THE HOWLING (1981) Reviews and overview


The Howling is a 1981 American supernatural horror feature film about a TV newswoman who encounters a serial killer and is sent to a remote resort to recover from her ordeal.

Directed by Joe Dante (Burying the ExTrapped Ashes; Matinee; Gremlins; Piranha), the movie is very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, the screenplay was co-written by John Sayles (Piranha; Alligator) and Terence H. Winkless (future director of Not of This Earth [1995]; Twice as Dead; The Nest). The movie stars Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee and Dennis Dugan. Horror veteran John Carradine has a cameo role.

The original music score was composed by Pino Donaggio (Tourist Trap; Dressed to Kill; The Black Cat).

Veteran horror icon John Carradine howls


Severely traumatised by a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) takes time off at a secluded retreat called “the Colony.” But when, after nights of being tormented by bestial, bloodcurdling cries, Karen ventures into the woods seeking answers, she makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must fight not only for her life but for her soul…

Rick Baker was originally handling the transformation and werewolf special effects for the film, but he left the production to work on An American Werewolf in London. Baker left the effects job for this film in the hands of assistant Rob Bottin.

Jeff Shank working on a werewolf

Both this film and An American Werewolf in London were released the same year and both received praise for their makeup work. The Howling also features stop-motion animation by notable animator David W. Allen.

Both The Howling and An American Werewolf in London opened around the same time and there has always been debate as to which title is superior. In 1981 American Werewolf probably came out on top but over the years the reputation of The Howling has grown and is possibly now the more popular film of the two amongst genre fans rather than the general public.

The Howling spawned a series of largely unrelated, and widely derided, sequels. To date, the last in the franchise is 2011’s The Howling: Reborn.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“The atmosphere and setting, combined with the great casting and ambitious special effects, make The Howling one of those new classics that seemed to constantly crop up in the early ’80s; films that would set a standard that many makeup and filmmaking souls have tried to live up to since.” DVD Verdict

“As usual in Dante’s movies (Gremlins), in-jokes abound, from characters named after werewolf movie directors, amusing cameos (Corman, Sayles, Forrest J Ackerman), and hammy inserts of wolfish cartoons and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”. It’s best appreciated now as a quintessential example of early-80s horror, with low-budget limitations evident throughout, but The Howling remains a giddy genre milestone.” Jeff Shannon

Dee Wallace and director Joe Dante

The Howling is an absolute treat. It’s a werewolf movie, about people who know all about werewolves, for people who love werewolves. Fans can argue about which is best out of this and American Werewolf In London, but while I respect Landis’s very good film, I absolutely love Dante’s”. The Digital Fix

“Why is it that the Landis film tends to eclipse its rival? Perhaps it’s because An American Werewolf doesn’t force its humor as much. In An American Werewolf we find the gags outrageous yet slyly mischievous, while in The Howling the jokes are insistent and sometimes mean-spirited. The Howling is campy fun, to be sure, but not as rewarding upon subsequent viewing as An American Werewolf.” Movie Metropolis

Elisabeth Brooks in a promo shot

In 2019, PCS Collectibles was commissioned by Scream Factory to create a statue of the werewolf from Joe Dante’s The Howling. The PVC statue stands six and a half inches on its own and over nine inches tall with the base.

The standard werewolf statue, limited to 1,500 units, is available for $64.99 to order via Shout Factory.

Main cast and characters:

  • Dee Wallace … Karen White
  • Patrick Macnee … Doctor George Waggner
  • Dennis Dugan … Chris Halloran
  • Christopher Stone … R. William “Bill” Neill
  • Belinda Balaski … Terri Fisher – Matinee; Piranha
  • Kevin McCarthy … Fred Francis – Ghoulies Go to College; Matinee; Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • John Carradine … Erle Kenton – House of the Long Shadows; The Monster ClubHouse of Dracula; et al
  • Slim Pickens … Sam Newfield – The Swarm
  • Elisabeth Brooks … Marsha Quist
  • Robert Picardo … Eddie Quist – Mansion of Blood; Monsterwolf; Dead Heat; et al
  • Margie Impert … Donna
  • Noble Willingham … Charlie Barton
  • James Murtaugh … Jerry Warren
  • Jim McKrell … Lew Landers
  • Kenneth Tobey … Older Cop – Homebodies; The Vampire; The Thing from Another World
  • Dick Miller … Walter Paisley
  • Meshach Taylor … Shantz
  • Don McLeod … T.C. Quist

Blu-ray release:

On 9 October 2017, Studiocanal released The Howling on Blu-ray in the UK with the following special features:

  • Howlings Eternal with Producer Steven A. Lane
  • Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt
  • Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations
  • Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen
  • Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner