The Howling (film)

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For the novel, see The Howling. For The Howling EP by The Phantom Band, see The Phantom Band.
The Howling
The Howling (1981 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joe Dante
Produced by Michael Finnell
Jack Conrad
Screenplay by John Sayles
Terence H. Winkless
Based on The Howling 
by Gary Brandner
Starring Dee Wallace
Patrick Macnee
Dennis Dugan
Christopher Stone
Belinda Balaski
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography John Hora
Edited by Mark Goldblatt
Joe Dante
Distributed by Avco Embassy Pictures
Release dates
  • April 10, 1981 (1981-04-10)
Running time
91 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.5 million[1]
Box office $17,985,893

The Howling is a 1981 werewolf-themed horror film directed by Joe Dante. Based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, the screenplay is written by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. The original music score is composed by Pino Donaggio. It is the first of eight films in The Howling (franchise).


Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a Los Angeles television news anchor who is being stalked by a serial murderer named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). In cooperation with the police, she takes part in a scheme to capture Eddie by agreeing to meet him in a sleazy porno theater. Eddie forces Karen to watch a video of a young woman being raped, and when Karen turns around to see Eddie she screams. The police enter and shoot Eddie, and although Karen is safe, she suffers amnesia. Her therapist, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), decides to send her and her husband, Bill Neill (Christopher Stone), to the "Colony", a secluded resort in the countryside where he sends patients for treatment.

The colony is filled with strange characters, and one, a sultry nymphomaniac named Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), tries to seduce Bill. When he resists her less-than-subtle sexual overtures, he is attacked and bitten by a wolf-like creature while returning to his cabin. He later returns to find Marsha waiting and the two have sex by the campfire in the moonlight. During the encounter, their bodies undergo a frightening transformation as they both shapeshift into werewolves during coitus.

After Bill's wolf bite, Karen summons her friend Terri Fisher (Belinda Balaski) to the Colony, and Terri connects the resort to Eddie Quist through a sketch he left behind. Karen also begins to suspect that Bill is hiding a secret far more threatening than marital infidelity. While investigating, Terri is attacked by a werewolf in a cabin, though she escapes after cutting the monster's hand off. She runs to Waggner's office and places a phone call to her boyfriend, Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan), who has been alerted about the Colony's true nature. While on the phone with Chris, Terri looks for files on Eddie Quist. When she finally finds Eddie in the file cabinet, she is attacked by Eddie (in his werewolf form) and tries to fight back. However, Terri is finally killed when she is picked up by him and bitten in the jugular vein. Chris hears this on the other end and sets off for the Colony armed with silver bullets.

Karen is confronted by the resurrected Eddie Quist once again, and Eddie transforms himself into a werewolf in front of her. In response, Karen splashes Eddie in the face with corrosive acid. She escapes, and Eddie is later shot by Chris with a silver bullet. However, as it turns out everyone in the Colony is a werewolf and can shapeshift at will without need of a full moon. Karen and Chris survive their attacks and burn the Colony to the ground.

Karen resolves to warn the world about the existence of werewolves, and surprises her employers by launching into her warnings while on television. Then, to prove her story, she herself shapeshifts into a werewolf, having become one after being attacked at the Colony by her husband Bill. She is shot by Chris on live television, and the world is left to wonder whether the transformation and shooting really happened or if it was the work of special effects. It is also revealed that Marsha Quist escaped the Colony alive and well.



Though the film has been noted for its semi-humorous screenplay, it began life as a more straight forward novel by Gary Brandner which was first published in 1977. After drafts by Jack Conrad (the original director who left following difficulties with the studio) and Terence H. Winkless proved unsatisfactory, director Joe Dante hired John Sayles to completely rewrite the script. The two had collaborated before on Dante's 1978 film Piranha. Sayles rewrote the script with the same self-aware, satirical tone that he gave Piranha, and his finished draft bears only a vague resemblance to Brandner's book. However, Winkless still received a co-writers credit along with Sayles for his work on the screenplay.

The cast featured a number of recognizable character actors such as John Carradine, Kenneth Tobey and Slim Pickens, many of whom appeared in genre films themselves. Additionally, the film was full of in-joke references (see 'References' below). Roger Corman makes a cameo appearance as a man standing outside a phone booth, as does John Sayles, appearing as a morgue attendant and James Murtaugh as one of the members of the Colony. Forrest J. Ackerman appears in a brief cameo in an occult bookstore, clutching a copy of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The Howling was also notable for its special effects, which were state-of-the-art at the time. The transformation scenes were created by Rob Bottin, who had also worked with Dante on Piranha. Rick Baker was the original effects artist for the film, but left the production to work on the John Landis film An American Werewolf in London, handing over the effects work to Rob Bottin.[2] Bottin's most celebrated effect was the on-screen transformation of Eddie Quist, which involved air bladders under latex facial applications to give the illusion of transformation. In fact, Variety claims that The Howling's biggest flaw is that the impact of this initial transformation is never topped during the climax of the film.[3] The Howling also features stop-motion animation by notable animator David W. Allen, and puppetry intended to give the werewolves an even more non-human look to them.[4] Despite most of the special effects at the time, the silhouette of Bill and Marsha having sex as werewolves is quite obviously a cartoon animation. Joe Dante attributed this to budgetary reasons.

Due to their work in The Howling, Dante and producer Michael Finnell received the opportunity to make the film Gremlins (1984) for Steven Spielberg.[5] That film references The Howling with a smiley face image on a refrigerator door. Eddie Quist leaves yellow smiley face stickers as his calling card in several places throughout The Howling.[citation needed]


Critical response to The Howling varied. In 1981, Roger Ebert's 2-out-of-4 star review was written in the breathless style of an old-time radio adventure script and described The Howling as the "silliest film seen in some time," but Ebert also said the special effects were good and the film was perhaps "worth your money, IF you get it two for one."[6] However, Ebert's television partner Gene Siskel liked the film and gave it three and a half stars out of four.[7] Leonard Maltin also wrote in his book 2002 Movie & Video Guide that The Howling is a "hip, well-made horror film" and noted the humorous references to classic werewolf cinema.[8] Variety praised both the film's sense of humor and its traditional approach to horror.[9]

The film won the 1980 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film (despite the fact it was not released until 1981). This film was also #81 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Home media[edit]

Shout! Factory announced plans to release The Howling on DVD and Blu-ray on June 18, 2013 through their Scream Factory branch.[10]


  1. ^ Gerry Molyneaux, "John Sayles, Renaissance Books, 2000 p 96
  2. ^ Joe Dante interview @ Combustible Celluloid
  3. ^
  4. ^ Joe Dante interview @ Combustible Celluloid
  5. ^ DVD commentary; Steven Spielberg presents Gremlins. Special edition. Warner Home Video, 2002.
  6. ^ Roger Ebert review
  7. ^ Interview with Siskel in Fangoria #15 (1981)
  8. ^ Leonard Maltin's 2002 Movie & Video Guide, Signet Books, August 7, 2001 ISBN 0-451-20392-5
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bloody Disgusting

External links[edit]