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THE HOWLING

Region 2 (UK) Special Edition  -  Reviewed by Matt West

Director:  Joe Dante

Featuring:  Dee Wallace Stone, Patrick Macnee, Dick Miller, Elisabeth Brooks

THE FILM

Joe Dante is a director Iíve never felt comfortable with. Heís completely unable to stick to a single genre within one film. He always manages to mess it up Ė for instance Gremlins starts off as being quite a good horror/thrillerÖ but slowly descends into black comedy, and then back to horror again. The Explorers is terrific until the closing twenty-five minutes where it becomes rushed panto.

And then thereís The HowlingĖ at first seemingly a horror film but again it slowly lowers itself until by the end youíre left with a film so very confused that it even goes against its own werewolf rules. Oh sorry Ė did I mention werewolves? Well to be fair itís not as though one canít guess that there are werewolves in this film. Itís called The Howling, the posters have big claw marks and thereís an awful lot of howling going on anyway. One wonders, given all of the above, why Dante chooses to be so coy when it comes to his lupine creatures.

Iíve not seen this film in almost fifteen years and it really hasnít aged well. I used to love it, but watching it fresh now has made me realise itís really not the film itís remembered for being. The effects and make up are laughable and while one could blame that on the era, Bottinís work in Carpenterís The Thing still looks bloody good and thereís only a year between the two. The animated sequence looks worse than those in the BBC adaptation of Box of Delights and the werewolf transformations themselves are simply achieved by cuttingÖ no real effects work on-screen.

Itís impossible to put the film of a woman being raped in a porno house at the beginning of the film, and the final minute of the film together. What the hell is that all about? Iím not sure these two plot devices belong in the same film. Indeed, on the subject of sex Ė why is bestiality so readily acceptable in werewolf films?!

What you do have here is a rather nifty cast. While none of the main characters have any real background or soul to them, the side characters, as is typical in a Dante film, are well developed. Dante stalwarts Dick Miller and Robert Picardo turn up and actually deliver the best performances in spite of very limited screen time. Patrick Macnee is also on hand to prove once again that he really is only good in The Avengers. Add to that Invasion of the Body Snatchersí Kevin McCarthy, Slim Pickens and Robert Carradine and youíre doing well Ė but alas Dee Wallace Stone was not a good choice to lead this film. Itís a role which in my mind wouldíve been better served to the likes of Karen Black or Brooke Adams

THE DVD

Momentum have really pushed the boat out with some of their DVD releases, and are fast becoming the saviours of R2 DVD. This two-disc Special Edition is another fine release from the company.

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen format, slightly windowboxed to 1.8:1.

This is probably the best this film will ever look. Aside from being a slightly soft transfer (itís a twenty year old, independently-made film) the filmís is clean and free of dirt and looks superb. And why wouldnít it? The main feature has an average bitrate of a socking 8.3Mb/sec Ė not to be sniffed at. In fact while watching it throughout the film it frequently sits at 10 and doesnít move. (This does, however, include about 0.8Mb/sec used for foreign audio tracks - the R1 version, which has an average bitrate of 5.4Mb/sec, only has the two English tracks). Both the R1 and R2 discs feature English subtitles, but only for the film.

The layer change occurs between scenes almost exactly halfway through the film, at 44í14Ē.

The audio options are various languages, but English is presented in original Dolby Digital Mono (at 192kbps) or a new Dolby 5.1 up-mix (at 448kbps). I opted for the upmix simply because itís new to the disc and, to be honest, itís fairly inoffensive and very subtle.

THE BONUS MATERIAL

Momentumís release of The Howling is almost completely different to the version recently released in the US by MGM. This is especially odd, considering that Momentum apparently licensed MGM's bonus material for their release of The Fog, which was practically identical.

The most obvious difference is that the R1 disc features a fine group commentary track, taken from the filmís groundbreaking NTSC laserdisc release (it features Christopher Stone, who died in 1995).

Disc two of Momentum's release carries all the extras which, to be honest arenít exactly brimming, but at least theyíre presented on a second disc allowing the main feature to look as good as it can.

It seems clear from the start that Dante has had a lot of involvement in this release since the archive material is really rather plentiful, if a little worse for wear.

We have probably the most hilarious teaser trailer Iíve ever seen in all my puff: lasting a massive twenty seconds it really is everything a teaser trailer should be about. Thereís also a theatrical trailer which is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. DO NOT WATCH THE THEATRICAL TRAILER IF YOUíVE NOT SEEN THE FILM BEFORE! The final moments of the film are pretty much all in the trailer. Silly sods.

Thereís a photo gallery which, as with all photo galleries, I got bored with after five stills. The DVD format doesnít lend itself well to picture galleries. Perhaps itís my player, but the interminable pause as you wait for the button to react is a bit of a pain.

Then we have some Outtakes! This is quite rare for a film of its age. A twelve minute gag reel (to use the American parlance) which has its moments, if only to hear Macnee yell ďOh fuck it!Ē It does go on a bit and in a lot of cases the feeling is that youíre watching an in-joke which was probably a lot funnier if you were there at the time.

The Deleted Scenes last for ten minutes and, again, donít lend a great deal to the main feature. Itís quite clear why they were cut. However Iím not a fan of deleted scenes being presented in one big chunk, Iíd rather see them separated by a menu with some sort of explanation of why they were cut and where they belonged. This is like watching rushes (which is probably where the clips were sourced). In some cases the deleted scenes do not run in the same sequence as the main feature, so itís quite disorientating trying to work out what youíre actually watching. Among other things thereís an extended hunt, an extended group therapy sessions and a red hot bathtub sequence with bare female arse on show.

The main bonus feature is a fifty-minute documentary titled Welcome To Werewolf Land, which is a little overlong and could probably have been cut in half without losing too much information. However, the length probably reflects the lack of commentary. Several cast members participate but itís mostly Joe Dante who contributes. The documentary is chaptered, which makes a nice change, and also includes even more behind the scenes footage, not included elsewhere on the disc. The documentary is also the only place where youíll find any mention of the filmís many sequels, (apparently Christopher Lee apologised to Dante for appearing in Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf during filming of Gremlins 2).

REGION 1 vs REGION 2 vs THE NTSC LASERDISC

The fifty-five-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD-14 Region 1 release, Unleashing The Beast: Making The Howling, is substantially different to the one on Momentumís disc, although it features some of the same contributors, peddling the same anecdotes. The Region 1 disc also features an eight-minute contemporaneous featurette, Making a Monster Movie, which is not on the UK disc.

Both discs feature outtakes and deleted scenes, and this is where the Region 2 disc scores highly: it features a longer version of the legendary hot tub sequence (which, as I have indicated, turned out not to be quite as exciting as slavering fans had hoped it would be). The Region 2 version of the scene features some tame bare-ass nudity (from supporting actress Margie Impert). This was included on the laserdisc, but was mysteriously absent from the US DVD, perhaps at the request of the actress involved. The Outtakes on the Region 2 are about twice as long as those offered on the US DVD edition, apparently presenting the entire blooper reel as it was originally assembled. (It should also be noted that the Region 2 version retains some music on the blooper reel that was removed from the MGM presentation, presumably to prevent paying extortionate licensing fees, or because they simply couldnít clear its use).

Owners of the laserdisc version will want to hold onto their copies, since neither of the DVD versions feature Danteís commentary on the deleted scenes, or the eight-minute interview with special effects wizard David Allen, who created a couple of stop-motion werewolf shots that were dropped from the film. (Some, but not all, of the stop-motion footage is featured in the US DVDís documentary). These remain exclusive to the laserdisc version, as does an isolated music track that contained Pino Donnagioís simple score. Dedicated fans of the film will simply have to own all three versions!

Oddly, it seems that Momentum submitted more than three hours of bonus material for The Howling to the BBFC in October 2003, including the Fake Porn Movie clips used in the film, which the BBFC refused to certificate because they breached the Board's rules about material which "eroticizes sexual assault". The BBFC doesn't provide a breakdown for the rest of the material, other than to break it into chunks ranging in size from seventeen to forty minutes, but it seems clear that the Momentum didn't use everything they had access to.

SUMMARY

The Howling is a massive cult hit, and, if you like the film, you canít help but like the disc. This is what the DVD format is all about Ė a decent transfer of the film, original sound Ė and all the extras confined to a separate disc.

Momentum has done us proud, much as they did with The Hitcher, and Iím hoping they have plenty more similar releases up their sleeves.

 

With thanks to Stephen Foster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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