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The Howling (film)

The Howling (film)

The Howling is a 1981 American horror film directed and edited by Joe Dante. Written by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless, based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, the film follows a news anchor who, following a traumatic encounter with a serial killer, visits a resort secretly inhabited by werewolves. The cast includes Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, and Elisabeth Brooks.

The Howling was released in the United States on March 13, 1981, and became a moderate success, grossing $17.9 million at the box office. It received generally positive reviews, with praise for the makeup special effects by Rob Bottin. The film won the 1980 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and was one of the three high-profile werewolf-themed horror films released in 1981, alongside An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen.

Its financial success aided Dante's career, and prompted Warner Bros. to hire Dante and Michael Finnell as director and producer, respectively, for Gremlins (1984). A series consisting of seven sequels arose from the film's success. A remake is in development, with Andy Muschietti set to direct.


Karen White is a Los Angeles television news anchor who is being stalked by serial killer Eddie Quist. In cooperation with the police, she takes part in a scheme to capture Eddie by agreeing to meet him in a sleazy porn theater. Eddie forces Karen to watch a video of a young woman being bound and raped, and when Karen turns around to see Eddie, she screams. The police enter and shoot Eddie, and although Karen is safe, she suffers amnesia. Her therapist, "Doc" George Waggner, decides to send her and her husband, Bill Neill, to the "Colony", a secluded resort in the countryside where he sends patients for treatment.

The Colony is filled with strange characters, and one, a sultry nymphomaniac named Marsha, tries to seduce Bill. When he resists her unsubtle sexual overtures, he is attacked and scratched on the arm by a werewolf while returning to his cabin. After Bill's attack, Karen summons her friend Terry Fisher to the Colony, and Terry connects the resort to Eddie through a sketch he left behind, having previously discovered that Eddie's body disappeared from the morgue. Karen begins to suspect that Bill is hiding a secret far more threatening than marital infidelity. Later that night, Bill meets Marsha at a campfire in the woods. While having sex in the moonlight, they undergo a frightening transformation into werewolves.

While investigating the next morning, Terry is attacked by a werewolf in a cabin, though she escapes after cutting the monster's hand off with an axe. She runs to Doc's office and places a phone call to her boyfriend Chris Halloran, who has been alerted about the Colony's true nature. While on the phone with Chris, Terry looks for files on Eddie Quist. When she finally finds the file in the filing cabinet, she is attacked by Eddie in werewolf form, and is killed when she is bitten on the jugular vein. Chris hears this on the other end and sets off for the Colony armed with silver bullets.

Karen is confronted by the resurrected Eddie Quist once again, and Eddie transforms himself into a werewolf in front of her. In response, Karen splashes Eddie in the face with corrosive acid and flees. Later, as Chris arrives at the Colony, he is confronted by the horribly disfigured Eddie, who is fatally shot by Chris with a silver bullet when he attempts to transform. However, it turns out all the people in the Colony are werewolves and can shapeshift at will, without the need of a full moon to do so. Karen and Chris survive their attacks and burn the Colony to the ground. As they drive away, however, one werewolf breaks into their car and bites Karen before being shot by Chris, turning back into Bill as he dies.

Karen resolves to warn the entire world about the existence of werewolves and begins a special worldwide broadcast announcement to the people around the world. Then, to prove her story, she herself transforms into a werewolf. She is shot at by Chris in front of a live viewing audience, although the people watching the transformation from their television sets around the world are amused, believing it to be just a stunt done with special effects. Marsha, who escaped the Colony herself completely unscathed, sits at a bar with a man who, while watching the special broadcast announcement, orders a pepper steak for himself and a rare hamburger for Marsha after Karen's display cuts to a commercial break.



Theater chain owner turned producer Steven Lane had long been wanting to get into film production, and as he was an avid horror reader particularly Stephen King, a blurb from King on the cover of The Howling by Gary Brandner drew Lane's interest to the book and eventually the prospect of buying the rights to make a film adaptation. After tracking down the rights to Warner Bros. who'd done nothing with them in the two years since acquiring them, had resold the rights to Jack Conrad. Lane partnered with Conrad on The Howling with the two getting the film set up at Avco Embassy Pictures.

Though the film has been noted for its semi-humorous screenplay, it was adapted from the more straightforward novel, The Howling, by Gary Brandner which was first published in 1977. After drafts by Jack Conrad (the original director who left following difficulties with the studio) and Terence H. Winkless proved unsatisfactory, director Joe Dante hired John Sayles to completely rewrite the script. The two had collaborated before on Dante's 1978 film Piranha. Sayles rewrote the script with the same self-aware, satirical tone that he gave Piranha, and his finished draft bears only a vague resemblance to Brandner's book. However, Winkless still received a co-writer's credit along with Sayles for his work on the screenplay.

The cast featured a number of recognizable character actors, such as Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Kenneth Tobey and Slim Pickens, many of whom appeared in genre films themselves. Additionally, the film was full of in-joke references. Roger Corman makes a cameo appearance as a man standing outside a phone booth, as does John Sayles, appearing as a morgue attendant and James Murtaugh as one of the members of the Colony. Forrest J Ackerman appears in a brief cameo in an occult bookstore, clutching a copy of an issue of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The Howling was also notable for its special effects, which were state-of-the-art at the time. The transformation scenes were created by Rob Bottin, who had also worked with Dante on Piranha. Rick Baker was the original effects artist for the film, but left the production to work on An American Werewolf in London, which released the same year as The Howling, handing over the effects work to Bottin. Bottin's most celebrated effect was the on-screen transformation of Eddie Quist, which involved air bladders under latex facial applications to give the illusion of transformation. Variety claimed that The Howling's biggest flaw is that the impact of this initial transformation is never topped during the climax of the film. The film also features stop-motion animation by David W. Allen, and puppetry intended to give the werewolves an even more non-human look. Despite most of the special effects at the time, the silhouette of Bill and Marsha having sex as werewolves is obviously a cartoon animation. Dante attributed this to budgetary reasons.

Due to their work in The Howling, Dante and producer Michael Finnell received the opportunity to make the film Gremlins (1984) for Steven Spielberg. That film references The Howling with a smiley face image on a refrigerator door. Eddie Quist leaves yellow smiley face stickers as his calling card in several places throughout The Howling. Also, Jim McKrell's character as news reporter Lew Landers appears in both The Howling and Gremlins.

The film's screenwriter and future director John Sayles, Dante's former producer Roger Corman, and science fiction and horror film personality Forrest J Ackerman all have cameos.


Pino Donaggio composed the score which featured classic orchestral horror melodies with minimal synth sounds. Waxwork Records released the full soundtrack on a double LP in 2017. The album art was done by Francesco Francavilla.


International Film Investors (IFI) agreed to provide 50% of the finance. Goldcrest Films had a partnership with IFI. They ended up providing £145,000 to the budget of The Howling and receiving £396,000, making a profit of £251,000.


The film opened on March 13, 1981, in 170 theatres in New York City, Philadelphia and the Washington D.C.—Baltimore area.

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Howling holds a 74% approval rating based on 42 critic reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The consensus reads: "The Howling packs enough laughs into its lycanthropic carnage to distinguish it from other werewolf entries, with impressive visual effects adding some bite".

In 1981, Roger Ebert's 2-out-of-4 star review described The Howling as the "silliest film seen in some time", but Ebert also said the special effects were good and the film was perhaps "worth your money, IF you get it two for one". Gene Siskel liked the film and gave it three and a half stars out of four. In his Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin wrote that The Howling is a "hip, well-made horror film" and noted the humorous references to classic werewolf cinema. Variety praised both the film's sense of humor and its traditional approach to horror. Kim Newman, in his 1988 book Nightmare Movies, called The Howling "a brisk chiller that effortlessly revives the prowling-through-misty-forests genre", and called Picardo's transformation sequence "the movies' most impressive werewolf monster".

The film won the 1980 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. This film was also #81 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Box office

The film grossed $1,160,172 in its opening weekend. Per Variety's weekly chart, based on a sample of 20-24 markets, the film was ranked number one for the week; however, Back Roads, which opened in 635 more theatres, grossed more nationally, with $3 million. The Howling grossed $17.9 million in the United States and Canada.

Themes and style

According to Scott Tobias of The Guardian, the film played a pivotal role in modernizing classic movie monsters, particularly werewolves, by incorporating graphic practical effects and explicit sexuality while interweaving references to the film's context; it also, loosely, referenced the Jonestown incident, as the lead character, Karen, retreated to a forest community known as ‘The Colony’.

According to The New York Times, The Howling introduces themes of indulgence of primal, animalistic desires, particularly focusing on the sexual aspects of werewolves. It also offers a satirical commentary on television and the media, with its sensationalistic approach, focusing on personalities like Dr. George Waggner. The film also critiques how television sensationalizes violence and focuses on the darker aspects of human nature.

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Home media

Shout! Factory re-released The Howling on DVD and Blu-ray on June 18, 2013 through their Scream Factory imprint. The film was previously released to DVD by MGM (owners of the video and TV distribution rights to The Howling due to the distribution deal with StudioCanal and Sony Pictures, the current owners of the AVCO Embassy library) on August 26, 2003 as a Region 1 widescreen Special Edition DVD.

Sequels and remake

There have been seven sequels to The Howling. In May 2015, a newly formed production company bought the rights to the original film and were working on a ninth film, a remake of the original. In 2020, Andy Muschietti was hired to direct the remake for Netflix.

A comic book series by Space Goat Productions entitled The Howling: Revenge of the Werewolf Queen began publication in May 2017, acting as a direct sequel to the original film, ignoring the film sequels.



External links

  • The Howling at IMDb
  • The Howling at AllMovie
  • The Howling at the TCM Movie Database
  • The Howling at the American Film Institute Catalog
  • The Howling at Box Office Mojo
  • The Howling at Rotten Tomatoes

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: The Howling (film) by Wikipedia (Historical)