I feel like delving a bit into the lycanthropic side of the well this eve...and I have no better idea to begin with than that little jewel from long ago, "The Howling".
This particular offering from Joe Dante and crew back in the 80's was one of the first werewolf films I had ever seen uncut and unedited, thanks to the ancient wonder of "premium channels". Perhaps that may make me a little biased subconsciously, but I like to think I'm mature and objective enough in my passion for film to see what there is to see...or what's NOT there.
That said, "The Howling" still ranks as my very most favorite werewolf movie. I love "An American Werewolf in London", huge fan of "Dog Soldiers", "Ginger Snaps"...I could go on, but you get the point.
Are any of these 'better' films than "The Howling"? In the grand generalized scheme of things, likely so...but to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, it depends on our own point of view.
What works for me in this flick can be explained in 1) The concept: werewolves DO exist...always have...but to get away from what some of them view as persecution (torch and pitchfork wielding villagers spring to mind), they've enacted a ruse to "fit in", having their own little society at a secluded compound, raising cattle for food, and day to day representing themselves as regular, if a bit odd, members of humanity. Some of this clan don't agree with what they see as "hiding", and with a flair of superiority would prefer to take their place as top of the food chain. Lo and behold, one of their members does just this, but covers himself in the trappings of a serial killer...
...and this is where the film begins, and brings me to the second point of why I love this one, 2) Execution. The stunning Dee Wallace turned in what I thought to be a phenomenal performance as an investigative newswoman who has been contacted by the 'killer' (our wayward werewolf, played by Robert Picardo in a creepy performance that can only be called 'chilling'), and is determined to put a stop to his activities. Needless to say, things don't go well, and after a confrontation with this killer, she suffers amnesia and severe anxiety. The film goes on to her traveling to a remote compound run by a famed psychologist in order to "recharge" and therapeutically work through her issues.
I won't go any further into the plot than that, but you kiddies out there can probably figure why the word "compound" was used twice in two paragraphs;) Regarding the story itself, the pacing does get a bit shaky at times, but never to the point that it's senseless or, in my opinion, difficult to follow. A lot of the supporting actors are a little stiff, but still on or above par with the contemporary films of the day.
The special effects were to my eyes very impressive for their time, and even still...both transformations and gore are prevalent in this film, albeit largely in the second reel. Rob Bottin worked on this after Rick Baker left to do "An American Werewolf In London", and after seeing Bottin's work, Baker stated that the only way he was going to top it was to do HIS transformation in full light...high praise from a master.
Now there IS one glaring departure: there is one scene that, due to budgetary constraints, had to be done with animation; it's quite obvious, and quite weak...a blight on a film, but it's brief and easily forgiven.
Finally, several other peers of mine here in the etheral have complained that the ending was dissatisfying...I can only say (and not give too much away) that the film itself answers the question of 'why' things transpire at the end the way they do...you just have to pay attention.
So there it is; I'm not saying it's a great MOVIE, but I think it IS a great HORROR movie. All in all, I love the flick, and if you dig werewolves, watch for many in-jokes for us fans, and tips of the hat to what has gone before in the genre.
If you're looking for an high-end werewolf film and expect to be blown away by big budget production values, you may be better served by checking out one of the other movies I mentioned earlier, but if you love horror films for being horror films, and want to see a genuinely creepy, atmospheric spin on the werewolfish side of the genre, I'm of the opinion that you won't be disappointed in "The Howling".
Does it have it's issues? Sure...but does it do it's job?