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Howling, The: Special Edition




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: December 17, 2000

Released by: Image Entertainment | New Line
Release date: July 5, 1995
MSRP $69.99 (OOP)
NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: N/A



DVD owners have it good. Thanks to companies like Anchor Bay, Image Entertainment, Elite Entertainment, Synapse, The Roan Group and many others we're able to get some nice, high quality special editions of some of our favorite horror movies on the format we all know and love. But before DVD there was another optical disc that was in the hearts of many horror fans around the world - laserdisc. Laserdisc also have its fair share of special edition horror releases. Fortunately for DVD owners many of those special editions have been ported over to DVD, sometimes with even more supplements added. Special edition DVDs such as Evil Dead II, Phantasm, From Dusk Till Dawn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and many more have all come from past special edition laserdiscs. Sadly, sometimes the supplements from past laserdisc releases don't make it over to the DVD. Reasons vary, but it often boils down to money or legal issues. Often the studio releasing the DVD can't justify the extra expensive to license out the supplements from whomever originally created them (usually Image Entertainment or Elite, both of whom were big on laserdisc special editions in the past). One recent example would be MGM'sEscape From New York. The MGM DVD was released as a bare bones without the supplements from Image's special edition laserdisc. I've spoken unofficially to both studios and it definitely boiled down to money. They two sides couldn't negotiate a price that they both agreed on, which is very unfortunate. MGM is also working on DVDs for The Fog and The Howling - both have past special edition laserdisc releases, yet neither is scheduled to have the laserdisc supplements included on the DVDs. Fortunately the DVDs aren't due out till late 2001, so maybe there's still hope? MGM has promised to improve their DVD support, and I certainly couldn't think of a better way then to get those laserdisc supplements onto the DVD.

What we've started to do here at Horrordvds.com is review some of these past special edition laserdiscs that don't currently have special edition DVD releases. We started with The Frighteners: Signature Collection laserdisc, which, as far as we know, Universal currently has no plans to release on DVD. Now we're onto The Howling: Special Edition laserdisc, which is scheduled to be a bare bones DVD from MGM. Some future titles we'll be reviewing are The Fog: Special Edition LD, Bram Stoker's Dracula: Special Edition LD (Sony is working on an SE DVD, but it won't have the same extras as this Criterion SE LD), Escape from New York: Special Edition LD and many more.

This time around we're taking at look at Image Entertainment's Collector's Edition laserdisc release of Joe Dante's The Howling. Certainly it's one of the best werewolf movies ever created; it's the only one to get a special edition release (sadly, An American Werewolf in London has yet to receive special edition treatment, though we've heard Universal is working on an SE DVD). This CE LD was released in 1995 for an MSRP of $79.99 - an outrageous price by todays DVD standards, but back then this wasn't such a bad price for a special edition laserdisc. How does the set hold up to todays mega DVD special editions? Lets take a closer look and find out.

The Story

inline Image Karen White (Dee Wallace Stone) is a TV newswoman who's been contacted by a serial killer by the name of Eddie (Robert Picardo). Karen agrees to meet Eddie at a public location - a pornography store in the middle of the city. Little does Eddie know that Karen has teamed up with the police who are planning on using the opportunity to catch Eddie. But before police can determine where the meeting is going to take place, they lose Karen's signal. Karen goes in thinking the police will be there soon after, but the police only have a general idea of the area she's in. She enters one of the sex rooms as the back of the store; waiting inside is Eddie. Eventually he starts to attack her, but before he can do much the police arrive just in time and shoot Eddie dead. Karen has survived the ordeal and heads home with her husband Bill (Christopher Stone).

inline Image The nightmare may be over for the police in regards to Eddie, but for Karen it has just begun. She's haunted with visions of the attack to such an extent that she can't even make love to her husband or work in front of the camera. Karen begins therapy with Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who suggests she take some time off and go recharge her batteries at his relaxation colony up in the woods. She takes his advice and heads up to the colony with Bill. Meanwhile, Christopher (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski) - two friends of Karen's that are fellow news reporters for the station - begin investigating the trail Eddie left behind.

inline Image Karen and Bill arrive at the colony and start off their r&r by attending a barbecue the residents of the colony are having on the beach. Bill isn't much for barbecues since he's a vegetarian, but it gives them a chance to introduce themselves. The next day the two begin to enjoy themselves - Karen plays tennis with a friend and Bill soon goes hunting with the boys and catches himself a rabbit. He has Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), a resident at the colony, cook up the rabbit for him. When she makes a move on him he quickly pushes her away and heads back to his cabin. On his way back he's attacked by a wolf. He survives the attack but is left with some deep wounds on his arm. Between the attack and some noises she's been hearing out in the woods, Karen is freaked out. She calls home to Chris and Terry, who promise to come up and stay with her. Chris and Terry found many drawings wolf-like drawings in Eddie's apartment. During their investigation they visited a book store where they find lots of information on werewolf folklore. Terry ends up going alone while Chris tries to pitch a special on the life of Eddie to their boss.

inline Image Terry arrives at the colony and later that night she hears lots of howling wolves. As she begins investigating areas of the colony the next morning, she's attacked by a werewolf. She manages to escape into a nearby building, and has just enough time to call Chris and tell him what's happening. But before long the werewolf shows up and takes care of her for good. When Karen stumbles across Terry's body, she begins to discover the truth about the colony and many of its inhabitants. Now that she knows, can she make it out of the colony alive? Her only hope is Chris, who is on his way up with a pocket full of silver bullets. Will that be enough to stop a mob of bloodthirsty werewolves?

inline Image Director Joe Dante did an incredible job creating a very dark, scary, and unique werewolf movie with The Howling. Though I do prefer An American Werewolf in London, The Howling takes a very close second place. Certainly The Howling is much, much darker and scarier than Werewolf in London, but I loved Werewolf in London's wonderful story, special effects and the character development that really makes you care about the characters. While many characters are likable in The Howling, I didn't find myself caring for them as much. The effects in An American Werewolf in London are superior, but The Howling has the best transformation scene. The Howling also lets you see more of the werewolf throughout the movie which is nice.

inline Image The Howling doesn't go to the level of humor found in [bWerewolf in London, and as I said it is a much darker movie, but don't let get you into thinking The Howling is humorless. Not the case at all - there's a few spots of humor to be seen throughout the movie. One I enjoyed quite a bit is when Terry is being attached by the werewolf and she calls Chris on the phone. When the movie cuts to Chris you see that he's watching a big bad wolf cartoon playing on his TV. So here you have this tense moment in the movie when Terry is being stalked by a werewolf, yet at the same time a dose of humor is injected when you see this big bad wolf cartoon playing on the TV. It works nicely; it gets you to let your guard down slightly, which may weaken your defenses for what's to come. There's other humorous scenes too, but part of the enjoyment is finding them on your own. I can see where many people might enjoy The Howling as it mostly sticks to a straight horror movie, except for a few small jokes thrown in occasionally that are often not even noticeable. If you goal is to get scared or to scare someone else, I think The Howling does a better job with the scaring aspect.

inline Image I also like how Dante dealt with the characters personalities in terms of knowing that they were a werewolf. In most werewolf movies the characters don't want to be a werewolf and their only desire is to end the curse. These people weren't upset about it and they didn't feel like it was a curse - they act as if it's a blessing to be a werewolf. What it boils down to is that they're evil people that are shapeshifters. They enjoy hunting, killing and eating humans, just as many humans enjoy hunting, killing, and eating deer. The rules are slightly different here too. They don't only change when the moon is full. These werewolves will change whenever they damn well please - middle of the day or the middle of the night, it's no matter to them. All of these elements combined - wonderful effects, good acting, a good plot, and its uniqueness - make The Howling the classic werewolf movie that it is.

inline Image From what I hear, most of The Howling sequels are quite bad. I've only seen the New Moon Rising sequel, which I imagine is the worst sequel ever created in the history of sequels. I may checkout the other sequels though because I've always heard mixed opinions on them, plus it's always best to judge for yourself. But make no mistake, the two best werewolf films ever created were made in the early 80's - An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. If you haven't seen them, crawl out of the hole you're been living in and go buy them today! VHS, DVD or laserdisc - whatever it takes to see them.

Image Quality

inline Image Image Entertainment presents The Howling in a widescreen transfer in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The transfer definitely has its share of problems, and by todays standards it ends up being fairly weak. Colors are generally strong and nicely saturated, but there are several scenes where colors get a bit oversaturated. The image itself is sharp throughout most of the movie but during some of the nighttime scenes appear soft and lacking in detail. Grain appears in many of the nighttime scenes and a few daytime scenes as well; it's mostly light but a few nighttime scenes have very heavy grain. There's also a good amount of print blemishes - lines, scratches, dirt - that appear during various spots. There's also some video noise in the form of white specks that appear, but that's fairly minimal - you may or may not notice this depending on your laserdisc player and TV. Some players and TV have better noise reductions systems than others. As an FYI, my laserdisc player is a Pioneer CLD-D704 - one of the better models released - but my TV has no comb filter.

Obviously the transfer has a lot of small problems, but a lot of small problems equals a big problem for the overall image quality. Again, this is a transfer from a laserdisc released back in 1995; I imagine the transfer was remastered back in 1994. Not all that long ago but with the introduction of DVD, restoration technology - and perhaps more importantly, budgets for restoration - have dramatically increased. I still classify the transfer as decent and lets keep in mind this is certainly the best transfer for The Howling that exists today. Believe me, you won't be suffering as you sit through this - it's an acceptable transfer overall. The problem is when you compare it to some of Anchor Bay's recent DVDs of movies released in the same time frame as The Howling, you can't help realize that it could be dramatically improved. I'm rating this a C-. Lets hope MGM gives us a much improved transfer for their upcoming DVD of The Howling.

Sound

The Howling is presented in mono sound. Everything is clear and audible; I found no real problems with the sound. Obviously with a mono track there isn't much UMPH to it. As it stands the score is very enjoyable - it sets the tone of tension and fear, which I felt was effective even on the mono track. For purists will want to hear it the way it was intended to be heard in the theater, and that's exactly what's delivered on this laserdisc.

Supplemental Material

inline Image While the image quality leaves you wanting more, you're guaranteed to be satisfied by the supplements. First up is the commentary track with director Joe Dante and stars Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo on analog track one. Joe does most of the talking, which is probably expected given he's the director. Dee falls in second place while Chris and Robert are tied for last - they hardly talk at all during the commentary. Overall this is a great commentary with lots of useful and useless information on the movie and filmmaking process discussed. There's very few gaps of silence and Joe does a great job keeping you interested. There's lots of laughing and joking that goes on as well, leaving me with the impression that they're all friends in real life. On a sad note, Christopher Stone passed away just a few months after the commentary track was recorded back in 1995. After doing some research on the Internet Movie Database, I discovered that Elisabeth Brooks (Marsha - the main female werewolf) passed away in September 1997. Both died at relatively young ages so it's quite unfortunate.

Pino Donaggio's musical score is isolated on analog track two, which is a definite bonus as it's very trilling - perfect for a horror movie. Next up are several deleted scenes which include optional commentary by director Joe Dante. Nothing all that spectacular here, but it's nice to listen to Dante explain why the scenes were cut out - though for some scenes he can't really recall why. He also mentions some really great sounding scenes that were cut, but unfortunately he couldn't locate them to include on the laserdisc. One in particular I would've liked to have seen was one about a werewolf transformation.


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There's about 7 minutes worth of outtakes included. Nothing too hilarious actually, but you'll get a few chuckles here and there. After that there's an interview with stop-motion animator David Allen which runs about 8 minutes long. David explains how and why he was hired to created the sequences, how they were done and also talks about how the studio chose not to use them. He seems upset and bitter about the scenes not being used, but it's obvious why they weren't. During the interview some of the never-before-seen stop-motion sequences are shown and the werewolves don't look very good; it definitely would've intercut badly. They're definitely interesting to see though.

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Finishing off the supplements are some productions stills, the original script and the theatrical trailer. I don't really enjoy reading the script all that much, but I know lots of people who are and I'm sure they'll enjoy it. In the script are various sketches as well. All in all the supplements on this laserdisc are very enjoyable, and they're certainly something every Howling fan is going to want to own. Chances are most already do, but now that DVD in mainstream many people are just beginning to discover laserdisc and some of the many special editions that remain exclusive to it.

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Final Thoughts

One of the best werewolf movies ever that all horror fans must see! Check Ebay and Jeff's Used LD finder if you'd like to track down a copy of this laserdisc. While the video quality isn't all that great, there's lots of great supplements on the disc plus this is the only way to own a widescreen copy of The Howling, at least until MGM releases the bare bones DVD in 2001 (assuming it's widescreen).

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - C-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 2 Discs, 4 Sides | Sides 2, 3, and 4 CAV
  • Movie - 71 Chapter Stops | Supplements - 44 Chapter Stops
  • English Mono

Supplements
  • Commentary by director Joe Dante and stars Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo on analog track one
  • Pino Donaggio's score isolated on analog track two
  • Animator David Allen discusses his work on the film and presents his deleted stop-motion sequences
  • Additional deleted scenes, including the fabled hot tub sequence
  • Outtake reel
  • Complete shooting script. illustrated by the director
  • Production stills
  • Theatrical trailer

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