The Howling [Blu-Ray] Joe Dante

The Howling [Blu-Ray] Joe Dante
7
Heralded for its groundbreaking (and still unmatched, in terms of sheer visceral nastiness) werewolf transformations, Joe Dante's post-Network horror (comedy?) has aged remarkably well. This is due in large part to Rob Bottin's inventive practical effects work, but it's the Gremlins director's dark satire of a desensitized public as ambivalent about as they are hungry for the increasingly grim atrocities on their television screens that lends the film continued relevancy. Where screenwriter John Sayles veers from the course set by novelist Gary Brandner is why The Howling excels — everything before TV reporter Karen White and her husband retreat to "the Colony," a commune for depressed shape-shifters, is incisively constructed to make the viewer feel dirty by association. A scene where Karen's stalker tries to coax out her inner beast by forcing the terrified (and possibly slightly aroused) woman to watch snuff films in a porno booth during a ratings-grabbing sting operation gone off the rails is still the most uncomfortable moment in the movie, all but rubbing our noses in the scathing subtext. If Dante and Sayles had gone all the way with this concept, abandoning everything from the novel other than the idea of a woman dealing with psychological trauma from a werewolf assault, The Howling might have struck upon something transcendent of the genre. As it stands, this darkly funny lycanthropy tale feels disjointed. After the first act, the movie morphs into a straightforward, typically logic-defying creature feature; it works as macabre comedy and dated spectacle, but the monster action is rather boring compared to the surreal sleaze and wry cynicism sandwiching all the wolf play — the jaded voyeurism theme does eventually come full circle, but it feels tacked on. Shout! Factory's Blu-Ray collector's edition of this admirable, though uneven, horror classic is brimming with bonus content. The entire history of The Howling franchise is discussed in both a rambling interview with executive producer Steve A. Lane and in a feature commentary with author Gary Brandner. Company regular Michael Felsher interviews the author of multiple Howling novels (only one of which has been used as the basis for a film). It's one of a handful of fresh features for this high definition release and Felsher's calm, collected fandom makes for good conversation with the upbeat writer, who delivers an unexpected defence of Phillipe Mora, the director of the much-maligned Howling III: The Marsupials. Co-screenwriter Terrence Winkless contributes a recent interview, explaining what his first Hollywood writing credit meant for his career and not-so-gingerly toeing the subject of how his script was altered on the way to the screen. Though he obviously feels a little protective of his draft, Winkless's minor criticisms are good-natured overall; he certainly doesn't bear an obvious grudge like stop-motion animator David Allen. That guy is seriously pissed the studio didn't want to use his work. Other brand new features include "Cut to Shreds," an in-depth look at Mark Goldblatt's highly effective editing (credited with saving the picture by many involved) and the completely disposable "Horror's Hallowed Grounds," which is essentially Cribs for horror film geographical iconography. The best material is still found in archival features "Making a Monster Movie," "Unleashing the Beast" and a commentary with Dante and stars Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo. All three take an extensive look at the filmmaking process and contain smartly parsed pearls of wisdom from Dante like, "If you don't give the audience something to laugh at in a film like this, chances are they'll find it in the wrong place." Rounding out the exceptional supplemental material are outtakes, a set of deleted scenes with optional commentary, the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. This definitive version of a seminal film is a must for horror buffs. (Shout! Factory)