THE HOWLING (1980)
Notes: Avco Embassy Pictures Corp. 91 minutes. MPAArating: R.
Directed: Joe Dante
Produced: Daniel H. Blatt
Based on the novel by Gary Brandeur
Karen White: Dee Wallace
George Waggner: Patrick McNee
Chris: Dennis Dugan
Terry Fisher: Belinda Balaski
R. William Neill (Bill): Christopher Stone
Marsha: Elisabeth Brooks
T.C.: Don McLeod
Eddie: Robert Picardo
Sam Newfield: Slim Pickens
Eric Kenton: John Carradine
Fred Francis: Kevin McCarthy
Karen, our intrepid television news lady, goes to a phone booth,which has a yellow smiley face sticker on it, in a seedy partof town to await a phone call from Eddie, from whom she has beenreceiving “mysterious phone calls.” They have beentrying to link him to some grisly murders in the downtown area. She is miked, but the people back at the television station losecontact with her and when Eddie calls, they don’t hear where hetells her to meet him. Her husband Bill flips out because nowthe cops can’t follow her.
Karen goes into a booth with a yellow smiley face sticker on itat the back of a porn shop. She sits down. It’s dark, and Eddiestarts a rape film for her to watch. He tells her, “Shedidn’t feel a thing, Karen. None of them do. They’re not realpeople her, they’re dead. They could, they could never be likeme. But you’re different, Karen. I’ve watched you on T.V., andI know how good I could make you feel. I’m going to light upyour whole body, Karen.” Eddie does some heavy breathing(panting?) and in a strange, slightly garbled voice tells her,”Turn around now, Karen, I want to give you something.” Two officers are looking for her in the shop as Eddie jumps her. They run back and one starts shooting through the door, killingthe unarmed Eddie. The porn shop guy says, “I knew I shouldn’t’a’ let that broad back here.”
Afterwards, Karen doesn’t remember what happened. At home shehas a nightmare while napping on her couch, and husband Bill comfortsher.
Terry and Chris, the cute unmarried couple who seem to be researchersat the station, follow a lead on Eddie’s identity, and the landlordlets them into his apartment. The walls are covered with newsclippings of the murders and weird drawings, one of which is aseascape. Eddie has signed all his work, with his full name. They take their findings to Dr. George Waggner for his professionalopinion; they’ve had him on a local show touting his book, TheGift, about man’s animal urges.
Karen isn’t feeling any better. Bill puts the move on her andshe pushes him away. Then her boss Fred Francis puts her on thenews because “everyone wants to see the lady who fought Eddiethe Mangler” and she flakes out on air. Francis says, “Whoknows, maybe she’s pregnant.”
Karen talks to Dr. Waggner about her problems, but still can’tremember anything. Waggner recommends that she come out to theColony, some communal living group he’s founded on the coast,to rest and relax. “I hope these people aren’t too weird,”Karen tells Bill on the drive up. The next shot is a close-upof Old Guy hollering. Everyone is on a beach at night for a barbecue. There is the obligatory giant-carcass-on-a-spit roasting overa fire. Most of the people are rednecks and loonies. Later inthe evening Old Guy starts muttering about how he “can’tgo on like this. Damn teeth are shot.” Bill meets Marsha,a creepy (in a beautiful way) lady who acts like she’s going tojump him at any moment. Meanwhile her creepy (in a backwoodsway) brother, T.C., is giving Karen the eye. Marsha gets madat Waggner, telling him to keep his book away from her brother. “You’ve done enough damage already,” she says, thenwhips her head around to give Karen a meaningful glare. Latershe’s still eyeing Bill when Old Guy freaks out and starts saying,”I gotta end it, I gotta burn, I want to end it, it justgoes on and on,” etc.
That night Karen hears howling in the woods. She wakes up Billand it stops; he tells her it was the wind. She can’t sleep andsits in front of the fire and hears something outside. She wandersout there with a flashlight to shine around. We get to watchher from the bushes. Then there’s a weird noise and she runsback inside.
The next day, Terry and Chris want to check out Eddie’s wolfmantattoo, so they go to the morgue. Eddie’s cubbyhole is emptyand the interior of the door is pretty battered.
It’s night again at the Colony. Karen and her new friend Donnaare sitting outside. There’s another weird noise, different fromthe weird noises of the previous evening. Donna suggests it’sa cow, but Karen says it doesn’t sound like any cow she ever heard. They take a shotgun and a flashlight into the woods and finda cow who has met a rather messy and violent end. The flashlightgoes out. The sheriff and some other guy show up and say there’sno way a coyote could have killed that cow.
The next day, the men go wolf hunting and take Bill, who isn’texperienced in this sort of thing. One guy says, “Who needsdogs? We got T.C.,” who happens to be running ahead of allof them and looks like he’s going to drop to all fours at anymoment. Meanwhile, Karen has a therapy session. Bill managesto shoot a rabbit.
Back in the city, Terry and Chris are looking for stuff at anold bookstore. The bookstore guy gives them some useful information. “Your classic werewolf can change shape anytime it wants,day or night, whatever it takes a notion to. That’s why they’recalled shapeshifters. They’re worse than cockroaches. They comeback from the dead if you don’t kill ’em right. Plus they regenerate. . . They may look dead, but bam! three days later they’re goodas new.” He shows them some silver bullets someone orderedand then never picked up.
Bill doesn’t know what to do with the rabbit because he doesn’teat meat. T.C. tells Bill that if he kills something he doesn’teat, it’s a sin, and suggests that he get Marsha to cook it. He watches her hack the fluffy bunny with a meat cleaver. Shekisses him and eventually he pushes her away. Walking back tohis bungalow, he’s attacked by something. He staggers the restof the way. Waggner gives him a rabies shot and advises Karenand Bill they shouldn’t travel so soon after the shot, so theyhave to remain at the Colony.
Terry and Chris are watching The Wolf Man when they geta phone call from Karen, who is flaking out again because Billwas attacked by a wolf. Terry heads up to the Colony. Karentells her that she thinks Marsha’s moving in on Bill. Later Terry,who brought the food, has forgotten that Bill doesn’t eat meat. Bill, who is scarfing down a leg of something that had a face,says, “I get hungry enough, I’ll eat anything.” Thatnight Karen puts the moves on Bill and he rejects her, blamingthe rabies shot. Karen has more weird dreams while weird noisescome in from outside. She wakes up and Bill is gone. Meanwhile,Bill is out in the woods and finds Marsha beside a large bonfire. They get naked amid much howling from the woods. Terry has ahard time sleeping with all the weird howls, and she gets outher cassette recorder to tape them. Marsha and Bill get trulybestial. Bill slathers some rather vile saliva. Marsha’s noisesof ecstasy sound like a car driving through a tunnel. Waggneris in his office looking distressed at all the wild animal noisesin the woods. Marsha gives Bill some love gouges on his back.
The next day Terry sits on the beach and listens to the tape. Bill wanders back to his own bungalow. Terry gets the rightperspective and recognizes the seascape from Eddie’s drawing. She heads back through the dark forest and sees a cabin. Watchingher from behind, we get a glimpse of a furry ear as somethingraises its head. She approaches the cabin, hears weird noisesfrom the woods and enters. We get a ground level shot of large,furry feet in the woods. Terry explores the cabin and takes picturesof the strange things on the walls. She sees a yellow smileyface sticker on a door and goes through. As she’s taking photosof this room, the back wall starts to shudder and shake. Shecloses the door and gets the front window open just as somethingbreaks through the door. She rolls out, grabs an axe that’s sittingnearby, and crawls up under the cabin. She’s pursued by the beastand chops off its lower arm, which pulses and writhes. She’slong gone by the time it turns into a human hand. Terry runsall the way back to Waggner’s office (he has the only phone atthe Colony) to call Chris. A clawed hand starts her tape recorderwhile she’s on the phone.
Karen wakes up from a nightmare. “Jesus, Bill, where’d youget those scratches on your back?” She compares Marsha toa bitch in heat and Bill hits her. Karen runs away.
Terry tells Chris what happened to her and says Waggner must bein on it. He tells her to look in his files for Eddie’s. Shefinds it and finally notices the werewolf sitting on top of thefile cabinet when he grabs the file from her hand. It chasesher around the office for awhile, then picks her up and looksat her for awhile, then takes a rather large bite out of her neck. Chris hears the commotion on the line and hangs up to call thesheriff, and then goes to the bookstore to buy the silver bullets.
Karen goes to Waggner’s office to use the phone. Terry’s neckis still bubbling when she arrives. She heads for phone and Eddieappears, in human form. He pulls the bullet which “killed”him out of his head and begins a very slow metamorphosis. Itsounds like rain hitting a tarpaulin or microwaving popcorn. It certainly looks painful; there’s lots of quivering, heaving,popping, stretching, and lumps rolling under the skin. When hefinishes, Karen throws some sort of corrosive substance at himand escapes.
Chris gets delayed at the gas station.
The sheriff and Donna’s husband grab Karen when she gets to hercar and drag her to a big barn, the Ritual Center where the Colonyhas gathered. Terry’s gory body is laid out. Karen runs to Waggner,who gently pushes her away.
Chris races through traffic.
Karen asks where Bill is, and she’s told, “He’s one of usnow.” Old Guy says, “We should’ve stuck with the oldways. Raising cattle for our feed, where’s the life in that?” Some other members of the Colony say, “Humans are our cattle,”and “Humans are our prey!” Waggner is essentially deposedas their leader. T.C. is bitter because Terry chopped off hisarm and it hasn’t grown back yet. Old Guy tells Waggner, “Youcan’t tame what’s meant to be wild, Doc. It ain’t natural.”
Chris makes it to Waggner’s office. The recorder is playing,covered in blood. He goes to the file cabinet, and the tape becomesthe recording of his conversation with Terry and her subsequentdemise. Eddie, looking a bit worse than before, surprises himand gets his gun, but then tosses it back to him, offering hischest for Chris to shoot. “Don’t you know anything?!”Eddie says, assuming the bullets can’t kill him. Chris shootsEddie, and he dies.
Chris runs to the Ritual Center and is approached by T.C. Chrisshoots him, and he doesn’t get up again. Everyone else movescloser. One guy says, “Silver bullets my ass,” andChris shoots him. Waggner closes in on Chris because he wantsto be shot, and Chris obliges. Karen and Chris lock the restin the barn and set fire to it. They stand to watch and reloadthe gun, then head for the car. The werewolves break out of thebarn and there’s a quick shot of Waggner’s face looking towardsthe heavens. They howl a lot, then attack the car. Karen shootsand Chris drives. The sheriff has blockaded the road and shootsout Chris’ tires. Chris shoots him and they run for the cop car. It won’t start and and werewolves paw at the windows. One breaksthrough the rear window and climbs into the car as they driveoff; it chomps Karen’s shoulder and she shoots it over her shoulder. She looks back and it’s Bill. Karen says, “We have to warnpeople, Chris. We have to make them believe.”
Now Karen is on the news again for an exclusive, eyewitness reporton that fire at the Colony. “Good evening. From the daywe’re born, there is a battle we must fight, a struggle betweenwhat is kind and peaceful in our natures, and what is cruel andviolent. That choice is our birthright as human beings and thereal gift that differentiates us from the animals. It is as naturalto us as the air we breathe, all of us take it for granted. Butnow for some of us that choice has been taken away. A secretsociety exists and is living among all of us. [Here she startsrolling her head.] They’re neither people nor animal, but somethingin between. They’re monstrous mutations with violent naturesthat must be satisfied. I know what you’re thinking because I’vebeen [more twitching] wh-where you are. And [I can’t figure outthis line], but I have proof, and tonight I’m going to show yousomething [her eyes look freaky] to make you believe.” Shescreams, which turns into a howl; her co-anchor runs away. Shelooks like the product of a union between Chewbacca and a Yorkie. Chris shoots her. The producer regains control and switchesto a dog food commercial.
Most of the viewers think it was special effects. In a bar wherethere is some dispute over whether it was real, Marsha ordersher burger rare. We watch the burger fry for the entire credits(if we have the patience), and then end with another scene fromThe Wolf Man.
This is pretty standard fare, with the good doctor trying to convincehis Colony that they can still retain their humanity, but apparentlyhe’s the only one strong enough to do it. All the others regressand take to munching humans again. The emphasis is on the inevitabilityof the reversion to their violent natures, and the way that savageryreinforces itself, making the slip irreversible. The specialeffects of the change are mostly convincing, but the finishedproduct is just strange. Their ears are huge, pointy things thatlook like furry party favors, well over a foot long. That isscary.
Stating the Obvious: Terry must be terribly near-sighted.