In the 1980s there were really only two werewolf movies that you talked about. Two that pretty much defined the genre, whose impact can still be felt today. One was John Landis’ superb An American Werewolf in London, and the other was Joe Dante’s The Howling.
Both were released in 1981 and both set whole new standards for creature effects with detailed and gruesome on-screen transformations. The Howling is 40 years old this year, and StudioCanal are commemorating this milestone with a new Blu-ray release featuring a new 4K restoration.
Our main character is TV anchorwoman Karen (Dee Wallace – Critters, Cujo) who, after a near-disastrous encounter with serial killer Eddie (Robert Picardo – Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate: Atlantis) is sent up-state to relax and recover at the private estate known as “The Colony” along with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone – Cujo, The Annihilators).
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At first things seem peaceful enough, but soon Karen is haunted by strange dreams, whispers in the night, and strange noises in the woods that lead her down a dark path. Is there a connection between this place and Eddie? What is making those strange howling noises in the middle of the night and why is her husband coming back to their bed with fresh scratches on his back?
There’s a solid cast for this film full of both familiar faces and Joe Dante regulars. As well as our main couple there’s also Patrick McNee (The Avengers, Super Force) as Dr Waggner, Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles, Dr Strangelove) as Sam Newfield, Dick Miller (Gremlins, Explorers) as Walter Paisley and Kevin McCarthy (Innerspace, Piranha) as Fred Francis.
The film is also full of little in-jokes and nods and winks to werewolves and wolves in general. There’s a scene in Dr Waggner’s office that has a picture of Lon Chaney Jr on the wall. He played the original Wolf Man in five different films. Waggner himself is even named after the director of the original Wolf Man film from 1941. In another scene Bill can be seen reading “You Can’t Go Home Again” by Thomas Wolfe. Seriously, look closely and you’ll find something wolf related in almost every scene!
The big draw for this particular release is the touted 4K restoration and it does not disappoint. There’s a bit of grain, which is good. You don’t want a film like this to be too clean. It looks great from start to finish, with Eddie’s drawn-out transformation scene both gloriously gruesome and fascinating, every bulging vein, every drop of saliva rendered with loving care. Rob Bottin’s (Robocop, The Thing) forty year old practical effects might not be quite as striking as they were back in the day, but they’re still a thing of beauty, and this release showcases how much detail and effort went into these scenes.
In terms of special features, the list is depressingly short for a brand new restoration release. There’s a 20 minute long featurette ‘Inside the Career of Joe Dante’, which is interesting enough. The nearly hour-long documentary ‘Welcome to Werewolfland’ is definitely worth a watch to see cast and crew reminiscing about the film during its 20th anniversary. There’s also deleted scenes and outtakes. The deleted scenes are… fine. You can see why they were removed, with none of them adding anything desperately important to the story, and the outtakes are a mixed bag of random scenes and actors flubbing lines. Your mileage will vary on how interesting you find these.
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What there isn’t, sadly, are any of the special features from either the 2013 or 2017 releases. No commentary tracks, none of the previous available featurettes or behind the scenes docs, and that’s a genuine shame as it means we’re missing out on such things as commentary tracks featuring Joe Dante, Dee Wallace and Robert Picardo, as well as an interview with the stop-motion animator, another documentary called ‘Making Of A Monster’ and more besides.
For a 40th Anniversary release, this feels like Studiocanal did the bare minimum. The new restoration is gorgeous, there’s no denying how good this film looks, but in terms of special features the only new thing that’s been added is the Joe Dante featurette. Everything else is either recycled, or straight-up missing. If you own a previous version there’s really nothing to recommend this one unless you are absolutely desperate to have the new 4K restoration.
The Howling is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD from Studiocanal.