Werewolf Fact of the Day

Werewolf Book 2e
ISBN: 9781578593675

What 1981 cult movie classic helped enliven the werewolf movie genre?

  • There were so many technical effects that not all of them made it into the movie.
  • Many prominent figures in the horror industry had cameos in the movie.
  • The names of many of the characters reflect inside jokes for horror movie buffs.
  • The movie begins with a female reporter tracking a psycho killer.

The Howling (movie, 1981)

Horror buff Joe Dante peppered The Howling with inside jokes that enriched the film for fellow devotees of monster movies. His former boss, the legendary Roger Corman of the New World film organization, has a cameo as a "guy just hanging out"; Forrest J. Ackerman, the longtime editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, can be glimpsed as a customer in a bookstore with a stack of Famous Monsters magazines under his arm; and even The Howling scriptwriter John Sayles gets a minor part as a morgue attendant.

But Dante's biggest coup for horror buff insiders lies in naming a good many of the film's main characters after werewolf or horror movie directors--Patrick McNee portrays Dr. George Waggner (George Waggner, The Wolf Man); Christopher Stone is William Neill (Roy William Neill, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man); Belinda Balaski is Terry Fisher (Terence Fisher, Brides of Dracula); Kevin McCarthy, Fred Francis (Freddie Francis, Legend of the Werewolf); John Carradine, Earle Kenton (Earle Kenton, Island of Lost Souls); Slim Pickens, Sam Newfield (Sam Newfield, Ghost of Hidden Valley); Noble Willingham, Charlie Barton (Charles Barton, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein); Jim McKrell, Lew Landers (Lew Landers, The Raven).

Dante admitted later in an interview that some fans were turned off by such in-jokes and certain other tongue-in-cheek touches in the film. Some reviews in the fanzines took him to task for making fun of a serious genre.

At the time that he was creating werewolves for The Howling, Rob Bottin, at twenty-one, was the youngest special effects expert working in Hollywood. Remarkably, when he was only fourteen years old, Bottin began as an apprentice to his hero, Rick Baker, the makeup master on such films as King Kong (1976) and Star Wars (1977). Before creating his ground-breaking werewolf makeup and special effects for The Howling, Bottin had contributed to such diverse films as The Fog (1980) and Rock and Roll High School (1979). After work on The Howling was completed, Bottin said, "This was, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put some of my best ideas on the screen. It was painstaking, difficult, often back-breaking work, but I loved every single second of it. Besides, werewolves are my very, very favorite creatures."

Joe Dante said that he changed a great deal of the novel, The Howling, with the assistance of screenwriters Terry Winkless and John Sayles, because they wished to make the story resonate more with contemporary audiences. According to Dante, "The studio wanted us to use real wolves and base it strictly on the book. Ultimately, though, I still wasn't satisfied with the final version. But considering what The Howling was and what we had to work with, I'm still proud of it."

In Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film, the novel's author, Gary Brandner, expressed his mixed feelings when he saw for the first time what Dante and his crew had done with his work of fiction. Although he had not been involved in the writing of the screenplay, he had assumed that he might be consulted for his opinions regarding the essence of his werewolf story. When he heard nothing more of The Howling until his agent wrangled an invitation to a screening of the finished picture for exhibitors, he sat unrecognized in the darkness, feeling quite certain for a time that his name spelled correctly in the opening credits would be the only thing about his novel that he himself would recognize:

Whereas my book opened with the rape of a young suburban wife, the movie jumped off with a female television reporter going into a bookstore to trap a psycho killer ... A couple of the character names were mine, but not much else. It took a while for me to see that my basic story line--a troubled woman menaced by a village of werewolves--remained. I was at least gratified that a sex scene by firelight between a male and female werewolf was transferred nearly intact from page to screen. My feelings were mixed when the lights went up. The basic story and the lead characters were mine, but there were long stretches of the movie where I recognized nothing.

Brandner notes with satisfaction that when screen rights to Howling II were sold, he did manage to win the assignment to write the screenplay.

Among Joe Dante's perks in directing the motion picture was working with the legendary John Carradine, who numbered The Howling as his 361st film. Among his frustrations with The Howling were his attempts to get full use of a number of the technical effects:

One of Rob's [Bottin] last makeup effects didn't get into the film until one day before the mix. That was the shot of Dee Wallace at the end of the picture looking like a Pekinese.

When we originally contracted Dave [Allen] to do [scenes of stop-motion, animated werewolves] we had no idea of just how much werewolf we were going to get on film ... The problem was, the footage never really matched with what we did afterward. We just kept ... making it shorter and shorter until finally we had to make it so short that there was no point anymore in having the animated werewolves in the picture.

From The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings, Second Edition by Brad Steiger, (c) 2012 Visible Ink Press(R) Steiger's homage to the beast within provides meaty facts for the lycanthropic in all of us.

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