimidated at all, just exasperated as she pushes past him. [Bat: OMG, Joe Dante directed this?? How did I not know?!! I went to a screening of the ‘Burbs during the summer with him in attendance! And he also directed Innerspace!] [Wing: Well knowing that, I’m surprised you haven’t seen this before.]
Back in the control room, we get to see video of one of the victims, and an as-yet unnamed guy is worried about Karen, who didn’t tell him she saw any of the victims. One of the guys tells him that she didn’t want him to worry, but he’s worried anyway.
Meanwhile, Karen is headed into a phone booth marked with a yellow smiley face sticker; she’s got a mic on her, but the neon is messing up the signal. Anyone know if that is true? [Bat: A bit of Googling and yes, apparently they can.] [Wing: Thanks! (This is why I like having the other recappers comment. They’ll do the research I’m too lazy to do while I recap. *g*] Some cops cruise Western, which is where Karen is waiting in the booth, and Western looks to be filled with strip clubs and sex shops.
We get a little background on reporter Karen White: a few weeks ago, a mysterious stranger (Eddie) started calling her, she and the news team began working with local police to link Eddie to the murders. [Bat: My family has a story involving a guy named Eddie, a blonde woman with a pen, and my grandmother having to deal with them, so this is all sorts of amusing to me.] [Wing: I think that might need to be a podcast guest story at some point.]
(I think dude from before is Bill, and when someone talks to him about Karen, they tell him that he has a brave little girl. GROSS. She is a grown woman.)
Terry (the only other woman around at this point, and sort of implied to be a good friend of Karen) joins the guys in the room where they are listening to Karen, who is freaking out a little because there is a guy standing outside the phone booth and she’s not sure if it’s Eddie. Sure enough, the dude from before is Bill, and he’s Karen’s husband, though she uses her maiden name, and he’s Bill Neill. Another guy (the only black guy we’ve seen with the news station or the cops) [Bat: Hey, it’s Meshach Taylor! I miss him!] also says that Bill has a brave little woman. Dude. He doesn’t “have” her. She’s her own brave, amazing person. At least this time she got to be a woman.
Terry checks in on Karen, but they haven’t had a clean signal from her in fifteen minutes, which is a long damn time if they’re supposed to be in constant contact while she talks to Eddie. Ah, technology, so useful and yet sometimes such a failure too.
The phone rings, startling Karen, but she’s calm as anything when she answers. Apparently, Eddie asked her to wear a specific outfit, and we get a closeup on his creepy lips and greasy skin and stubble. (Of course, Bill has a creepy mustache, too.) Eddie has Karen go to a new location.
Unfortunately, they’ve lost contact with Karen completely, and back at the station, Bill is freaking out. One of the cops promises they have people in the area who will find her. Bill is not convinced. Bill’s a smart one right now. Enjoy this, because it doesn’t last. [Bat: Poor Bill. It’s hard being the smart one in a horror film.]
Karen heads to a porn shop with the video booths in the back. Having a woman walk in freaks out all the guys, from the clerk to the people browsing. She heads back into one of the private booths, one marked with a yellow smiley face sticker, and gets settled inside. This is really well filmed, all awkward angles and focused lighting that makes things super creepy. Karen sits down, and then from the darkness behind her, Eddie reaches out his hand to put money in the slot that starts the show. [Bat: This film is like a time capsule for 1970s porn shops. There was a time before free porn on the internet, kiddies.] [Wing: It was a time filled with all these weird porn mustaches, too. It is not a time I mourn.]
They make some small talk while porn plays (two men tying up a woman who looks unwilling); he won’t let her look back at him, only tells her to watch the porn.
Outside, the patrol cops from earlier talk to a black woman who is a prostitute (because of course that’s the role a black woman is put in here) who directs them to the porn shop.
We briefly kick back to Dr Waggner, who is talking about the struggle between mind and body not being a necessary struggle. Terry, Bill, and the rest of the guys are watching the monitors, clearly worried about Karen. Terry is adorable here, with 80s fluffy hair and wearing a loose suit jacket, button down shirt, and sloppy tie. Pretty sure baby!Wing had a crush on her and didn’t even know it at the time.
(Dr Waggner is on the show to market his new book, The Gift, which is all about the gift of life, i.e., werewolves.) [Bat: A hell of a gift.]
Eddie tells Karen that none of the women felt a thing because they aren’t real people, they can’t feel things like he does, but Karen is different. The lighting continues to be interesting here, with a spotlight on Karen’s blond hair, making it almost a halo, and pale red light on her face; behind her, Eddie is mostly in shadow, tho his hair, too, is lit up (no halo there), and his hands are clear on Karen’s shoulders, the features of his face slowly become visible.
He talks on and on about how good he knows he can make her feel, and how he’s going to light up her whole body. Karen stays strong, but it’s clear from her expression that she finds him deeply creepy and frightening. This entire scene is deeply creepy and frightening, and I love it.
He withdraws and starts to make some heavy breathing noises, which are meant to imitate sex noises but are, of course, not. In a much deeper voice, he tells Karen to turn around now.
She does, and finds him backlit against the video camera. She screams as he comes for her, and the young cop shoots through the door. His bullets only hit Eddie, and blood seeps across the floor. The older cop tells him to put his piece away. The extrajudicial shooting of people by cops has a long history, even in movies.
And now the reign of urban terror has ended, per the news.
Karen is out of it after, even when Bill comes to get her, and the camera and the lighting and the focus is all very scattered and flashing and bright. It does a great job of showing just how this has shaken her. Karen can’t remember what happened in the room; her mind has already blocked out the horror.
As cheesy and old as some of this movie is (including the nightmare Karen is having about flashes of what happened that night — the nightmare itself isn’t cheesy, just the shooting of it), there is some very effective videography.
Terry and one of the other station workers go to check out Eddie’s apartment. Inside, they find the walls plastered in newspaper clippings, photos, and werewolf drawings, including one that looks a lot like Karen.
There’s a jump scare where a dog comes snarling at the window and Terry drives him off. She also makes a reference to Eddie being able to design a Marquis de Sade coloring book, and I love Terry too, quite a bit. She makes me laugh.
They also find a beautiful drawing of an ocean scene. [Bat: Everyone knows vampires and werewolves love rocky, coastal hangouts!] They take copies of the drawings to Dr Waggner, who talks about how it isn’t unusual for a killer to be able to draw well. [Bat: …wait, what? Ability to draw well because of right side of brain thinking = greater killing instinct??] They’re going to push a piece about Eddie that focuses on “the beast in all of us.”
Again, subtle, movie. Real subtle.
(I love it.)
Karen is still having flashbacks, including when she and Bill try to have sex. I feel for her, especially when Bill, though accepting when she says no, then rolls over and puts his back to her. Nice, Bill. Real fucking nice.
Shortly after, Karen goes back to work, already nervous even before the station manager/owner tells her that all the eyes will be on her because everyone wants to see the woman who caught Eddie the Mangler. Karen is the first one up, of course, and as she stares at the camera and the lights, she has a flashback to the private porn room and her monstrous adventure with Eddie. Poor Karen. She makes my heart hurt.
Terry helps take care of Karen, and I find them delightful. The head of the station is sexist and racists and an ass in just a few short words. Fucker.
Karen goes to see Dr Waggner in his capacity as a psychiatrist this time, and that seems like it should be an ethical dilemma, because he’s already also a news source for her. She asks how crazy she is, and he tells her she’s completely bananas. It’s all a fun joking matter except for those real crazy people who are of course dangerous, right?
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)
Dr Waggner recommends that she spend a couple weeks up at the Colony, his place up north that he only recommends to very special patients. AGAIN WITH THE ETHICAL CONCERNS DR WAGGNER. [Bat: LEMME GUESS, IT’S ON THE COAST??]
Karen and Bill go up so she can relax and try to remember what happened because if she remembers, it won’t scare her anymore.
(Brief first person shaky cam from the car windshield.)
Karen says that she hopes the people at the Colony aren’t too weird, and we immediately cut to an old man shouting as he walks through the middle of a hootenanny (complete with big round ball holiday lights, a live bluegrass-esque band, a bonfire, and people dancing in the sand). They meet Jerry Warren, who works in softwares (I’ve always assumed that he really meant softlines, but maybe back then the writers decided to plural software. I don’t know); he’s taking care of a giant slab of meat roasting over an open fire. I … I sort of want to go to the Colony, y’all, and that’s even before you add in the werewolf part. [Bat: I’m guessing Terry never showed Karen that beautiful ocean drawing Eddie made…] [Wing: Oh, psh, she certainly doesn’t need to know about that drawing before she goes and hangs out at the ocean. Whyever would you suggest that? Heh.]
We learn that Bill is a vegetarian, which is interesting because at the time, staying away from meat wasn’t a big thing with athletes and former athletes. (Bill was a Stanford football star, apparently.) Or at least it wasn’t pushed hard in the media. I find that such an interesting bit of characterization, especially with what will happen soon enough.
They meet a bunch of people who have all seen Karen on television. Their names sort of flow past, and they don’t super well matter, but one of them, Donna, takes Karen aside to tell her all about the colony. Instead of focusing on them, though, the camera heads over to the guy who was shouting earlier. Now he sits, his back to everyone celebrating, chewing on something and looking upset and worn down and pained. [Bat: OMG, it’s John Carradine, Martha Plimpton’s grandfather! The voice of the Great Owl, from The Secret of NIMH!]
He says he can’t go on like this, his damned teeth are shot. [Bat: They continue aging? How intriguing…]
While Karen is off with Donna, Bill meets Marsha, who offers him a red drink. When he asks what’s in it, all she’ll tell him is it’s good. (It’s blood, Michael.) [Bat: Be one of us.] When he introduces himself, she says she knows who he is. She’s dressed in a mix of gothy, witchy woman black and werewolf with a necklace like long, sharp claws or teeth around her throat. (It’s not, I don’t think, but the imagery is there.)
She flirts with him a creepy, obvious way, and the scene is really over played. Maybe intentionally, maybe not. It very much plays into the idea that female werewolves are sexual predators (which is often accompanied by the idea that male werewolves are tragic people to be saved [through death if necessary]), though I already know this movie plays with that trope at least a little by the end.
Black Widow: 1 (+1)
Dr Waggner turns up and talks to Karen at the bonfire; another creepy, greasy guy stares at her and makes her uncomfortable, because in The Howling, pretty much all werewolves, no matter the gender, are creepy sexual predators. (Better than only the women for sure, even though Marsha is less the creepy, greasy type and more of the creepy, sexy type, so that part still holds true here.) [Bat: The oversized fur vest he’s wearing is a blatant bit of visual foreshadowing. I love it. Though, dude is massively creepy and freaking me out.] [Wing: Ha, yes, that fur vest is amazing.]
Marsha is not happy to see Dr Waggner or his book (about the animal instincts inside humans) because she doesn’t want her brother reading it. I think her brother is the latest creepy, greasy guy. [Bat: Yikes.] When Dr Waggner argues that her brother said he wants to read it, she tells him he’s done enough damage already, and they whip around to stare wide-eyed at Karen.
Dr Waggner then tells tells Karen and Donna, after Donna (I think) calls Marsha a bitch, that they can all learn a lot from Marsha because of all her natural energy. Donna translates that to Marsha being a nymphomaniac. Greaaaaaaaaaaaaat, sex shaming. It’s a good thing baby!Wing was too enthralled by the werewolves to notice anything else.
Dr Waggner also says that Marsha’s energy is unchanneled and she has a long way to go.
The band kicks into slower music, old bad teeth guy wanders around staring at different people in all their happy socialness (I love the dancing shadows on the wall, the foreshadowing of the werewolf transition that’s to come), and then TRIES TO THROW HIMSELF INTO THE BONFIRE.
WELL THAT ESCALATED — actually, no. For this movie, it was a subtle nice slow build, and it’s also amazing foreshadowing in itself, that he wants to end it and therefore he has to burn. Both of these things are shockingly subtle considering what else they’re up against in this movie. (Did I mention the wide-eyed stare a moment ago? I think I did.) [Bat: Kill it, with fire?]
Dr Waggner is one of them men holding him back; Donna says that it’s one of his favourite tricks, and he only does it for attention. And maybe that’s true in this case (though I think there’s a much more compelling story, even a side story, in an old wolf who can’t do the things he loves to do anymore and therefore wants to take himself out on his own terms), but overall, this is a really damaging portrayal of attempted suicide. Suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal ideation are not usually done for attention, and even if they are done for attention, it’s dangerous and infuriating to brush off the attempts/thoughts/concerns as if that carries no weight and no threat to the person. [Bat: Telling someone “sleep and the light of day” will make everything better is a crock of shit.]
There’s a gorgeous shot of the woods (with blue light and fog that makes everything even creepier), and then Karen has yet another dream that twists everything she’s seen lately together. In the dream, the old man stands at the bonfire and shouts, and that cry carries her into waking, where it becomes a howl.
So cheesy. So unsubtle. So creepy and wonderful. So imprinted into baby!Wing’s mind that I still love scenes like that to this day.
Karen tries to wake Bill, but he’s sleeping damn soundly, so she goes to the open window and stares out into the dark trees. There are more animal noises in the distance, and she rushes to Bill. This time, he wakes up, and when she tells him that something is howling, he tells her it’s either the wind or someone’s dog. [Bat: Bill, you’re useless and clueless.] [Wing: Right? So much for him being the smart one in the movie.]
When she says it’s not like any dog she’s ever heard, Bill pops off that she was raised in L.A., the wildest thing she ever heard was Wolfman Jack, which made baby!Wing laugh even though she didn’t know who the hell that was. Just by the name, it’s a delightful little joke.
(When did screens become common on windows? Because even though, as Bill points out, they are in the country, where there are plenty of night bugs, there are no screens on their windows. Better for creepy jumpscares, not so great for keeping out the tiny little things that bite.)
Karen can’t sleep even though Bill manages it, so she goes and builds a fire. We get a bit of shaky cam werewolf point of view (and believe me, I hate it just as much visually as I do in written form — possibly even more when it is visual because it kicks off my vertigo), and so of course when Karen hears something she takes her (giant) flashlight outside to investigate. Karen is brave and reckless and makes terrible decisions. I love Karen. [Bat: Points to Karen for being proactive; at least she’s not in a Friday the 13th film, where this type of investigation would likely end in tragic consequences.]
She doesn’t see anyone, but she finds a bit of something hanging from a bush. Skin, maybe? [Bat: Looks like tail fur?] Creepy, greasy guy #2 is hiding in the bushes, of course. [Bat: Is… is he naked?? Dude, way to get all the more creepy!] Not in werewolf form, because god forbid the movie give it away too soon what with how subtle it’s being.
The next morning, they call the police about what she heard, but pretty much immediately, Karen is embarrassed that she let herself get so worked up. She and Donna play tennis (or, well, Donna plays tennis and Karen fails to return any of the balls), and when the sheriff shows up, [Bat: It’s Slim Pickens! The casting on this is fantastic!] he jokes that they need to get themselves a retriever.
Oh god, this is where my love of terrible werewolf jokes came from, isn’t it?
Dr Waggner told Sheriff Sam that they have a coyote problem, [Bat: Coyotes sound… much different.] and they will come up into places like that looking for garbage. Which is true, and a valid excuse to cover up things, except WEREWOLF WEREWOLF FOR A WEREWOLF MOVIE THIS HAS FAR TOO LITTLE WEREWOLF.
I mean, yes. Subtle. Good job movie.
Back in L.A., Terry continues her intrepid reporter kick with her sidekick dude by her side. They’re at the morgue checking on Eddie’s tattoos; apparently the coroner told them there was some kind of animal head on his shoulder. [Bat: Bill has a tattoo on his upper arm. Couldn’t see what it was of, though.]
The morgue attendant has that sense of humor you often see in such characters, cracking jokes about the dead, knocking on the door when he’s about to open it to show them Eddie — except that, ha ha ha, Eddie’s body is gone. [Bat: Is this suddenly an episode of Teen Wolf? If I had a dollar for every time a body disappeared from Beacon Hills Memorial hospital…] [Wing: You’d think they’d have some security or something.]
The door is torn up from the inside, scratched and dented, and the morgue attendant says he couldn’t have walked out on his own.
If this was a book, I might give that a cliffhanger chapter ending, but I find it ridiculous enough that it’s fun, because the next scene we cut to is a full moon shot through the trees and the clouds. Another iconic werewolf shot that has influenced my writing since I was but baby!Wing and telling stories to pass the time.
Karen and Donna are hanging out on a wooden bench … bridge … thing. They hear lowing in the distance, and Donna assures her that there are a few acres of pasture nearby with cows. How convenient. Karen thinks they don’t sound right, but Donna’s not sure how they’re supposed to sound. [Bat: If you were cattle kept in a pen in an area where WEREWOLVES run free, you’d sound wrong, too.]
Karen goes to get Donna’s husband’s rifle, because Karen is a fucking badass. Donna carries the rifle, but Karen is the one pushing them to do it. Just as they find a carcass half draped across a (very badly constructed) barb wire fence (no, seriously, that fence would keep nothing in or out!), Karen’s giant flashlight starts to fail. How convenient.
(Of course, their frustration over it failing would make more sense if this scene weren’t nearly as bright as daylight due to the filming technology at the time. Or the lighting choices. I don’t actually know enough about what would have been possible.)
Donna hands Karen the gun so she can shake the flashlight, and Karen nearly hits someone with it. A couple of guys are checking on the herd, and there’s at least one other carcass just a little bit away. It’s not possible for it to be coyotes at this point.
(I … I am writing a terribly similar scene in my current project. FUCK WING. This movie is so deep in my subconscious it influences nearly everything I write. Baby’s first werewolf movie — horror movie — indeed.)
The next day, Donna’s husband is teaching Bill how to shoot the rifle because all the guys are headed out to hunt whatever is killing cows. Good times, good times, I’m not sure 90% of you even know how to load those guns you’re carrying.
Old dude thinks it’s UFOs because of the cattle mutilations. [Bat: I want to believe, Erle!]
Karen tells Bill that he doesn’t have to hunt for her sake, but he claims to be excited to go on his first wolf hunt and kisses her soundly. She laughs as he heads off with the guys; they’re following Marsha’s brother through the woods on this hunt because he’s “part bloodhound” they joke. [Bat: Uh, TC, aka creepy dude in fur vest? SUBTLE. This would totally be “Pointless Foreshadowing For Fun and Profit”.] (Again. This movie apparently had far more an influence on my sense of humour than I ever realised.)
[Bat: The light-hearted, upbeat, synth pop music score is cracking me up.]
Meanwhile, Karen has a group session with Dr Waggner and a bunch of people I’m not sure we’ve ever actually seen out there. (Some yes, but not all, I don’t think.) Karen recounts what happened with Eddie, and Dr Waggner and Donna encourage her to remember what she sees. She starts to have flashes back to that night, and there’s a hint of werewolf, but then she just shuts down.
Back on the hunt, Bill shoots his first rabbit with his first shot. Don’t you try to stay away from meat?
Terry continues her research in L.A., now in an occult bookstore. There’s a strange long moment with two people dressed as nuns coming in that the bookstore owner implies are weird. This is pointless, really, and should have been cut. [Bat: A bit of trivia – the occult bookstore owner is played by Dick Miller, a character actor who appeared in several of Dante’s other films.]
[Bat: Also, the old dude handling the Tarot cards? That was Forrest J Ackerman, one of the founders of science fiction fandom and former literary agent of Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov, among others. Holy cow, the casting in this is A+.]
[Bat: I am a film nerd, I can’t help it.]
[Wing: I knew Bat would bring great trivia to the recap!]
Boy sidekick wants to know if the owner has anything about people who like to steal corpses. Of course he does. While boy sidekick flips through his book, Terry reads from another one, about a number of women being killed over a month, their bodies showing signs of animal attack. The book is Warlocks, Werewolves, and Demons. Missed a chance for some more great alliteration there. [Bat: Lumping werewolves in with warlocks (???) and demons, but leaving out vampires? Fail.]
Boy sidekick says they’ll find out if any of Eddie’s killings were on a full moon, and owner tells them that’s a bunch of bullshit because the classic werewolf can change shape any time it wants, day or night. So, are you treating this as ACTUAL WEREWOLVES, or just that Eddie thought he was a werewolf. Because if ACTUAL WEREWOLVES, while I will be thrilled and wish this movie had more actual werewolves werewolfing, that will feel like a big leap for them.
He goes on to tell them that the only way to kill them is with silver bullets and fire, because they’ll come back from the dead [Bat: Resurrecting three days later; how poignant.] if they aren’t killed right and they’ll regenerate if you cut off a body part. (He also stocks wolfsbane and silver bullets.) [Bat: SO MUCH “POINTLESS FORESHADOWING FOR FUN AND PROFIT” HAPPENING!]
(There’s a little red riding hood image in the book Terry buys. It’s delightful.)
They’ve found no wolves on the hunt, only rabbits, and he doesn’t know what they do with rabbits. What — what the fuck do you think they do with rabbits? Why did you shoot it if you don’t know what to do with it? Marsha’s brother tells him that Marsha will cook it up for him if he wants and that killing something without eating it is a sin.
This exchange convinces Bill to go have Marsha cook it up for him. Dirty.
Marshal gleefully chops up the rabbit, [Bat: Gee, this movie came out 6 years before Fatal Attraction.] and I kind of love her sometimes. She kisses Bill, bites his mouth hard enough to draw blood, and geeeee, I wonder where this is going.
(How can an actual werewolf movie be a NEEDS MORE WEREWOLVES movie?) [Bat: Metaphorical werewolves ≠ ACTUAL WEREWOLVES.]
Another moonlit night, Bill walks through the trees (that again look almost as bright as day), and hears something whining nearby. We get our first clear shot of part of a shifted werewolf, it leaps out of the woods at him and bites his shoulder, tearing through his clothes into his bare skin, and then it’s gone. So the bite on the mouth wasn’t enough.
He manages to stagger back to his cabin, and Karen takes him to see Dr Waggner. This is enough for Karen, who wants to go home, but Dr Waggner says it’s not good for him to travel with that wound because bites can be serious. While I know why he wants them to stay, why the hell do they buy into this? They’re not that far from home, it wasn’t a terribly long drive before. Go back to L.A.! Go to your regular doctor! Get the fuck away from the creepy dead cow/attacking animals colony. [Bat: This is like asking those innocent 20-somethings who decide to be counselors at a lake-side camp where a bunch of horrible murders took place why they thought it was a good idea.]
Terry and boy sidekick watch The Wolf Man in bed while Terry flips through her new werewolf book.
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
(Love that so, so much always and forever. Werewolves.)
They’re interrupted by a call from Karen, who calls them freaking out. Terry promises to come up because Bill was just bitten by a wolf.
Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.
Damn, but The Wolf Man has good timing in The Howling.
(Cheesy as hell to have that be so dramatically relevant, but also I love it.)
Terry drives up on her own the next morning, because boy sidekick wants to pitch the special (I assume about Eddie and the Werewolves, which is the name of my next band) to the station. There’s a gorgeous shot of a desolate stretch of the ocean with a lonely pier sticking out into it.
Karen is relieved to see Terry, and I love their friendship all over again. They go for a walk and talk session along the beach, and the setting is gorgeous. Apparently all the ocean scenes were filmed in Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino, California. I’ll have to hit it up sometime. (I can’t believe I haven’t gone, considering how many trips I’ve made to Santa Cruz over the years.) [Bat: It also looks like the coast of Oregon; does that entice you to visit?] [Wing: It does! I actually looked up where it was filmed because for awhile I thought it was Oregon!]
They gossip about Marsha for a bit, calling her a maneater (because no movie is complete without women fighting over a man AMIRITE and also, puns and punnery, I love it. Fuck, I’m torn over this movie). (Bill apparently hasn’t told Karen about the kiss because she only has a “feeling” about whether Marsha is trying to make a move on Bill.)
(Monster Dog just came and flopped against me so I’d pet her rather than type. Oh, Monster Dog, I would, but I have so much left to recap.)
Terry apologises for forgetting that Bill doesn’t eat meat (she didn’t bring veggies for their picnic), but he’s tearing into the meat. Love this change for him after he’s been bitten. It’s probably overused in werewolf stories now, but it’s gorgeous and fun and I love it.
That night, Karen tries to initiate some sex, but he says he can’t because the shots are getting to him. Karen is as frustrated now as he was the other night, and talks about them being out of sync. My dudes, it’s just sex. Sometimes one partner wants it and the other doesn’t. It’s not a portentous sign of everything being wrong. Just chill. Maybe worry more about the animals attacking things.
This means we’re almost to one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, or at least one that has seared its way into my brain from my very first viewing.
Karen has another nightmare about Eddie and wakes to find Bill gone. She’s pissed that he’s not there, but doesn’t go looking for him or anything.
Bill, meanwhile, has been drawn into the forest, where Marsha waits for him with a flickering fire. Oh, hello, first scene where baby!Wing saw boobs and bush. No dick, though. There’s some dramatic sex shot through the edge of the fire so we don’t get a lot of nudity from Bill, howling in the woods from a bunch of wolves (which wakes Terry — she sticks her giant tape recorder out the window to capture it), and here’s the iconic scene: forest sex, Bill’s bite has healed, and they start to shift while fucking. Bill’s canines grow painfully, he starts to drool, and Marshal tears into his back with nails becoming claws.
(This is a really cheesy transformation scene, especially when it becomes just their heat signatures looking like wolves. It’s amazing that there’s this movie and then there’s the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London, which is, of course, the quintessential werewolf transformation scene to this day.) [Bat: I’d rather have practical effects then CGI any day, when it comes to this stuff.]
Dr Waggner hears the howling and snarling, and it’s pretty clear he knows what’s going on, but I think it is supposed to be a big secret.
The next morning, Terry takes her recording to the beach to listen to it, and starts to realise something about the view.
Before we can find out what (gee, I wonder what could possibly have been introduced earlier that will become important now), we switch back to Karen asleep and Bill staring down at her and his hands, clearly wondering what he’s done.
Terry hikes up the hill and, yup, the view of the ocean from above is the same as the one Eddie painted, which she, of course, has a copy of with her. (This isn’t oh so convenient, this is just good sleuthing.)
(Seriously, the setting is gorgeous here, all foggy trees and waves dramatically crashing over the rocks. I could watch a billion hours of that and Terry and Karen being BFFs.)
[Bat: The crash of the water on the rocks and the organ music? Very Dark Shadows.]
Terry gets lost in the woods for awhile, hears something whispering her name, and follows it to a cabin hidden back in the trees. A werewolf is very clearly following her. (Terry has a fantastic blue jacket. I want a leather jacket in that shade of blue. It would be great.)
Mystery cabin has animal skins and bones pinned to the outside, which makes it super welcoming, let me tell you. Still, she makes her way up to the door peeks inside (with another jump scare when she bumps into hanging bones). She hears something back in the woods, but doesn’t let that stop her from going inside a door that is open only a crack. Very conveniently tempting.
So much for stealth; though she eases the door the rest of the way open, she immediately calls out to see if anyone is there.
Quick shot of a werewolf’s legs in the woods.
Inside the cabin, she finds canned goods and preserved things, more bones and skins, wolf art, a yellow smiley face sticker, and more drawings of Karen (I think). She quickly takes pictures, we see her in the mirror for a lot of this, and it is nicely tense.
The sticker marks a door, and in that room, she finds similar to what she saw in Eddie’s apartment, newspaper clippings and bones and things. As she’s taking pictures, something starts fighting at the outside door. She gets back to the main room before it tears through the first door, and jumps out a window before it tears through the outside door, conveniently grabbing an ax as she falls. When the werewolf comes for her, she chops its fucking hand off, because she is a complete badass.
After it is separated from the body, it reverts to a human hand in a weirdly bloating, melting way, but it sure is a creepy scene. [Bat: Gross but so cool looking! See, practical effects are the best!]
Terry races for safety and makes it all the way back to the Dr Waggner’s office in one of the main buildings. The first time I watched this, I was so thrilled that she had escaped. Little did baby!Wing know.
She calls for help first thing (though she calls boy sidekick and not for some sort of more local help; I know she’s calling to tell him that they were right and werewolves are real, but WEREWOLVES ARE REAL MAYBE GET KAREN AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE). There’s a nicely creepy bit where a werewolf paw reaches out to turn on a tape recording of — what, we don’t know.
It flashes back to Karen and Bill. Karen is telling him about having the dream again, and he tells her it’s no wonder she’s having nightmares because she’s been sleeping all day. She wants to know where he got the scratches on his back, and he brushes them off as from the attack the other night, but Karen knows better and lets him fucking know it. He tries to gaslight her about her paranoia, but she still goes straight to Marsha.
She snaps that all Marsha had to do was walk by him like a bitch in heat, and he backhands the shit out of her.
I beat you because I love you: 100 (+100)
He tries to touch her apologetically after, but she won’t let him. Karen says she’s going to leave with Terry, but Bill grabs her to tell her she doesn’t know what it’s like. She doesn’t want to know, she snaps, teary and angry. Fuck off, Bill.
(Werewolf and anger is a combination I love, because I often see bipolar in the werewolf idea, at least as it has become — someone has a monster inside that they fight or the embrace, depending on the moment, something that could lash out and do real damage, but something that can be used in good ways, too. I feel similarly about the Hulk, at least certain incarnations of him. [While I love She Hulk best, she’s generally much more in control than the versions of the Hulk with which I identify.]
We skip back to Terry on the phone with boy sidekick; he’s not fully on board with what she’s saying, but wants her to search through Dr Waggner’s file cabinets to see if she can find Eddie’s files.
(His television is super on point, again, with a big bad wolf cartoon sketch and he has Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems on his desk, because this movie is playing so hard to my id. Or influenced it completely, I don’t even know anymore. But those are the kind of little details that I both find cheesy and love the hell out of, so here we are.)
Terry drags the corded phone over to the filing cabinet with her, and she finds the Quist family: Marsha, T.C., and Eddie. As she pulls out Eddie, a clawed werewolf hand reaches for it, and she looks up to see a werewolf looming over her. On the one hand, that’s another scene that stuck with me. On the other hand, how the fuck didn’t she notice a goddamn werewolf in the same room as her?!
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1 (+1)
The werewolf smacks her upside the head (shades of Bill, stalks her across the room (and god, this werewolf makeup is terrible) and then kills her in an overly dramatic, slowly paced scene. Oh, Terry, I loved you so.
[Bat: The fact the werewolf made an audio recording while slaughtering a victim… that’s telling.]
Boy sidekick calls the sheriff, who of course says he’ll send people over to check it out immediately and meet boy sidekick at the colony. [Bat: The sheriff is eating WOLF BRAND CHILI directly out of the can. Oi.] [Wing: Hahahahahahaha, oh god, I love the ridiculous little details.]
Terry’s death is actually fairly gentle, just the werewolf biting into her throat and then blood falling onto the paperwork.
Boy sidekick (okay, okay, his name is Chris, I suppose now that he’s going to get his own part of the story, I should stop calling him boy sidekick — still wish he’d died and Terry had gotten to survive the damn movie) grabs those silver bullets from the earlier bookstore and races off to the Colony.
Karen has finally made it to Dr Waggner’s office, considering it feels like she left Bill an hour ago, and finds the phone off the hook (because Terry dropped it when she was being killed). She’s shocked that the room is completely destroyed, and even moreso when she finds Terry’s body with the throat torn out. She covers her face with a conveniently placed white sheet and then goes to call for help, but she’s too freaked out and is shaking too hard to do so. She backs into the body, and whoops, it’s not Terry this time, it’s Eddie, who still has a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead (and possibly the bullet, too), and really looks more like a vampire than a werewolf in this moment.
[Bat: I wonder if Dwayne’s surname was Quist. There’s a story sitting there, Wing.] [Wing: Tis true, tis true.]
[Bat: Also, holy shit, Robert Picardo is super hot in that scene. It’s probably because he really does look like a vampire more than a wolf, but damn.]
He tells her he wants to give her a piece of his mind and literally reaches inside his own skull, then starts to transform. It is all very bubbly and overly dramatic, and I am, again, shocked that this transformation is so weird when An American Werewolf in London did an amazing job.
Holy shit, I don’t remember how this transformation is shot like Eddie has a heaving bosom worthy of a romance novel.
Karen keeps looking away from the transformation, but as if she’s bored and not scared, which I have to admit, this scene is going on way too long. [Bat: Why the fuck is she just standing there?? C’mon! This is ridiculously long. But, given the era, this would have been very upsetting to a 1981 audience.] [Wing: Yeah, I keep reminding myself that not only was it a huge shock for baby!Wing, but it would have been a big deal for audiences. And, of course, with all the practical effects, they want to visually drag it out as long as possible to make the most of all that work.]
(I was thinking about how strange it is that the werewolves here have longer, bonier fingers when they shift, instead of something more paw-like, but it is going for horror (the nose and mouth stretching into a muzzle has stuck with me forever, too, the part of this transformation I like best) and some sort of monstrous hybrid is visually more frightening than a giant wolf would be.)
Once he’s done transformation, Karen throws some chemical powder into his face (wolfsbane, maybe?), and runs away to her car. You couldn’t have done that slightly earlier in the transformation? Given yourself more time to get away? [Bat: I love that the bottle label read ‘Wolfe’s’; it’s the attention to little details that are so awesome.]
Karen makes it to her car, but the sheriff and one of the other guys have been waiting for her, and they drag her down to the barn, which is full of bones and skins and werewolves. So. Many. Werewolves. Oh, and Terry’s dead body even more brutalised than it was before, so thanks for that, movie.
[Bat: This barn is like if Grandpa had a barn instead of just a side room full of taxidermy projects. I love it.]
Marsha is sitting around like their queen, and Dr Waggner joins them after Karen arrives. At first she’s relieved to see him, but sure enough, he’s a part of this mess, too. She asks about Bill, and Dr Waggner and Marsha tell her that he’s one of them and in time, he would have brought her over, too, and their secret would be safe. (Be one of us, Michael.) [Bat: If we got Bill into the fold, Lucy Karen couldn’t say no.]
Donna says she and her husband fought against it after they were bitten, but then they found Dr Waggner, who knows how to use the gift, how to control it; Dr Waggner promises that Karen can still have Bill back [Bat: WHY WOULD KAREN WANT HIM BACK?] if she joins them, accepts the gift. Old dude from before says they should have stuck with the old ways, because raising cattle for their feed isn’t really living. Aww, you old maneater you.
About half the werewolves, maybe more, want to go back to the old ways, i.e., treating humans as their cattle and their prey. Dr Waggner wants them to change because the threat to them is too much, and they have to change because the world has changed.
Marsha is fomenting rebelling against Dr Waggner, and has brought them to the point where his word means nothing and she’s claiming Karen for them. Alas, I doubt for sexy queer werewolf times.
Chris finally shows up in his little sports car and goes looking for everyone with his rifle. In the barn, they’re playing dog and rabbit with Karen, and we learn that Terry cut off TC’s hand back at the cabin. Dude, it will grow back. Shut up.
Dr Waggner tries to convince them that they can’t just make Karen disappear because she’s well known, and they agree. They’ll have to make it look like an accident. That is not quite what he meant, but when he says he’s going to stop them, Marsha casually claws him across the face. Lots of face hitting in this group.
Old man tells him that he can’t tame what’s meant to be wild, and I really like this thread running through it, and the push and pull of whether you try to adhere to society’s mores and find a way to fit in or whether you fight. (And in this case, slaughter people for food, which is, you know, not ideal, but pretty great for a werewolf story.)
Chris shows up at the doctor’s office first, where a tape is playing. At first, it is Dr Waggner’s speech about nature and anger, etc., and there is blood on the tape player in an interesting little shot. The tape goes on to Dr Waggner talking about lycanthropy as a mental disorder while Chris goes searching through the files Terry found, and then to the howling that she recorded. A werewolf shadow crosses the wall as one walks past the window, and Chris pulls up his gun only for it to come through the door and take the gun away. It’s Eddie again, of course, and that powder Karen threw in his face has done a number on him. [Bat: Bye, bye, hotness.]
(The barn is the ritual center.)
Chris hears Terry’s murder on the recording, and Eddie basks in the sound of it. Chris calls him crazy, and Eddie says he’s much more than that. You know. A werewolf. You fucking believe in werewolves now, so is it that he’s crazy because he’s dangerous? Fuck you, Chris.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
Eddie gives back Chris’ gun, I assume because he has no idea that Chris knows the truth, and then starts to shift again, right up until Chris shoots him. Chris turns up at the barn just as they’re dragging Karen outside to put her in her car, set it on fire, and roll it off a cliff, and TC tells him that his gun won’t do him any good. Can none of you super-sensed werewolves not smell goddamn silver bullets? [Bat: I’ve never known the silver trope to have anything to do with smell. Would silver even have a smell?] [Wing: Different metals have different smells, I am told, and regular bullets have a distinctive smell, so it could be inferred that silver bullets would have a different distinctive smell, but to be fair, it is asking for a lot at this point in the story and that sort of detail would slow it down even if it was true in-world.]
Oh, another iconic shot! Low camera angle, shooting past TC to Chris, and TC’s nails grow out into claws as we watch. I love that image.
Once again, Chris has to prove he’s dangerous and shoots TC in the middle of his shift. The werewolves gather around his fallen body quite slowly, and then all look up at Chris as one, which is, at this point, too damn dramatic. He tells them he has silver bullets in his gun. [Bat: You idiot, Christopher, you don’t tell them that!] [Wing: I mean, it’s not like they believe him anyway.] Another one of them refuses to believe it and tells TC to get up, because I’m sure he’s just getting a kick out of lying there playing dead. That’s it.
He, at least, tries to shoot Chris, but Chris gets a shot off first.
Dr Waggner comes toward Chris next, forcing him to shoot, and it’s clear that he’s committing suicide here so he can be free. Chris and Karen force the werewolves back into the barn, and they can’t seem to break through a very shaky wooden door. They douse the barn in gasoline and set it alight — well, Chris does most of this, while Karen clings to him. What happened to being tough, Karen? She tells him that they killed Terry and, she thinks, Bill, except they were very clearly offering Bill back to you, so he’s around somewhere. I’m sure that won’t come into play later.
All sorts of dramatic death by fire scenes, and once they get back to the car, a werewolf attacks them through the roof. They manage to get away from that one (though it’s hard to tell if one of them managed to shoot it or not, so there very well could be multiple werewolves still running around). Chris is explaining how he knew to come up with they have to stop because Sheriff Sam is in the road.
He is clearly also a werewolf, you idiots. He shoots out the car, but Chris manages to get him in the chest with a silver bullet. They have to abandon Chris’ car, though, which dramatically explodes (werewolves and fire, is it any wonder baby!Wing loved this movie so much?), and take the sheriff’s car instead.
At first, it seems like it won’t start, and there are werewolves surrounding the car and scratching ineffectually at the glass — my god, these werewolves are only strong when the movie wants them to be, aren’t they — but eventually Chris gets the car going and they drive away. Leaving a bunch of werewolves behind who know them by sight and smell, of course.
Just when it looks like they’re home free, a werewolf comes through the back glass and bites Karen’s shoulder before she can shoot it. It’s Bill, of course, now dead in the backseat. [Bat: Oh, so that was the point of his tattoo, identification.]
Karen says they have to warn people, to make them believe, and there’s your badass backbone.
Next thing we know, Karen is getting her makeup done to go on camera, and Chris isn’t sure he can go through with their plan. The news kicks off with an update about the uncontrollable fire up the coast (ugh, California’s wildfires are so bad anyway, this is pretty terrible), and bodies have been found inside and outside the buildings of the colony, but we all know that werewolves are free out there.
Karen calmly faces the camera and reads from her own words and not the teleprompter. She reads about how each person fights, from the day they’re born, about what’s kind and peaceful in our natures and what is cruel and violent, and how the ability to choose is what differentiates humanity from the animals.
But now that choice has been taken away for some of them, and a secret society exists, living among them (and she’s beginning to twitch and her eyes to change color — this is gorgeous and wonderful and heartbreaking and the last iconic scene that stuck with baby!Wing), and as she talks about werewolves, and to prove it, she stands and shifts on camera, and it is painful and loud and terrible.
As everyone stares, terrified and shocked, a single tear rolls down Karen’s cheek, and after she’s a full wolf (and yet soft and fuzzy and looking nothing like literally any other werewolf we’ve seen, what the fuck — is this supposed to be a metaphor for how she’s gentle? [Bat: Maybe it’s because she accepts what she’s become? Still, she looks like an overgrown Yorkie and not a werewolf.] Because gentle or not, HER FUCKING NOSE WOULD NOT BE FLAT LIKE THAT NOR HER FUR SO FLUFFY AND CLEAN), Chris shoots her down.
[Bat: Damn, what an amazing concept for a film’s climax, though it certainly calls to mind Christine Chubbuck…minus the whole werewolf aspect.]
Unfortunately, when they go to commercial, it’s a dog food commercial, and everyone just thinks it’s special effects, though only one drunk thinks it was real. The camera pans along the bar where people are talking about it, and lands on Marsha, who is ordering her hamburger rare. [Bat: HA! It’s a pity the actress was unable to reprise her role in the sequel, though there seems to be speculation as to why.]
The movie ends on that bloody piece of meat on the grill next to much more cooked burgers. Oh god, I love the cheesiness of that order, too, no matter how many werewolf stories use it. (I feel the same about variations on I do not drink wine.)
(And look, if you cook a burger past medium, you’ve basically ruined all flavour. Ostrich likes his red meat well done, and that is just a travesty. I’m a medium rare person myself, leaning toward the rare side. I know. I know.)
I can’t even begin to approach this without the weight of all the years in which I’ve loved it. There are many flaws, both of the serious nature and just cheesy writing (and the special effects are something else), but I love it so much. It was my first horror movie, my first werewolf movie, and I have been loving werewolves and horror movies ever since. (It was not my first horror story, that was an adaptation of Dracula when I was very young, but the first one with graphic(-ish) violence and sex.)
[Bat: As a first-time viewer, I can see why you love it, Wing. It bends more towards the psychological before the big reveal, which is a trope I love. The transformation scenes are over-long, and over-the-top, but I still love practical effects. And as someone deeply familiar with many of Dante’s other films, this has all his hallmarks. I enjoyed it!]
[Wing: I’m glad you enjoyed it! It didn’t even click that I should have sold this to you as a Dante film so you would have watched it much sooner, but I think this worked out well. And readers, we’ll be back next month with Teen Wolf (1985), where Bat has seen the movie, but (SHOCKING) I have not.
Black Widow: 1
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1
I beat you because I love you: 100
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but I met Dee Wallace Stone once. I’ve got an autographed photo of that close-up during her transformation at the end.
[…] but he doesn’t remember doing so at all. We were watching movies at a truck stop. It was The Howling. I have loved werewolves ever since. And now that I’m done distracting myself from all the […]
[…] but he doesn’t remember doing so at all. We were watching movies at a truck stop. It was The Howling. I have loved werewolves ever since. And now that I’m done distracting myself from all the […]
As ever, stunningly thorough & frequently hilarious breakdown. Besides the FX sequence blowout (Ed’s leering half-formed muzzle is still friggin’ ghastly), I sorta figured Karen was trying to overcome some sort of PTSD freeze response *and* find something that might actually slow him down. Agreed on Terry’s exit being a shame, of course.
Anyhow, you might or might not be interested to know of this 4-issue comic series Space Goat Productions commissioned back in 2017 which ditches the cinematic Howling sequels to directly follow up with Boy Sidekick (yeah, I know), Marsha (better, right?), and another character whose onscreen fate wasn’t clarified. Pound for pound it’s more coherent than any of the later flicks (granted, not saying much) but still has a few delightfully garish curveballs.
WHAT! I had no idea this comic series existed, and I am off to research it immediately. Thank you!