Released just four months before John Landis’ bigger budget An American Werewolf In London, The Howling was an indie success story that spawned seven follow-up films and three novels.
That success undoubtedly owes much to Rob Bottin’s extraordinary transformation scenes, and pioneering use of make-up effects and prosthetics. Surprisingly, The Howling was Bottin’s first solo project. He would later go on to work on on The Fog, The Thing, RoboCop, and Total Recall, while his mentor, Rick Baker, actually provided the effects for American Werewolf.
Impressive as the effects are, though, the enduring appeal of The Howling lies in its storytelling. Director Joe Dante, of Gremlins fame, is a master at combining horror with sly laughs and The Howling manages to be both dark and darkly humorous. There are no real surprises plot-wise: what pulls the viewer in is how the story’s told.
Star Trek’s Robert Picardo is especially effective as the unhinged serial killer. Dee Wallace, as the traumatised Karen, is pitch perfect. While The Avenger’s Patrick Macnee plays suave with menace so well that we’re left wishing he’d done more horror.
The latest re-issue marks the 40th anniversary of the classic with a brand new 4K restoration, which comes in 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, DVD and Steelbook editions. For those with a hankering to to know the technical details, the 4K 16-bit scan was made from the original 35mm negative. The image from the 1.20 negative was then cropped to 1.85 in order to respect the original format of the film projection. This is a restoration that took a few hundred hours of meticulously filtering in order to correct the defects related to the age of the film and to the wear of time—and the results are impressive.
The Howling is gory. There are some genuine shocks. And yes, there’s the requisite steamy sex scene. However, like all the best horrors what really makes The Howling a five star film is that it’s so unsettling. Dante knows how to keep his audience off kilter and, over three decades after its original release, The Howling remains a wonderfully unnerving, skin-prickling viewing experience. And, thanks to StudioCanal’s new restoration, the film is ready to be rediscovered by a new-generation of horror fans, who demand high-end visuals. In fact, commenting on the restoration, director Joe Dante said: “I can honestly say this 4K restoration is the best The Howling has looked since it came out of the lab in 1980— maybe better. I’m happy to have it back in circulation at last.”