The Howling  (1980) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Many of these popular 1980's genre movies have held up beautifully over time. This one has not.

Here are some of the problems:

1. This was the first major movie to cause a sensation with real-time pneumatic transformations. The people changed into wolves as we watched. Their snouts elongated painfully, their claws extended through their skin, their teeth grew before our very eyes. All the while, we heard cracking noises, as if bones were breaking in the transformation process. This was a spectacular effect that had not been seen before (the far superior An American Werewolf in London came a year later), and it was fascinating in 1980. Looking back from today, it looks only a half-step removed from 1930. In the years since this movie was made, we first saw the pneumatics done better for a while, and then CGI replaced it with far more realistic effects. 

2. They really didn't do much of a job on these wolf costumes. These "scary" creatures now seem to look like Wile E. Coyote.

3. The humor lost its cultural base. I think they were making fun of the newscasters of the time, by exaggerating their styles and idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, that can no longer be detected. To my eyes, the newscasts look exactly the same as the actual newscasts from the period, so I can no longer see the exaggeration they wanted me to see. I think they were also making fun of 1970's self-help gurus. Patrick McNee's character was supposed to be a send-up, but viewed from the new millennium, it just seems like a realistic portrayal, because we've grown way past this and we remember all of the actual self-help gurus as being just as obviously false as this guy. 

Several reviewers online commented that they expected the film to be funny, but felt instead that it maintains a dark mood throughout. Yes, it does seem that way now but, take it from me, it was considered a social satire when it film first came out, and many people found it very humorous. Here's what the legendary Pauline Kael wrote in her contemporary review:

"In The Howling, the gags are mostly asides and inoffensively smart-ass pranks. The spoofy erotic tone is closer, in some ways, to Love at First Bite than to the werewolf films of the past, but the Howling isn't as farcical."

Whatever cultural perspective impelled her (and me) to see it that way in 1980 is long forgotten. Without the humor it once seemed to have, and with special effects and costumes which once seemed spectacular but now seem primitive, the Howling simply looks to us today like just another cheesy werewolf movie with a few slick plusses.

I still enjoy the clever running gag of wolf-themed references. One character is reading Allan Ginsberg's "Howl", another is watching a cartoon on TV, and it's "The Big Bad Wolf". There is a scene from the Lon Cheney Jr. wolfman film with Maria Ouspenskaya uttering her famous words "even a man who is pure of heart ....." . Several characters are named after the directors of werewolf movies. The wolf references weren't really funny, however, just kind of agreeably campy, just the director saying "you know this isn't serious, right?"

I remember liking this movie 20 years ago, but today ... eh ... not so much. It hasn't changed, so I guess I have, or society has, or movies have, or all of the above.



  • Two versions of the film: widescreen anamorphic and full-frame 4:3.
  • Commentary by director and cast
  • "Unleashing the Beast": all-new documentary
  • "Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling" featurette
  • Deleted scenes, Outtakes and more


Elisabeth Brooks does a full-frontal nude scene in a lovemaking scene in front of a fire. As is often the case, the 4/3 ration version shows more skin, including the best buns exposure from Brooks.

Christopher Stone's butt is seen in that same scene

Sarina C. Grant does a full frontal in a fake porno loop, actually filmed in director Joe Dante's garage, long before the principal photography.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

A newswoman, Dee Wallace, is bitten while investigating a serial killer, but has amnesia. On the advice of her doctor, she travels to a special therapeutic colony with her husband (real life husband Christopher Stone). The colony is actually a werewolf coven run by a self-help shrink who is himself a werewolf. Two of her coworkers become suspicious and investigate. Meanwhile her husband is seduced and converted to werewolf status by Elisabeth Brooks. On the off chance you haven't seen this, I will leave the plot there.

Special effects were a cut above most of the films which came before it. The story was also stronger than the typical werewolf plot. It was a low budget effort costing around a $1M, but earned $18M, made a substantial profit,  and spawned several sequels. The Howling was loosely based on a novel by Gary Brandner, but deviated so much that one of the numerous sequels, Howling IV, The Original Nightmare, actually did finally adapt the original novel!

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2 
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash hit, but it took in $18 million domestically, and made money
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This film is a C, although I think it seemed better at the time."  Tuna says, "I have seen much more than my share of werewolf and "drugs suck" films, but this one was a quick, enjoyable diversion. C+."

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