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DVD: Howling, The (1981) - Special Edition
Review Rating:   Excellent  
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August 26, 2003



Genre: Horror  
A sexually repressed TV reporter heads to a feel-good retreat by the California coast, but her group therapy sessions are rudely interrupted by a lupine serial killer from the big city.  



Directed by:

Joe Dante
Screenplay by: John Sayles,  Terence H. Winkless
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Produced by: Jack Conrad,  Michael Finnel

Dee Wallace,  Patrick MacNee,  Dennis Dugan,  Christopher Stone,  Belinda Balaski,  Kevin McCarthy,  John Carradine,  Slim Pickens,  Elisabeth Brooks,  Robert Picardo,  Margie Impert,  Noble Willingham,  James Murtaugh,  Kenneth Tobey

Film Length: 95 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.85  :1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:   English (Dolby 5.1),  English (Mono)
Subtitles:   English,  French,  Spanish
Special Features :  

Audio Commentary by Director Joe Dante, Actors Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo / Featurettes: "Unleashing The Beast: Making The Howling" indexed in 5 parts (54:11) (see comment) + "Making A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling" (8:02) / 12-13 Deleted Scenes (9:31) / Outtakes (5:19) / Poster Gallery with 12 images and Production Photos with 39 images / 2 Theatrical trailers for "The Howling," plus DVD trailers for "The Fog," "Carrie" and "Jeepers Creepers" / 4 page colour booklet

Comments :

Easter Egg: From the Special Features Menu, move the highlighter to the Main Menu. Press the Right Direction button, and a Smiley Face will highlight. Press Enter, and a (6:38) segment, titled “Dick Miller – Thespian” will play, featuring a series of Q&A responses from Joe Dante's ‘good luck' iconic actor.

The most important special feature on the new disc is the commentary track, with director Dante, and actors Dee Wallace Stone, the late Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo. There's a good mix of silly banter and cut-ups with Dante regularly stepping forward and explaining major production aspects.

Locations figure heavily, given a lot of scenes were shot at a forest retreat, and Dante describes the editing and lighting tricks ace cinematographer John Hora used to create seamless transitions between location and interior sets for the film's tight $1.4 million budget. Dante also points out sections where scenes were reshuffled during the final editing, and describes some of the deleted material included on the DVD. He's also a man aware of his own shortcomings, and isn't afraid to admit he used rapid editing to hide his fear of complex moving shots. The actors and director also discuss some of the veteran character actors in bit roles – John Carradine being the best-known – and some of the in-jokes (like the Smiley Face, which serves as a twisted leitmotif for the film's serial killer).

On Side B, is a 5-part making-of documentary with interviews from Joe Dante, John Sayles, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Dee Wallace Stone, Belinda Balaski, and producer Mike Finnel. The commentary's weakness – not enough hard facts – are balanced by each doc segment, using film clips and some archival footage.

“Brief History of Werewolves” (10:15) has the filmmakers discussing the genre, and their efforts to reinvent the tired werewolf formula via a contemporary setting, updated violence, and full frontal nudity. John Sayles also discusses his contributions to the script.

In “A Company of Werewolves” (16:09), the interviews cover main casting choices, and Dee Wallace Stone explains her rather emotionally draining approach to portraying her repressed character – ‘living in the moment' – which sometimes posed challenges for the director when the next scene was an emotional antithesis.

“How to Make a Werewolf” (12:20), the third segment, weaves through locations, the custom-made sex loop, and a ‘barnyard nudity' anecdote from Dee Wallace Stone. Picardo also does a dead-on Dante impression when recalling his dubbing work, and the director describes the rather loony communication difficulties with composer Pino Donaggio.

“I Was a Latex Werewolf” (9:38) offers more info on Rob Bottin's bladder-heavy makeup effects, designed and crafted when he was 21, using final and outtake material. The segment also features a brief video still of the late David Allen, who was engaged to design and execute a series of stop-motion animated wolves for a stalking scene and the barn finale.

Unique to the laserdisc, however, is an interview with Allen (8:48), who at the time – almost 14 years after the film's release – was still upset over having 99% of his work dropped from the film. On the DVD, Dante explains how an early screening for Avco executives revealed the stylistic and lighting differences between Allen's work and the Hora/Bottin material, and the raw footage sampled on the laserdisc makes it clear the integration wouldn't have worked. Allen's subsequent career included work for director Larry Cohen (“Q The Winged Serpent”), Steven Spielberg, and several Charles Band productions, but in 1994 he was still quite pissed, believing the filmmakers possessed “a disposition to the use of stop-motion” animation.

The last making-of segment, “Requiem for a Werewolf” (5:49) covers the brilliant poster and publicity campaign.

As with MGM's disc for “The Fog,” there's a vintage video featurette (directed again by Mick Garris), “Inside The Howling” (8:02), using 1981 interviews with Joe Dante, Patrick Macnee, and Rob Bottin.

Side B contains a deleted scene gallery (roughly 12-13, though the laserdisc contains an additional scene). The laserdisc also features optional commentary for all deleted scenes by Joe Dante. The Outtakes Gallery (5:19) is also lacking 6 bits from the laserdisc.

For the new DVD, MGM has fashioned a 5.1 mix that places the dialogue in the center channel, music and panned sound effects in the front surrounds, and a discreet, reverberating mono sound effects track. The original punchy mono track is also included. Unique to the laserdisc, however, is an isolated mono score track, which indexed all of Pino Donaggio's excellent music cues.

If you have the laserdisc – hang on to it – but the superior transfer and making-of material make this new DVD an excellent showcase for the kinds of successful horror films released by one of the industry's more prolific independents during the final years of drive-in exploitation cinema.

Followed by a hairball of sequels.


© 2003 Mark R. Hasan

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