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(Special Edition)

The first time I saw THE HOWLING ($20) I really didn’t appreciate the film’s satirical edge; however, over the twenty plus years since the film was released, that aspect of the film has really grown on me. THE HOWLING pokes fun at the media in a rather biting fashion, as well as taking a few swipes at psychiatry and self help gurus (who now, ironically, dominate the late night TV infomercials). The movie also provides a bit of tongue-in-cheek approach to the material, by quoting directly from early werewolf movies and playing with the audience’s preconceived notions about the genre. Of course, the cherry on the sundae is the fact that THE HOWLING is a damn scary movie made even more effective by Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking werewolf transformation effects.

The plot of THE HOWLING follows the ordeal of Los Angeles TV newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace-Stone), who is traumatized after an encounter with a vicious serial killer. Although physically unharmed, Karen suffers amnesia that completely blocks out what happen to her in the moments leading up to a police rescue, which left the killer dead in a hail of bullets. With pieces of her blocked memories haunting her, Karen finds herself unable to function both professionally and personally with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone). Upon the advice of psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick MacNee), Karen and Bill go up the coast to the doctor’s private retreat/clinic call The Colony. However, The Colony proves to be anything but therapeutic for Karen, with the situation and other residents turning hairy rather quickly… The cast of THE HOWLING also features Dennis Dugan, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Meshach Taylor, Kenneth Tobey and Dick Miller.

MGM Home Entertainment has made THE HOWLING available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays (a full screen version is also included on a separate layer). The wide screen version of THE HOWLING is absolutely wonderful, as I have never seen the film look as good as it appears on this Special Edition DVD. Previous home incarnations and broadcast versions cannot hold a candle to the DVD release of the film, which sports a crisp and rather nicely defined image. Dark scenes, which have been a murky mess in the past, produce more detail than I’ve seen previously- furthering my appreciation for the film’s makeup effects. Colors are pretty solid and oftentimes appear pretty vibrant. There are some subdued looking sequences, but the colors never appear faded. Blacks are accurate, whites appear stable and contrast is good. The film elements used for the transfer displays some minor blemishes- not bad for a low budget film that is over two decades old. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed, even though the wide screen version is relegated to a single layer of the disc.

For this release, THE HOWLING has been upgraded from its monaural origins to a full Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix. While there are frequency limitations in these twenty plus year old recordings, the new mix proves to be both good sounding and rather effective. Surround usage isn’t in the same league as a new movie, but it is well implemented during key moments, which makes it all the more effective during those instances. One of the best aspects of the soundtrack is Pino Donaggio’s atmospheric score, which intensifies both the creepiness of the material and the shock moments. The score is nicely reproduced and fortunately lacks the brittle quality of some of the past incarnations. Dialogue is crisply rendered and is always completely understandable. The film’s original monaural sound mix is also provided on the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Animation and sound enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the nice body of supplemental materials, which have been spread across both sides of the DVD-14 disc. On side one, one will find a running audio commentary with director Joe Dante and actors Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone, and Robert Picardo. The commentary track was originally created for the Image/New Line Laserdisc release and MGM has wisely chosen to include it here. This is one of my favorite commentary tracks because of the party atmosphere created by the participants, who seem to be having a good time watching the movie, recounting their memories of the production, as well as goofing on themselves and each other.

On side two, one will find Unleashing the Beast: Making The Howling a forty five minute retrospective on the movie that has been broken into five separate segments that can be viewed individually or all at once. The program features new interviews with most of the principle players from the production and goes into fairly extensive detail on the making of the film. Making a Monster Movie: Inside The Howling is an eight-minute featurette from 1981 that offers a more youthful and abbreviated glimpse at the production. Also included is approximately ten minutes worth of deleted scenes and scene extensions- everything here would seem to have found its way to the cutting room floor for pacing and other valid reasons. Two theatrical trailers and a couple of still galleries close out the supplemental materials.

THE HOWLING plays exceedingly well as a straight horror movie, although over the two decades since its release, I’ve grown to appreciate the film’s satirical edge. MGM has done a great job with the DVD, offering the best looking and sounding presentation that the film has ever seen, as well as an excellent body of supplemental materials. If you are a fan of THE HOWLING or just a horror genre junkie, you will definitely want to own a copy of this DVD. Highly recommended.



The Howling (Special Edition) (1981)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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