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The Howling (1981): A Retrospective 40 Years On

The figure of the werewolf habitually ignites a viscerally violent vision of one’s own inner self; bestial, carnalous and rage filled. The werewolf is a staple in the long list of monsters that has been constructed throughout time, with its counterparts being vampires, ghouls, witches, and zombies (all continuously appearing in the Halloween costume aisles for years).

The significant prevalence of the creature of the wolf has lied within mythology dating back to ancient paganist times. This rurality and earthliness that the werewolf obtains in defying against systematic patriarchalism only contributes to the enhancement of the monster. 

The generalized mythology of werewolves is one that has injected itself into horror for decades now, with Universal Pictures releasing Werewolf of London (Stuart Walker, 1935), followed by The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941). Through early cinema acknowledging the transgressive nature of werewolves, the monster has adapted and has become rather indispensable within horror. One film that entirely embraces the creature’s violation of societal norms is Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981). 

The Howling follows Karen (Dee Wallace), a television news anchor who travels to a secluded resort (known as the ‘Colony’) with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) to treat her amnesia after a brutal attack. At first glance the Colony is a scenic place of calmful bliss, where Karen can heal from her trauma. However, little do they know  the resort is inhabited by bloodthirsty werewolves. Dante’s reputation for ‘over the top’, comedy filled horror’s began in 1978 with Piranha.

Although many audiences at the time were slightly dissatisfied with the aim of creating a purpose built b-movie, retrospectively Piranha is beloved as a cult classic. The Howling which was adapted from a 1977 poem written by Gary Brandner deters almost entirely from its source material, but the drifting certainly works in its favour. Rather than sticking to the basis of the poem, Dante along with writer John Sayles concocted a self-aware script brimming with a heavy satirical attitude. 

Forty years after its release the film still has a good bite. The lashing’s of referential nods to cinema is a delight to watch, as many characters are named after directors who dipped into lycanthropic films including The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) creator Terence Fisher. Besides those more obvious inner jokes is a series of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments such as Dante’s inclusion of the book Howl (Allen Ginsberg) on the counter, as well as wolf based artwork featuring throughout the Colony. Matching the witty gags is the overt exposition of dramatic themes such as assault, trauma, adultery, violence, and perversion. But instead of presenting the film as a crucifying tale of sorrow and cruelty, Dante paints the scene in an entertaining yet aware tone. 

The Howling stays true to 1980s horror, as the above mentioned pinnacle points are enveloped in spontaneously fun scenes. The iconic scene featuring Bill and the nymphomaniac werewolf Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks) ‘making the beasts with two backs’ exudes a prominent animalistic energy that werewolves are known for. Their joint transfiguration into their true wolf form symbolically stands for the breaking of bodily barriers that mere humans are physically incapable of performing. The Howling focuses on glamorizing the viciousness of werewolves; they can transgress further than any other being ever could. To a certain extent they allow their darkest urges to take over, through baring their fur and erecting their claws.

Although The Howling embraces this Freudian concept of inner identity, Dante refuses to succumb to pure psychology. We do not feel as if we are watching a harrowing tale of bestial passion, but instead a zealous exploration into horror’s most entertaining creature

The Howling creates this amusing aesthetic through its quick pacing and energy that certainly packs a punch. Each scene bounces to the next in a successful attempt to avoid a moment of dullness. Accompanying the lively stride that Dante infuses throughout is the noteworthy practical effects that still hold up to this day. Despite the marvellous technology that allows for filmmakers to have great freedom in their films, there is something very special about old school practical makeup effects that take centre stage.

The character design of the werewolves focuses on exaggerating their hunched backs, long tails, matted fur and signature facial features. The creatures of the Colony were made at the hands of Rob Bottin. Across his career Bottin has worked with John Carpenter on The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982), and has received a Special Achievement Award at the 1991 Academy Awards. Bottin had to take over from Rick Baker after he left production to work on An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981), despite this brief setback Bottin excelled in creating graphically gruesome beasts. One particular look that remains acclaimed to this day is the transformation of Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). His metamorphosis into a werewolf avoided the use of camera tricks and relied upon creative ploys such as employing the use of ‘air bladder’ effects to give the illusion of flesh swelling and bursting. 

The Howling went on to produce a further seven films, all following a similar basis. The future of the franchise is still being developed as Netflix has joined forces with Andy Muschietti (It) to create a direct remake of the 1981 film. Not much can be said for the various sequels as they are all missing that certain spark that Dante so perfectly captured in the original. It is difficult to pinpoint what allows The Howling to still hold onto its success a whole forty years later, perhaps it was Dante’s unique take on creating a bizarre land of misfit scenarios, or even the film’s moving storyline that is still relevant. But one thing is for sure, it’s hard to come across a werewolf film so embellished in meaning, whilst also relishing in pure bloodshed and chaos! 

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2021 Film Festival

Brain Freeze

A fertilizer used in a rich gated community becomes the source of a genetic mutation that transforms its residents into zombies. Can a teenager and his baby sister break free from the quarantined island before turning into grass?
Director: Julien Knafo
Writer: Julien Knafo
Stars: Iani Bédard, Roy Dupuis, Marianne Fortier
Categories
2021 Film Festival

Wyvern Hill

A series of Gruesome killings is shaking Herefordshire. Beth, a mother in her sixties is showing signs of early Alzheimer. Worried about her, her daughter Jess and son in law Connor, try to find a way to help her. Together they purchase an old house on Wyvern Hill so that she can move in with them and be looked after. However, her symptoms and slow loss of reality render Beth unable to realize that something has moved in with her, observing her every move and preparing in the darkness of Wyvern Hill.
Director: Jonathan Zaurin
Writer: Keith Temple
Stars: Ayvianna Snow, Pablo Raybould, Ben Manning
Categories
2021 Film Festival

Censor

After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid, a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality.

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Writer: Prano Bailey-BondAnthony Fletcher
Stars: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley ,Nicholas Burns
Categories
2021 Film Festival

The August club

Stuck in a small town with nothing to do, only each other to hang out with, the holidays are shaping up to be a drag for Jack and Noah. Until bullies dare them to visit a creepy house to steal something to prove how tough they are. Director: Daniel Richardson Writer: Daniel Richardson Stars: Jacob Anderton, Lucas Byrne, D.G. Foster, James Grainger, Jack Johnston, David Lavery, Victoria Monaghan, Michele Plews, Ben Roberts, Wayne Thompson
Categories
2021 Film Festival

Zomblogalypse

Feature length adaptation of the cult British zom-com web series following the adventures of three inept survivors of a zombie apocalypse through a video blog they maintain to ease the boredom of day to day survival.

 

Directors: Hannah Bungard, Tony Hipwell, Miles Watts

Writers: Hannah Bungard,Tony Hipwell, Miles Watts

Stars: Joanne Mitchell, Andrew Dunn, Lyndsey Craine, Andrina Carroll, Alan Melikdjanian, Gemma-Louise Keane, Tony Hipwell, Miles Watts, Victoria Delaney, Jennifer Jordan, Richard Massara, Hannah Bungard, Serena Stampfer, Lucy Simpson, Jonny White, Lisa Dixon, Keir Brown, Lindsay Whitwell, Neil K. Smith, Antoni McVay, Donna Sayce, Anna Rogers, Adam Greenwood, Mark Newby, Nick Lamming, Peter Wookie, Arron Dennis, Paul Toy, Peet Torjussen, Cheryl Ashcroft, John Holt-Roberts

Categories
2021 Film Festival

Followers

A struggling social media influencer discovers the house he shares is haunted. The ghost brings him and his friends fame and fortune, but with deadly consequences.

 

Director: Marcus Harben

Writer: Marcus Harben

Stars: Harry Jarvis, Loreece Harrison, Nina Wadia

Categories
2021 Film Festival

From Dusk Till Dawn

Two criminals and their hostages unknowingly seek temporary refuge in a truck stop populated by vampires, with chaotic results.

Director Robert Rodriguez

Writers Robert Kurtzman(story) Quentin Tarantino(screenplay)

Stars Harvey KeitelGeorge ClooneyJuliette Lewis

Categories
2021 Film Festival

Red Snow

A struggling vampire romance novelist must defend herself against real-life vampires during Christmas in Lake Tahoe.

Director Sean Nichols Lynch

Writer Sean Nichols Lynch

Stars Dennice CisnerosNico BellamyLaura Kennon

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Reviews

Review: Fear Street Part Three: 1666

In a bold move Fear Street Part Three: 1666 travels back in time to the 1600s, a period plagued by witch trials that saw countless women being executed due to falsified mass hysteria. Although the Fear Street trilogy prefers to stay on the slasher path, the inclusion of bygone times inserted a rich narrative history that prevented the film from falling flat and suffering from a shallow ending

Fear Street: 1666 begins where we left off in Part Two: 1978, as Deena (in 1994 present time) is shown the real story of Shadyside’s local legend Sarah Fier, a witch who was hung from a tree and cursed the soil beneath the town. Across the flashback we see Fier and her brother Henry live peacefully in a small settlement known as Union, which would go on to be the grounds of Sunnyvale and Shadyside. The commune is bound by archetypal laws surrounding pilgrim beliefs, therefore when the local pastor suddenly kills the town’s children the sole cause of his madness must be down to witchcraft. To make matters more damning, Fier and the pastor’s daughter Hannah begin a forbidden affair, thus enforcing the belief that they are the dark force behind the pastor’s breakdown. 

FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (Pictured) KIANA MADEIRA as SARAH FIER. NETFLIX © 2021

The film divulges a heavy subplot surrounding Fier’s actual lack of malice and the conceited misfire concerning her execution. Fear Street: 1666 is laden with bolshy twists that are not afraid of bullying the audience into submissiveness. If we were to write down the story beats and major plot twists it would be a convulsed mess. But director Leigh Janiak makes it work, mostly due to the impeccable set design that has every intention to immerse us into the world of Fear Street, but also primarily due to the thoroughly written characters whose arcs never become dull, or predictable. However, this riveting grab that these characters have on us wouldn’t be as strong if it was not for the striking performances

At the end of 1978 the preview revealed that the land of Union would be made up of characters who we’ve already seen throughout the previous films. They would be playing their ancestral versions of themselves. Upon first glance I was not entirely enthusiastic about this idea as truly I was excited to see some fresh faces, nevertheless, Kiana Madeira (Deena), Ashley Zukerman (Nick), Gillian Jacobs (Ziggy), Olivia Scott Welch (Sam), and Benjamin Flores Jr. (Josh) all took to their roles with ease. The same thing however cannot be said for the abominable Irish accents that they had to put on. Though I’ve decided to pardon that, as I suppose you could say that the dialect tone could be a translation of early settlement accents? Yeah, we’ll go with that… 

FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 – McCABE SLYE as MAD THOMAS. Cr: Netflix © 2021

Moving on, the pacing thrives across the first act, and as we reach a good bubbling point of tension towards the middle, the film does a 180 and reverts us back to the present (1994), with the title card simply reading 1994 Part II. It certainly came as a shock as the narrative was very much on a roll. But, the disappointment over an abrupt halt soon diminishes as 1994 Part II brings a whole new outlook to the series.

Across the first two films and most of 1666, the plot mainly relied on the mystery of events, with the story encompassing the history of Shadyside, as well as how to defeat the curse, how to get Sam back, and how to put Fier’s rage to rest. 1994 Part II decides to not wallow in the copious ‘hows?’ Instead it finally dishes out the answers and exposes the secrets we’ve been waiting for this whole time. Coupled with the long-awaited revelations is 1994’s aesthetic that focuses on encapsulating 90s iconography through stylizing nearly every scene in vivid neon lighting and having the final battle be in a mall. Although the second half is a visual world away from the earthy land of Union the juxtaposition works and keeps the setting very exciting.

Across the Fear Street trilogy Janiak has had no issue in cementing an intrinsically rich backstory that undoubtedly anchors on the marriage between patriarchy and sorrow. Without divulging into spoilers, Fier’s death was not as simple as a hanging due to witchcraft, alternatively, her demise was met thanks to the Union’s fear of emasculation and the creation of marginalised groups. Furthering the tone of malevolent connotations of good natured people perceived as evil is the Fear Street killers. 

1994 and 1978 established that these gruesome murderers did not transform into immoral beings on their own, they were possessed and unaware of their actions. Essentially the turn of their possession resulted in their death as if their skin was a suit in which corruption could flourish in disguise. The caring Tommy who turned into the Camp Nightwing murderer was not consciously committing these acts, neither were Ruby Lane, and Ryan Torres (Skull Mask). These disempowered beings were convicted for no fault of their own, similarly to Fier’s fatal end. 

The opinion that modern horror cinema is soaked with faults is one that I do not agree with. In fact, there are countless films that will still be discussed in years to come that have only been recently released. The Fear Street trilogy proves that the nostalgic spark that many are unable to find in newer horror films is achievable once again. The trilogy may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly was to mine. Everything from the timing of the releases, down to the quintessential details was exemplary, and I will sorely miss not being able to get a new slice of Fear Street every Friday.

This weeks article comes via Grace from Film Overload, you can check out more of her work here.