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The Howling is an American werewolf movie released in 1981 and directed by Joe Dante. Along with John Landis's 1981 horror/comedy, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is known for revolutionizing the werewolf genre for modern audiences. With this classic film, producers evolved the look of the werewolf beyond that of the furry gloves and latex masks used in earlier films. Dante's werewolves were more animalistic in appearance, with longer ears, extended snouts and canine fangs. The Howling was also known for its tongue-in-cheek humor as well, with several key characters who are named after famous genre directors. The plot centers around California news broadcaster and investigative journalist Karen White and her involvement in tracking down a noted serial killer known only as Eddie. A stark encounter seemingly ends with Eddie's death, but Karen is traumatized by the incident. At the behest of psychiatrist Doctor George Waggner, Karen and her husband go to the Colony – a patient outreach community which secretly serves as a haven for werewolves. Karen learns the truth about her attacker and finds that he is not only still alive – but is also a werewolf.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Plot[edit | edit source]

Eddie the Mangler[edit | edit source]

Beauty & the Beast

Karen White is a news anchor and investigative journalist working for Channel 6 KDHD news in Los Angeles, California. For weeks now, KDHD has been working with local police in their ongoing efforts to track down and apprehend a serial killer known only as Eddie the Mangler. Eddie, having taken an interest in Karen White, contacts her and arranges for her to meet with him. Karen becomes part of a sting operation to bring Eddie down. Wearing a wire, she goes to an adult book store where she is expected to meet with Eddie. Due to the excessive quantities of neon in the neighborhood however, the police monitoring her wire are unable to keep a lock on her position.

Eddie invites Karen into a private movie booth where he forces her to watch a graphically violent pornographic film of a woman being raped. He reassures Karen that the people in the film are "dead" and that "they don't feel a thing". Karen wants to turn around to get a good look at Eddie's face, but Eddie won't let her. He's not yet ready. Moments pass and Karen hears Eddie panting and breathing heavy behind her. His voice becomes gravely and he says, "Turn around now, Karen". What she sees horrifies her and she lets out a scream.

As luck would have it, two police officers are present inside the book store and hear Karen's screams from the booth. A younger officer draws his sidearm and fires into the booth, presumably killing Eddie. Blood begins to pour out from under the door as Karen scrambles away, screaming. Karen is taken away by the police and brought to her husband, Bill Neill. When asked about what had just transpired, Karen tells them that she cannot remember. She has repressed all memory of her experience with Eddie.

Doctor Waggner

Although she has blocked the memory of the incident from her conscious mind, her dreams torment her with images of Eddie and the violent rape film. Even her husband's touch sets her on edge. She goes to visit famed psychiatrist Doctor George Waggner. Waggner invites her to spend some time at a private retreat that he owns called the Colony. He has recommended the Colony to several of his patients who, like Karen, were in need of psychological therapy.

Karen's co-workers Chris Halloran and Terry Fisher continue to investigate the Eddie the Mangler case. They go to Eddie's apartment where they discover a room filled with animal pelts, fetishes and bizarre drawings. They peruse through a series of sketches which detail individuals in various stages of werewolf transformation. Terry finds a drawing of a landscape and wonders if it's intended to reflect and actual location. Chris finds Eddie's signature on the sketches and learns his last name – Quist. The two bring their findings to Doctor Waggner.

The Colony[edit | edit source]

Karen and Bill drive to the Colony and arrive there in the early evening. They are greeted by several affable men and women including Jerry Warren, his wife Donna, Erle Kenton, Charlie Barton, Sheriff Sam Newfield, T.C. Quist and his sister, Marsha. Donna Warren immediately ingratiates herself with Karen and warns her that Marsha Quist is a nymphomaniac and she may want to keep a close eye on her husband. While enjoying a bonfire barbeque, Karen and Bill notice elderly Erle Kenton behaving strangely. Repeatedly shouting, "I want to die", he tries to throw himself into the bonfire, but Charlie and Jerry hold him back. They tell Karen and Bill that Erle gets like this when he's had too much to drink.

In L.A., Chris and Terry continue to look into the Eddie Quist case. They visit the morgue to inspect the body, but when the coroner opens the locker, Eddie's body is gone. The interior of the locker door is mangled as if something were trying to break out.

Their research eventually brings them to an occult bookstore where they meet a gregarious proprietor named Walter Paisley. Paisley tells them all about werewolves and how they are invulnerable to nearly anything except for silver.

The following afternoon, Karen spends time with Donna while Bill goes on a hunting trip with Jerry, Charlie, T.C. and Erle. During the trip, Bill shoots a rabbit. T.C. tells him to bring it to his sister Marsha and have her cook it for him. Bill declines, reminding T.C. that he's a vegetarian. T.C. tells him that it's a sin to kill something that you don't eat and that Marsha would be more than happy to cook it up for him. Bill reluctantly brings the dead rabbit to the Quist cabin. Marsha cuts it up, but she has more on her mind now than just cooking. She presses herself up on Bill and begins kissing him. Bill pushes her away and returns to his cabin.

While walking through the forests, Bill is attacked. A werewolf leaps out from the bushes and bites him on the shoulder. He returns to his cabin where he is patched up. The following day, Terry gets in contact with Karen, who tells her about her experience with Bill. Terry agrees to go out to the Colony to get her. When she arrives, she and Karen see that Bill is feeling much better, but are disturbed when they see him ravenously eating meat.

Call of the Wild[edit | edit source]

The seduction of Bill Neill

That evening, Bill wanders back out into woods. He secretly meets with Marsha Quist and the two begin fornicating near a bonfire under the full moon. Both Marsha and Bill transform into werewolves during their sexual escapade. In the heat of passion, Marsha rakes her claws across Bill's back.

Marsh transforms during the sex scene

The following morning, Terry begins looking around the place and eventually finds the lake that was represented in Eddie Quist's drawing. She then finds the Quist family cabin and begins looking about. She finds more sketches similar to the ones found in Eddie's apartment. Terry now knows that Eddie is connected to the Colony.

Suddenly, T.C. (as a werewolf) arrives and begins terrorizing Terry. She tries to escape, but T.C. keeps coming after her. She finds a small hatchet and manages to hack off T.C.'s arm with it, thus allowing her the chance to escape.

Terry runs to Doctor Waggner's office and telephones Chris Halloran. She tells him about what she has discovered as well as the werewolf attack. Chris tells her that he is driving out there immediately. Along the way, he stops at the occult book store and picks up a case of silver bullets.

A werewolf attacks Terry

Back at the Colony, Terry encounters the very-much-alive, Eddie Quist. Quist is in full werewolf form and slaughters Terry, leaving her bloody remains piled on top of Waggner's desk. Meanwhile, Karen White awakens inside her cabin and sees Bill getting dressed. She notes the scratches on his back, but Bill tells her that they probably happened when he was attacked. Suspecting infidelity, Karen asserts that the scratches are new and accuses him of sleeping with Marsha. Bill responds angrily, backhanding his wife across the face. Karen furiously storms out of the cabin and heads for Dr. Waggner's office.

When Karen enters the office, she finds Eddie, who has now reverted into human form. Eddie wants to finish what he started in L.A. and begins the slow process of transforming back into a werewolf. Karen is stricken with fear, but manages to interrupt Eddie's transformation by splashing him with molecular acid. She then runs out of the cabin and tries to escape, only to be captured by the other werewolves and taken to an old barn they refer to as the Ritual Center. Waggner appears and Karen learns that he is also a werewolf. More horrifying, however, is the revelation that her husband Bill has now sided with the werewolves. Marsha Quist proudly informs her, "He's one of us now".

Terry's corpse

Chris arrives and goes to Waggner's office. He finds a tape recorder playing sounds of Eddie killing Terry. Eddie walks into the room. His face and body are severely burned, but he is otherwise healthy. Chris wheels around and levels his shotgun at him. Eddie gloats over his handiwork as demonstrated on the tape recorder and taunts Chris into shooting him. He learns only too late that Chris is firing silver bullets and Eddie's throat explodes in a gush of blood. He falls over, dead.

One of the werewolves in the barn

Chris arrives to find Karen and the other werewolves begin filing out of the barn. T.C. is the first to move forward and he begins to transform. Chris shoots him with his rifle and announces that he is armed with silver bullets. Jerry Warren doesn’t believe him and tells the dead T.C. to "get up". Chris then fires another shot into Jerry, killing him as well. The other werewolves now know to take him seriously. He forces them into the barn while Karen runs outside to Chris's car. He then locks them in and sets the place on fire. As Chris and Karen drive away, the others shift into their werewolf forms and claw through the barn doors.

Further up the road, Sheriff Newfield has set up a blockade. At first, they think that the sheriff might be able to help them, but they quickly discover that he, too, is a werewolf. Like with the others, Chris fells him with a shotgun blast. Several more werewolves descend upon the car as it spins away, but Chris manages to shake them off. One of them, Bill, tears through the roof and manages to bite Karen on the shoulder. Chris shoots him, and he falls into the back seat dead. As the two survivors return to L.A., Karen decides that the entire world needs to know what kind of monsters are actually out there.

Final Fate[edit | edit source]

Karen White transforms

Back at the studio, Karen prepares to make a special worldwide broadcast announcement to the entire world. She and Chris have something planned, but Chris is wary of their strategy. He asks Karen if she is sure that she wishes to pursue this despite her condition, and she calmly tells him, "Yes". She begins her announcement to the people around the world, and speaks about how there are secret societies in this world that harbor creatures that are neither man nor animal. With that, she begins to transform into a werewolf on live television. Once the transformation is complete, Chris, sitting out of camera range and still armed with his rifle, shoots her with a silver bullet, killing her instantly. Station manager Fred Francis orders his crew to end the announcement and put on a commercial.

Elsewhere, a group of locals sit at a bar watching the bizarre announcement. Some of them believe what they are seeing. Others think it's a hoax. One of the patrons orders a pepper steak for himself and a hamburger for his lady friend. When he asks how she likes her burger, the woman, Marsha Quist, still alive and well, responds with "Rare".

Notes & Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • This movie is loosely based on a 1977 novel by Gary Brandner. Ironically, it is actually the fourth installment in the film series, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare that is a more faithful adaptation of Brandner's novel.
  • The film was shot in just 28 days plus days of re-shoots.
  • Dee Wallace was so uncomfortable in the porn shop scene, the discomfort on her face can be clearly seen.
  • There were times during the making of The Howling when Robert Picardo was very despondent about the hours he had to spend in makeup. On the Special Edition DVD he remarked: "One day, after spending six and a half hours in the makeup chair I was thinking, trained at Yale, two leading roles on Broadway. My first acting role in California, my face gets melted in a low-budget horror movie. All the crew had to say to that was, "Bob, next time read the script all the way through first!"
  • Originally Rick Baker was doing the special effects for the film, but he left the production to do An American Werewolf in London. Baker left the effects job for this film in the hands of assistant Rob Bottin. Both this film and An American Werewolf in London were released the same year and both received praise for their makeup work.
  • Director Joe Dante re-used several actors for his 1984 horror/comedy, Gremlins. Dick Miller, Jim McKrell and Belinda Balaski all made appearances in both films. Robert Picardo, who played the role of Eddie Quist in The Howling also appeared in the sequel to Gremlins called Gremlins II: The New Batch (also directed by Dante). Ironically, the sequel to Gremlins also starred Christopher Lee, who likewise appeared in the sequel to The Howling called The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf where he played a werewolf hunter named Stefan Crosscoe. Dante however, was not connected to this movie.

Production[edit | edit source]

Though the film has been noted for its semi-humorous screenplay, it began life as a more straightforward 1977 novel by Gary Brandner. 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. Winkless still received a co-writers credit along with Sayles for his work on the screenplay, however.

The cast featured a number of recognizable character actors such as John Carradine, Kenneth Tobey and Wikipedia:Slim Pickens Slim Pickens, many of whom appeared in genre films themselves. Additionally, the film was full of in-joke references (see above). Roger Corman makes a cameo appearance as a man standing outside a phone booth, as does John Sayles, appearing as a morgue attendant.

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 the John Landis film An American Werewolf in London, handing over the effects work to Rob 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. In fact, Variety notes that The Howling's biggest flaw is that the impact of this initial transformation is never topped during the climax of the film. The Howling also features stop-motion animation by notable animator David W. Allen, and puppetry intended to give the werewolves an even more non-human look to them. Despite most of the special effects at the time, the silhouette of Bill and Marsha having sex as werewolves is quite obviously a cartoon animation. Joe 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 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. A second reference to The Howling in Gremlins comes at the end of the film when the TV anchorman Lew Landers (played by Jim McKrell) is shown reporting on the gremlin attack in Kingston Falls.

Deviations from the novel[edit | edit source]

The plot and characters of the film deviate from the original novel in many ways:

  • In the novel, Karen White is called Karyn Beatty. Her husband in the novel is called Roy Beatty (as opposed to Bill Neill in the film). Neither Karyn or Roy work in television.
  • In the novel, Karyn is raped by a man in her apartment. In the movie, she is saved by the police before she is attacked by a werewolf in an adult bookstore.
  • In the novel, Karyn's psychiatrist is only briefly mentioned. In the movie, her psychiatrist is Dr. Waggner who is a major character and a werewolf himself.
  • In the novel, Karyn goes to recuperate at Drago, a mountain village in California. In the movie, she goes to "The Colony", a health resort run by her psychiatrist Dr. Waggner.
  • Karyn's rapist in the novel is named Max Quist, and he is an ex-con who has no involvement with the village of Drago or its inhabitants. In the movie, Karen's (attempted) attacker is named Eddie Quist and is already affiliated with the Colony before he meets Karen.
  • Marsha Quist's name in the novel is Marcia Lura, a shopkeeper in Drago, and she is no relation to Max Quist.
  • In the novel, Karyn and Roy bring their pet dog with them to the village, which is killed later on. In the movie, they have no dog.
  • The werewolves in the novel are described as completely wolf-like, though larger. The werewolves of the movie are more anthropomorphic, and can walk on their hind legs, standing over seven feet tall.
  • The werewolves in the novel are never seen in the daytime, suggesting that they can only change at night. The werewolves in the movie can change at will at any time of the day and are seen in daylight hours.
  • In the novel, the character Chris Halloran is Roy's best friend. In the movie, Chris works with Karen and Bill at the television station. Karen's friend Terry (Chris's girlfriend) who also works at the station is not featured in the novel at all.
  • In the novel, Karyn escapes from Drago unscathed (though traumatised) and survives after being rescued by Chris Halloran. In the movie, she gets bitten by her husband who is now a werewolf, and later transforms into one herself on live television. She is then killed by Chris with a silver bullet, live on air.

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Videos[edit | edit source]

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