THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Howling or An American Werewolf In London, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve made such comparisons such as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classic 80s horror tales of lycanthropy with a look at Joe Dante’s The Howling alongside John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London. These two films were released in the same year, just six months apart and both have revolutionary transformation sequences that changed the world of SPFX make-up at the time. So, let’s take a look…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

The Howling opened on March 13, 1981 and tells the tale of intrepid reporter Karen White (the legendary Dee Wallace) who is meeting notorious serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). Karen is traumatized by their encounter, one which ends in a hail of police bullets. She is sent by psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) to his remote retreat in the Northern California woods for treatment, but unknown to Karen, Eddie Quist was a werewolf and that Waggner’s retreat is where he and his pack preside.

An American Werewolf in London opened on August 21st, 1981 and tells the story of David Kessler (David Naughton) and his buddy Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking across the English countryside. Despite ominous warnings, they wander onto The Moors and are savaged by a wild beast. Jack is killed, but David survives and is brought to London to recuperate. As he recovers under the tender care of pretty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), he soon finds out from Jack’s none-too-happy spirit that he was bitten by a werewolf and will soon become one himself when the moon is full!

Except for both films being about werewolves, the stories are vastly different.

 

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THE WEREWOLVES

There seem to be two different kinds of werewolves in movies. One is the traditional cursed soul who passes the curse on to another through a bite. This type has heavy origins in the supernatural with it’s appearances sometimes heralded by a pentagram appearing on a potential victim. They transform only during the period of the full moon…depending on the film that may include the night before and night after, as well. Generally they can only be killed by silver, preferably a silver bullet.

The other kind of werewolf is a shape-shifter. These werewolves generally have an origin in Native American or old world European folklore and can change their form at will. They sometimes spread the ability through a bite, are born as such, or transformed through some ceremony or ritual. Their mode of being vanquished vary from conventional weapons to the traditional silver bullet.

The Howling’s werewolves are of the shape shifting variety. They can change at will, night or day, and without the need of the full moon. While they seem to be less supernatural in origin, they still can only be killed by silver bullets and pass the curse or condition on by a bite. They are bipedal creatures with both human and wolf characteristics. They obviously feed on meat, preferably humans, despite Waggner’s attempts at getting them to co-exist alongside mankind and feed on other meat sources.

An American Werewolf in London’s beast is of the more supernatural variety as, for example, the locals were using a pentagram as protection. David is told by Jack’s spirit that he is cursed by the bite of a werewolf and will transform into a ferocious beast when the moon is full. David’s victim’s are doomed to wander in limbo and haunt him, begging him to end his life, so their spirits can be free. David’s wolf is far more animal than human and is a massive beast that travels around on all fours. Oddly, despite being far more supernatural than The Howling’s werewolves, David and his predecessor can be killed simply by conventional weapons, such as guns with normal bullets.

 

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MAIN CHARACTERS

The Howling’s main character, Karen White is a news reporter being stalked by a pack of werewolves at a remote deep woods retreat. For a long time she is unaware of what she is up against and it is friends of hers, Chris and Terry ( Dennis Dugan and Belinda Balaski), who finally figure it out and attempt to warn/rescue her. Karen only becomes a werewolf at the film’s climax and is mercifully killed by Chris during a live news broadcast were she attempts to warn the world that these mythic predators are very real.

An American Werewolf in London’s David is an American tourist in Europe, who is bitten very early in the film and the rest of the movie follows his transformation into a lycanthrope. He is haunted by the spirits of his victims and is in denial at first, until he realizes he is responsible for a string of brutal deaths across London. The reluctant monster is finally put out of his misery by the guns of the London police after a bloody rampage through Piccadilly Circus.

Both characters are likable and sympathetic, suffer from horrific nightmares and at some point fall to the werewolf curse.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s are both urban and rural, yet totally opposite as to when those settings come into play.

The Howling opens in the urban jungle of Hollywood Blvd where Karen White is bravely going to meet serial killer Eddie Quist in a porn shop. It then switches to the coastal woodlands of Northern California, when Karen is sent to Waggner’s retreat, which is actually a sanctuary for werewolves. Here director Joe Dante is able to use shots of moonlit and fog-shrouded woods to keep the atmosphere spooky.

An American Werewolf in London opens in the rural marshlands of Yorkshire where David and Jack encounter the werewolf which curses David. It then switches to urban metropolis of London where David transforms into a beast and terrorizes the city. Ironically, at one point, he meets the spirits of Jack and some of his victims in a porno theater, echoing Karen’s meeting with Eddie. Unfortunately, 1981 London isn’t quite as spooky as The Moors of the opening, thus giving The Howling a distinct edge in the atmosphere department.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

The Howling starts off with intrepid reporter Karen White meeting with serial killer Eddie Quist in a porn shop peep booth. The police are tracking her and only by chance arrive in time as he starts to transform. He is killed…or so we believe…and poor Karen is traumatized. She is then sent to a backwoods retreat run by Dr. George Waggner only to find out she’s been dropped in the wolves den, literally. The opening is creepy, disturbing and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

American Werewolf’s opening sequences are just as effective and probably the scariest part of the film. Here we meet American backpackers Jack and David who wonder into a local pub and get a very cold reception and some very ominous warnings. Despite what they are told, they wonder onto The Moors and are attacked by some form of savage beast. Jack is killed and David barely escapes with his life thanks to the arrival of those same locals, armed with guns. Before he passes out, David sees that their now dead attacker, is a bullet-ridden human. Once back in London, the real nightmare begins for the cursed young man.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. Howling does it by letting us know something is very wrong with Eddie Quist, aside from being a psychotic killer, but keeps exactly what a bit ambiguous. American Werewolf  utilizes the classic werewolf set-up with an American in a strange land getting bitten and being cursed.

 

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THE ENDINGS

The Howling’s Pretty heroine is finally bitten as she and Chris are the only ones left alive after a fiery confrontation with Waggner’s pack of lycanthrope. Karen uses this unfortunate turn of events to try to warn the rest of the world and makes a tearful plea to a live television audience. She presents the horrible truth by turning into a werewolf in front of the TV audience before being shot by Chris. The film ends with varying reactions to what happened and the frightening revelation that Eddie’s nymphomaniac, werewolf sister Marsha (Elizabeth Brooks) escaped the conflagration at the retreat and is now in L.A. The ending has some humor to it, but is still effective.

American Werewolf’s ending is a bit simpler. Transforming into a wolf in the middle of London’s, Piccadilly Circus, David goes on a bloody rampage, that causes complete chaos and bedlam. Alex arrives just at the time the London Police trap David in an alley and gun him down. The last shot is a tragic one of David’s bullet-ridden body and Alex’s tearful face as we cut to the credits. Director John Landis lightens up the somber mood by having the song Blue Moon playing on the soundtrack as the credits role. The ending is a bit abrupt and the song does neuter the power of the last shots, unfortunately.

 

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MISC

Both of these flicks are considered classics for many reasons. Both are gory and have a sense of humor and feature their own twists on the classic werewolf tale. The Howling was based loosely on a book by Gary Brandner, while American Werewolf seems to be more of a modern spin on the classic The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr. The soundtracks are both written by acclaimed composers, with The Howling’s by Pino Donaggio and American Werewolf’s by Elmer Bernstein. Robert Paynter did the impressive cinematography on Werewolf, while The Howling’s lush visuals were filmed by John Hora. As for the amazing transformations scenes, The Howling’s scenes was done by legendary FX man Rob Bottin and Werewolf’s by equally legendary Rick Baker. Both are impressive with Baker’s having the advantage of a larger budget, but is far shorter, where Rob Bottin’s is lengthy, a little more rubbery and goes over the top in many ways. They are both fun and were groundbreaking at the time and are still effective even today.

 

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IN CONCLUSION

In this case it’s up to the individual to choose a favorite. Both films have gained equal status as classic horrors and despite each having their own identity, they both feature sly senses of humor and great make-up FX work to enhance their classic werewolf tales. Personally, The Howling has always been my favorite and it’s only by personal taste that it is. I find it more atmospheric and I prefer the satirical sense of humor over the dryer humor of AWIL. I like Bottin’s over-the-top transformation better, prefer the bipedal werewolf to the four legged wolf beast and Dee Wallace made for a sexy girl-next-door heroine to howl over. The Howling is more in the Roger Corman style of film-making, including a cameo from the master producer, whereas American Werewolf is more of a mainstream studio flick. I also find The Howling simply to be spookier and more fun. Either way these are two classics that have earned their reputations equally.

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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COOL STUFF: TALES OF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY!

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray

Tales Of Halloween is a spooky fun 2015 Halloween anthology flick that has grown on me quite a lot since my initial review (see full review here) and has finally arrived on blu-ray a year later. This multi-story horror has been released by Epic pictures in a four disc special edition that is available from their website store, HERE.

As for the feature film itself, there is both a blu-ray and DVD version. As for the technical aspects of the blu-ray feature disc…

The picture is gorgeous, the colors vibrant and really represents well the visual styles of all the directors and their cinematographers on the ten tales told here. The disc is presented in the original 2.39.1 widescreen aspect ratio, preserving the film’s intended dimensions. The sound is in 5.1 surround sound with alternate 2.0 and basic stereo tracks for those without home theater sound systems. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. A nice presentation to enjoy this holiday horror!

Now on to the extensive extras which make this 4-disc set even more appealing!…

The extras start out with a production diary covering the 23 days of shooting that comes complete with interviews with cast and crew and some fun behind the scenes footage. In the bonus features, we get a behind the scenes reel…which does repeat a lot of what we saw in the production diaries…and an examination of the filming of one of the scenes from Mike Mendez’s gruesomely comic Friday The 31st, complete with storyboards. We also get a deleted scene from one of the best stories, Grim Grinning Ghost and are treated to replays of the segments Sweet Tooth, Trick, Ding Dong and This Means War all with additional bonus commentary, aside from the commentary track that accompanies the movie on the feature film discs. We also get eight short films from a few of the filmmakers involved, some of which are definitely worth checking out. There are also storyboards, a photo gallery, trailers and some pop-up video commentary that can be activated on certain stories on the feature blu-ray. A nice selection of extras.

The fourth and final disc is a CD featuring the film’s soundtrack which includes all the music from the segments and wraparound by artists like Lalo Schifrin, Christopher Drake, Joseph Bishara and more.

All of the discs are region free and can be played anywhere and the set also comes with two trading cards, too!

I really have come to appreciate and enjoy this flick beyond what my initial review reflects. It is now part of my traditional Halloween viewing, as it is loaded with Halloween spirit and imagery and I would love to see a follow-up with yet more filmmakers creating Halloween tales as in this film. If you liked this movie and have become endeared to it like I have, this 4-disc set is a must!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Tales Of Halloween is an amusing anthology flick that has ten stories told by ten different directors with the obvious reoccurring theme of Halloween. The stories are loosely connected by the presence of Adrienne Barbeau as a DJ, much like her Stevie Wayne character from The Fog and some shared characters.

Created by filmmaker Axelle Carolyn, this is a good idea that disappointingly has only four out of the ten stories really being successful. The tone of the stories vary with some being goofy like Mike Mendez’ fun Friday The 31st, which has a Jason-like killer squaring off with an alien who possesses the body of one of his victim’s and Carolyn’s own creepy Grim Grinning Ghost, which has a woman crossing paths with an urban legend. Those two hit their marks, though the best stories are the opening and closing tales. Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, begins the anthology and is another urban legend centric story of a boy that took his love for Halloween candy to a ghoulish level. The closer, Neil Marshall’s Bad Seed, is a fun and gruesome story about a murderous jack-o-lantern. Darren Lynn Bousman’s self-explanatory The Night Billy Raised Hell is moderately amusing, as is Lucky McKee’s Ding Dong, about a strange couple. With unsettling Hansel and Gretel overtones and uncomfortable themes of spousal abuse and infertility, McKee’s tale is the most bizarre one. Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom Of Rusty Rex is also somewhat amusing in it’s tale of a Halloween kidnapping gone very wrong. On the epic fail side, we have Adam Gierasch’s tale of murderous trick-or-treaters with a twist, Trick. It’s crude and violent without being scary or funny. Paul Solet’s tale of demonic revenge with a spaghetti western slant, The Weak and the Wicked, is just dull and has the least Halloween spirit while John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s tale of neighbors battling over competitive Halloween displays, This Means War, is just boring and predictable. Add that up and we have four stories that work really well, three that are pretty decent and three that basically fall flat. There are some nice homages along the way, the SPFX and make-up FX are pretty good and the visual style varies from filmmaker to filmmaker. It always has the look of Halloween, with jack-o-lanterns everywhere, even if the spirit isn’t quite captured by the tale being told. This anthology’s heart is in the ghoulish right place, though, if not completely successful in accomplishing it’s overall goals.

The cast is rather large and even in the weaker episodes they seem to get the tone of the material and are having a good time. We have genre favorites like Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Caroline Williams and Clare Kramer. There are some veteran actors like Barry Bostwick and John Savage and director cameos such as John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Adam Green and Joe Dante. Then there are also familiar faces like Some Kind Of Hate’s Grace Phipps, Cabin Fever’s Cerina Vincent, Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe, scream queen Tiffany Shepis and Adrienne Curry as herself, to name a few. Overall a good cast that helps the stories a lot, even when they don’t make the grade.

Tales Of Halloween is far from perfect and doesn’t succeed as much as we’d like. The stories that work are worth watching for and the middle ground stories are amusing enough to check out, too. Even the failures aren’t a complete waste of time and are short enough to be over mercifully quick. While not totally successful, it is a really good idea and hopefully next year, we get another and that one hits the ghoulish mark far more often. Not quite the Halloween classic hoped for, but when it hits it’s stride it’s ghoulish Halloween fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 jack-o-lanterns as the stories I liked, I really liked.

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BOOK REVIEW: ROGER CORMAN: KING OF THE B MOVIE

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I know this is the Movie Madhouse but, I will review a book now and then that I really loved and pertains to the movie world and what pertains more then a book about one of the greatest producers that ever lived… Roger Corman!

CRAB MONSTERS, TEENAGE CAVEMEN, AND CANDY STRIPED NURSES-ROGER CORMAN: KING OF THE B MOVIE by CHRIS NASHAWATY

For fans of the films of B movie auteur Roger Corman, this book is a real treat and a blast to read. Tracing his career and a good number of his most famous…and infamous…films from his beginnings as a messenger in the 20th Century Fox mailroom to one of the most prolific producer/directors in film history, author Nashawaty wisely lets the stories come from the mouths of Corman himself and the talented people whose careers he gave start to. We get quotes and anecdotes about this legend of filmmaking from legends in their own right like Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, John Landis, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Fonda to name a scant few. Obviously we also hear from Corman himself, his wife Julie…who once went into labor on the set of a film she was producing for her husband…and brother Gene. Some of the stories are downright hilarious as we read first hand accounts of Corman thriftiness in action. We get fascinating tales of the making of some of Roger Corman’s most famous and successful productions from the low budget horror Attack Of The Crab Monsters to his Star Wars inspired Battle Beyond The Stars. Among some of the delightfully fun stories is one from Titanic’s James Cameron. The future director of The Terminator tells about his method of having all his workers go on break when Corman arrived at the studio for the production of Battle Beyond The Stars because, if Roger didn’t see anyone working on the sets, he assumed they were done and didn’t get angry that they were actually running behind schedule. But whether it’s stories of the relationships between Corman and the future stars that worked for him, or of Corman thriftiness and inventiveness, this fun book is a very entertaining look at the amazing career of an amazing man who beat the Hollywood system again and again. A man who still is ahead of his time and still stays one step ahead of the latest trends. If I was to have a complaint about this wonderful book about one of my favorite filmmakers, is that it isn’t long enough. Despite all the fun stories and the informative look at some of his most classic films, I closed the book wanting even more…and now that I think of it, that is more of a complement then a complaint! A great read and a MUST for Roger Corman fans or fans of his films.

3 and 1/2 Corman creatures!

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