The same year that An American Werewolf in London opened up the possibilities of the werewolf horror with a mix of black comedy and horrific transformations, Joe Dante went a different direction with The Howling (Shout Factory). Working on lower budget, Dante discarded the usual lone wolf route to frame the drama in terms of the wolf pack. His wolves weren’t mad dogs on the rampage, but a primal force balancing survival with primal urges.
Dee Wallace, just a year before making E.T., stars as an investigative TV reporter recovering from a brush with a serial killer in a retreat called “The Colony,” a mix of new age commune, primal therapy, and red meat culture run by psychiatrist Patrick Macnee. It also happens to be the hub of a werewolf pack that quickly adds her husband (Christopher Stone) to their ranks, transforming the easy-going vegetarian into an aggressive, meat-eating hunter in the process.
It’s more clever than compelling, to be fair, an interesting take with inventive effects (thanks to Rob Bottin), impressive moments of horror, an undercurrent of dark humor, and an earthy, feral sensibility. John Sayles (who previously wrote Piranha for Dante) came with Dante from the Corman movie factory and contributes a clever script (adapted from a novel by Gary Brandner) with some character nice touches in the supporting roles and a modicum of wit in the dialogue.