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The Howling - A franchise with bite
By James Whittington, Sunday 28th January 2018

Based on Gary Bradner's novel of the same name, The Howling is one of those werewolf movies that dared to be more vicious than its predecessors and yet still retained a more traditional tone. Horror is proud to be showing this classic on Saturday 3rd February as part of our Season of the Wolf, so here's a quick timeline of The Howling franchise and personal opinions of the movies. Let us know if you agree via email and our social feeds.

Directed by Joe Dante in 1981, The Howling took the young director to new heights after cult hits Piranha in 1978 and Rock N' Roll High School the following year. Though the movie only took some of the ideas from the original story, it was strong enough to earn itself a lasting place in many horror movie lovers Top Ten lists. Over the next 30 years the movie would spawn seven sequels, each with their own merits but none that equaled the intensity of the original.

Released in the same year as An American Werewolf in London and the often overlooked Wolfen, The Howling boasts a solid cast which includes Dee Wallace, Robert Picardo, John Carradine, Dick Miller and Patrick Macnee as well as showing off the early skills up and coming SFX maestro, Rob Bottin, the man who would give John Carpenter's sci-fi masterpiece The Thing life in 1982.

In the film a reporter is attacked by a notorious serial killer and to get over her trauma is sent to 'The Colony', a remote mountain resort. But there her problems really begin, as the residents are werewolves.

OK, it doesn't sound that cool at first, but with a script that's as humorous as it is scary, The Howling gave the werewolf genre a grimy edge as well as a wicked sense of humour. The transformation scene is a startling blend of innovative (for the time) prosthetics, though some of the other moments (who can forget that werewolf sex scene?) have dated but still have a fun retro feel to them.

The Howling, though commercially successful, stayed in the shadow of An American Werewolf in London and also suffered a mauling from most critics at the time. This didn't stop the kennel-load of sequels which followed.

Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf hit screens in 1985 and all seemed well with a line-up including Christopher Lee and Sybil Danning plus the author of the original book on board. The movie though is as awkward as its title as Lee looks lost and Danning chews the scenery each time she's on screen. It also suffers from what seems a limited budget with little being made available for the werewolves themselves. Howling III: The Marsupials followed only two years later and went directly to VHS, which is a bad sign for any release. Described as a "quirky comedy!" on some posters, it has nothing to do with the first two movies, plus the relocation to Australia didn't help the budget!

The series was back on track for Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, released in the UK in 1989 which decided to go back to the original text and be more faithful with it. Though limited in budget it's a great shocker, that feels less of a remake but more of a re-interpretation. Howling V: Rebirth the following year continued the upward trend and even though it has more drama than hairy action, it's a good story and the effects are far better than you'd expect for a direct-to-DVD feature.

Howling VI: The Freaks quickly followed in 1991 and although it has the worst effects of the whole run, it actually has one of the best stories concerning a werewolf captured by a circus which is ran by a vampire! It's a tight little movie but wasn't followed by another Howling movie until 1995, Howling VII: New Moon Rising. OK, the seventh movie in a franchise isn't usually the strongest and this is very true with this one. More mockumentary than straight horror it's a sort of NCIS meets The Wolf Man sort of an affair. A strange mix indeed.

The final Howling movie in the series, The Howling Reborn (2011) attempted to make the franchise appeal to a younger audience where teenage animal instincts are uncovered, quite literally. Its not a bad movie; though its connection to any other in the series is by name alone.

For now, The Howling series stops here though; news of a remake/reboot/reimagining has been touted for a long time, much like Dante's other masterpiece from the 1980s, Gremlins.


Related show tags: GREMLINS, HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS, HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE, HOWLING V: REBIRTH, HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS, HOWLING VII: NEW MOON RISING, JOE DANTE, SEASON OF THE WOLF, THE HOWLING, THE HOWLING REBORN
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