Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factorized: THE HOWLING Blu-ray ""

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Scream Factorized: THE HOWLING Blu-ray

It's been said before by me (many times, many ways), but Joe Dante is one of my favorite directors. Folks these days think of Scorsese and Tarantino as perhaps two of the greatest walking film encyclopedias ever. Dante is also such a tome. If you've seen any of his commentaries over at Trailers From Hell you get an immediate sense of what I'm talking about. To speak with him about movies, no matter how much you think you know about them, is to be intimidated by a man who has cinema virtually engrained in his DNA. Such a breadth of knowledge of film, in the hands of a director like Dante, helps makes him one of the best in my opinion. 

So I've watched a lot of Joe Dante movies a number of times each, but THE HOWLING is one I might have seen the least. I think this was my 3rd viewing of the film, but the last time I watched it was probably close to 10 years ago. This go round I was really quite struck by just how frightening and disturbing the werewolves in this film are. They are these 9-foot tall nightmarish dog monsters. Even today, more than 30 years after the movie came out, the creatures here still give me the willies. That really says something. It says something about Rob Bottin's masterful effects. It says something about the remarkable ambience that Dante creates. It also says something about the performances here(especially Robert Picardo's psychopathic portrayal which is one of the best in his career). I'm not typically all that scared of werewolves. The idea of them is obviously terrifying, but for the most part they aren't executed all that well on the silver screen. There's really a pretty short list of werewolf films that really get it right in my opinion.
Joe Dante is one of a handful of filmmakers who can deftly and successfully meld comedy and horror in a truly outstanding way. He says that horror cinema is much more effective when it takes place in some sort of a dream-world and that movies are just sort of dreams on film when you think about it. THE HOWLING is a perfect example of such a dream-world. Pretty much all of Dante's films have some element of fantasy to them. I think that's certainly a big part of what makes them so good. Dante really pulls you into the worlds he's created. Whether it be a creepy cul-de-sac in the suburbs or a Norma Rockwell-ish small town, he really designs a very specific macabre alternate dimension all its own. When you step into the reality of a Joe Dante movie, you know, almost immediately, that you're not dealing with the real world.This makes them all the more immersive. And Dante knows that you, as a viewer, know 'this is just a movie'. He embraces that awareness that regular moviegoers have and he plays with it. As I said, he's not only a great filmmaker, but also a passionate cinephile. He's aware of the conventions and tropes of a given genre and he perpetuates them and expands upon them. 
I love PIRANHA(which, like THE HOWLING, was also scribed by the great John Sayles), but I really feel like you can see Dante hitting his stride as a director with THE HOWLING. The film is dripping with atmosphere, subtle comedy, suspense and eeriness. One of the hallmarks of a great movie is that they have a certain timeless quality about them. Many of Dante's films have that timelessness. Even in the age of CGI we live in, it is really quite a remarkable thing that I find myself more affected by the werewolves in this film than in any other horror film in recent memory. It really is something quite special. I apologize that I've not really covered the plot of THE HOWLING so far, but as with most of my reviews, I'd rather you just watch(or rewatch) the movie for yourself. It's a werewolf movie and it's one of the best ones, that's all you really need to know.
As far as Scream Factory's Blu-ray goes, right off the bat, I noticed that the Avco Embassy logo has never looked better. The transfer is quite delightful throughout and the extras are plentiful. Many of them are ported over from the MGM special edition DVD release from 2003, but it's all good stuff. Hats off to Scream Factory for putting this out on Blu-ray. It's truly a classic of the genre and needs to be sitting on your horror shelf alongside AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and the original Lon Chaney WOLFMAN film. Spectacular stuff. 

THE HOWLING Blu-ray is available via Shout! Factory: 

P.S. - Joe Dante's most recent film THE HOLE is currently streaming on Netflix Instant and well worth checking out:

(photo taken and provided by Alan Toomayan)

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