Two movies from 1981 changed the sub-genre of werewolf movie forever with their (at the time) state of the art make-up effects by showing the transformation on-screen and mostly in-camera for the first time. The first to arrive in theaters was Joe Dante’s The Howling, finally making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory.
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Run Time: 1 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raySingle Blu-ray Keepcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/18/2013
After the success (of sorts) of Piranha, director Joe Dante officially graduated from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures with the release of The Howling in 1981 for Avco-Embassy Pictures. Based very loosely on Gary Bradner’s novel of the same name, the script went through various rewrites by Jack Conrad (the film’s original director) and Terrence H. Winkless, until Dante finally handed the writing chores over to Piranha scribe John Sayles. Sayles manages to turn the werewolf legend on its ear, making Eddie Quist (played by a very young and almost unrecognizable Robert Picardo) a serial killer who leaves smiley faces as his calling card, and satirizing self-help cults and repression therapy.As the film opens, Eddie has taken a liking to television news reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace), agreeing to meet her in a film booth at a Hollywood adult book store. As he begins to transform, the police arrive, shooting and (they think) killing Eddie, leaving Karen in a state of PTSD, having little to no recollection of what happened in the adult book store, with the exception of some occasional nightmare flashbacks. This is all having an effect on Karen’s marriage to her husband, R. William “Bill” Neil (Christopher Stone), and self-help author and psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends they spend some time at his retreat, The Colony. But things at The Colony are not all that they seem, and with help from her co-workers Terry and Chris (Belinda Balaski and Dennis Dugan), they discover the secret of The Colony at a great cost to themselves and loved ones.Dante and Sayles make a wise choice disguising the film as a film noir about a serial killer for the first third, building and introducing the various characters of The Colony (which include John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Noble Willingham, Elizabeth Brooks, and A-1 Steak Sauce spokesperson James Murtaugh) and the mystery surrounding Eddie Quist. John Hora’s cinematography adds to the mood of the piece, as does Pino Donaggio’s eerie score, while editor Mark Goldblatt keeps the pacing brisk. The showstopper, of course, is the werewolf transformation sequence designed by Rob Bottin using bladders underneath latex prosthetics. The effects still hold up today, for the most part, but the film comes to a grinding halt until the transformation is complete. Many of Dante’s acting repertoire are used to great effect, including Kevin McCarthy as the station manager, Dick Miller as an occult bookstore owner and werewolf expert, and Kenneth Tobey as a beat cop. Dante also has a great deal of fun with movie and other references, including naming many characters after directors who made werewolf films and sneaking props related to wolves into the frame (Wolf Chili, Wolfman Jack, etc.). Dante’s follow-ups to The Howling would be Twilight Zone: The Movie (where he and George Miller wound up stealing the film from veterans John Landis and Steven Spielberg) and Gremlins.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The 1080p transfer, compressed using the AVC codec, retains the film’s intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is a vast improvement over MGM’s 2003 DVD release. Colors are natural and not overly saturated, with accurate flesh tones. John Hora’s color palette is also well-represented, which was an issue with this film in the early days of home video. Detail is extremely good, allowing viewers to see the stubble on a close-up of Eddie Quist early on in the picture, and continuing with textures in the lush scenery of Mendocino and interiors. The crease in the wallpaper that Joe Dante points out in his audio commentary (from 1995) is even more evident in this high definition transfer. The print used does contain some occasional nicks and scratches, but these same anomalies have been present is almost every home video release, so they are likely built-in to the negative.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also an improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 track from the previous MGM DVD, but only in clarity and detail. Other than that, it sounds like the same master was used. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, reproducing mostly from the center channel, with some use of the surrounds for a little more than just ambience. Not a great 5.1 mix, but not bad for a low budget film originally mixed in mono. Unfortunately, the included DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track sounds like a downmix from the 5.1 track, and is not the film’s original mono mix.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Shout! Factory ports over all of the special features from MGM’s Special Edition DVD released in 2003, plus four new featurettes produced for this release.Audio Commentary with Director Joe Dante and Actors Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo: Perhaps one of my all-time favorite commentaries, this chat session was recorded in Joe Dante’s home for the 1995 New Line laserdisc release. The four joyfully reminisce about shooting the film in a brisk 28 days, working with many of the legendary actors, and other issues while making the film. However, I noticed that the track has been slightly edited, removing some insults thrown at fellow actor/director Dennis Dugan (he had just directed Problem Child when the session was recorded).*NEW* Audio Commentary with Author Gary Bradner and Blu-ray Producer Michael Felsher: Felsher more or less interviews Bradner on his writing career, taking time out occasionally to discuss the movie and how it differs from the original novel.*NEW* Howlings Eternal With Steven A. Lane (HD; 18:49): Executive Producer Steven Lane discusses his involvement (or lack thereof) with The Howling and its many sequels.*NEW* Cut To Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt (HD; 11:20): Goldblatt discusses his love of horror movies, working for both Roger Corman and Joe Dante, and his editing technique on the picture.*NEW* Interview with Co-Writer Terrence H. Winkless (HD; 12:32): Winkless discusses his involvement with the screenplay, and the changes made by John Sayles.*NEW* Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations (HD; 12:15): Sean Clark takes us on a tour of Hollywood and Mendocino to many of the film’s locations.Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling (upscaled HD; 8:01): A vintage EPK featurette on the making of the film.Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen (upscaled HD; 8:48): Another vintage interview, taken from, I believe, the New Line laserdisc release.Unleashing the Beast - The Making of The Howling (SD; 48:33): An in-depth look at the making of the film, originally produced for the 2003 MGM Special Edition DVD.Deleted Scenes (upscaled HD; 11:29): Taken from the New Line laserdisc, this set of deleted scenes includes optional commentary by Joe Dante.Outtakes (upscaled HD; 7:03): The film’s blooper reel, as it appeared on the New Line laserdisc.Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:28): The film’s original red-band trailer.Photo Gallery (HD; 7:02): A collection of production and promotional stills.Reversible Insert: Purchasers have their choice of the newer artwork or the classic, original poster art as the insert cover.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Shout! Factory comes through, yet again, with a stellar high-definition special edition of a film many thought would never appear on the format, by porting over all of the special features from the previous MGM Special Edition.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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