The Howling (1981)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
|Year Of Production||1981|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (44:50)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Joe Dante|
Universal Pictures Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.66:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes|
When I first saw The Howling around twenty years ago, it seemed like a reasonably scary flick. Now, either I have been conditioned to expect much more from modern horror films or perhaps I was just a bit more of a wuss back then. Either way, The Howling has not aged too gracefully and will present very little in the way of scares to anyone watching it in this Century.
Karen White (Dee Wallace, The Hills Have Eyes) is a television news reporter in 1980s California. She is working undercover to discover the identity of a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for murdering young women. When she sets out to meet with the killer in a private booth of an adult book store, she takes her life into her hands as the killer, Eddie, takes her throat into his. Fortunately for Karen, the police arrive in the nick of time, fatally shooting her psychotic attacker.
Understandably, Karen is deeply disturbed by her close encounter with Eddie and finds she is increasingly troubled by nightmares and flashbacks of the night's events. When she consults a psychiatrist, Dr George Waggner (Patrick Macnee, The Avengers), he suggests that she takes a week to recover her composure at a country retreat he has founded. Accompanied by her jock husband Bill (Christopher Stone, Cujo and Days Of Our Lives) she takes the doctor up on his offer, and heads out for a relaxing break at The Colony.
Meanwhile, back in the city, Karen's colleagues discover that the body of Eddie has mysteriously disappeared from the morgue. Initially finding the inhabitants a somewhat strange bunch of nymphomaniacs, buck-toothed throwbacks and crazed old men, Karen becomes even less enamoured with The Colony when local cattle start being slaughtered in the depths of the night. When vegetarian Bill is attacked by an unseen assailant - possibly a wolf - and starts scoffing down meat with glee, Karen begins to realise that there may be more to the residents of The Colony than meets the eye...
This film features some truly awful acting. There are endless pointed glares, classic double-takes and interminable pregnant pauses scattered through the movie. Even the occasional breast shot and gratuitous full-frontal nudity cannot save the film from being a poor also-ran in the pantheon of horror movies. The special effects depicting the werewolf transformation scenes were quite revolutionary at the time, although they were bettered by the make-up effects found in An American Werewolf in London, released the same year. Sadly, for every good effect there are ten rubber suits, hairy gloves and buck-toothed mouthpieces which let the side down. I laugh out loud every single time I see the climactic (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) transformation of Karen into the sexy little puppy-dog werewolf at the end of the film. This may be worth a rental for those who wish to re-visit a horror film from their youth, but for fans raised on more modern fare, there is little here to commend. For die-hard fans wishing to purchase the movie, the Region 1 release is far superior in the extras department (see below).
The overall video transfer of this film is adequate rather than exemplary - even for a movie which is over twenty years old.
The movie is presented in a measured 16x9 enhanced aspect ratio of 1.81:1, which is rather wider than the original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio.
There is some grain and pixelization of background information present from time to time but it is not too annoying given the age of the film. The sharpness of the image varies quite a lot through the film, depending on the location of the scene. Some close up shots can be surprisingly sharp, yet at the same time muddy backgrounds and speckly outdoor scenes are never too far away.
Shadow detail is somewhat limited at times, with the picture descending into impenetrable blackness a little too quickly for my liking. The black levels themselves are quite deep and are free from significant low level noise. Colours vary a little through the film too, from being surprisingly vivid and well rendered to a little subdued and mushy. Skin tones are fine throughout.
The transfer has no major MPEG artefacts. I noticed no instances of aliasing on my (progressive scan) system and whilst there is some edge enhancement evident on occasion, it is usually quite minor and never distracting. There is some very noticeable telecine wobble during the opening title sequence but it I did not notice it once the action began.
This is mainly a clean enough transfer given its age, but there are some noticeable scratches and flecks particularly later in the film.
Sadly, there are no subtitles available.
This is a single sided, dual layered (RSDL) disc with the brief and very well placed (cropping up at a scene transition) layer change at 44:50.
The audio quality of this disc is mildly impressive, given that the source material was glorious mono. It does not hold a candle to modern day multi-channel soundtracks, however.
There is a sole English audio track present, which is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 kbps. The audio track has no major defects in the way of hiss, pops or dropouts but the fidelity of the sound is somewhat limited. Whilst the re-mix into multiple channels does provide a surround presence, there is a generally tinny, hollow sound to much of the audio. It really does sound much older than it actually is - the dialogue and music in particular cannot escape that lightweight mono feel, despite what the surround channels are doing. Dialogue was generally clear throughout - although I found Dee Wallace mumbled her lines on several occasions, this is not a fault of the transfer. I noticed no issues with audio sync.
The music is credited to Pino Donaggio and it is fairly awful. There is a very dated feel to the music and it feels somewhat formulaic - stabbing strings and the odd freaky choral effort. There are some really incongruous music segments in the film, too - the jaunty music played during the hunting scene around 34:00 just does not fit the mood of the flick at all. What with the tinny music and the actors' dated costumes and hairstyles it almost feels like a low budget pornographic movie at times.
The front soundstage is fairly satisfying and here the audio transfer has managed to extract a fair amount of separation and energy from the old mono track. The Foley effects are quite impressive - although possibly mixed a little too loudly relative to the dialogue. As mentioned above, there remains a decidedly low-fi feel to the dialogue and the awfully tinny music.
The remix into 5.1 channels does see fairly frequent use of the surround channels, but personally I felt they added little value to the overall audio feel. Sure, there is noise coming from the speakers but it adds nothing significant in the way of directionality or localisation of effects. You have to applaud the effort to provide a 5.1 track, but I suspect you simply cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
My subwoofer detected a bass signal pretty well throughout the film. I must admit to not noticing it myself! There is a hollow, toppy feel to the audio and certainly I noticed nothing in the way of true low frequency effects. Certainly there is nothing whatsoever to challenge your subwoofer here.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are no extras present.
The main menu is a very nicely animated sequence of scary clips from the film accompanied by a loop of scary audio. It allows the options of playing the feature or selecting one of sixteen chapter stops. The chapter selection menu also features some very nice animated clips.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 (Special Edition) of this DVD includes some substantial extra features.
The Region 4 release misses out on:
The Region 1 release wins hands down I'm afraid.
The Howling is a rather mediocre 1980s attempt at horror which has not aged gracefully. Compare this to An American Werewolf in London which was released the same year and you will see what I mean. There are still some fairly ground-breaking (for the time) special effects, but they are coupled with some hokey puppets and hairy rubber gloves which really let the film down. Basically a couple of decent transformation scenes cannot make up for the dire acting and limited suspense which the film manages to invoke. Possibly worth a purchase for dedicated fans of the film, but more recommended as a rental for those who wish to revisit a scary movie from their youth, or who wish to see just how far horror has progressed in the twenty-odd years since this film was released.
The video quality is fairly good for such an old movie.
The audio quality is reasonable, but despite the 5.1 surround mix it still sounds quite tinny on occasion.
The extras are missing, presumed eaten by a horde of werewolves.
|DVD||Harmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output|
|Display||Sanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES|
|Speakers||JensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer|