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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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WAXWORK (1988)

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WAXWORK (1988)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Waxwork is a fun horror flick written and directed by Anthony Hickox that imbues the lighter toned, more colorful style of horror flicks that were made in the second half of the 80s like Fright Night and some of the later Elm Street sequels.

The story has a group of college kids including Mark (Zach Galligan), his ex, China (Michelle Johnson), Sarah (Deborah Foreman) and Tony (Dana Ashbrook) being invited to a special midnight viewing at a new waxwork that has opened, oddly, in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. The invitation is extended by it’s mysterious owner Mr. Lincoln (David Warner) himself. All the fiends of fiction and fact are represented, such as Dracula (Miles O’Keeffe), The Wolfman (John Rhys-Davies) and the Marquis de Sade (J.Kenneth Campbell). But, what our young visitors don’t know, is that through the darkest magic, each display must claim a living victim and once they all do, the represented horrors will take real form and enter our world to commit their evils upon mankind. Can these youths escape and save our world from it’s worst nightmares come true?

Hickox crafts a fun horror that certainly doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore. His plot enables the intended victims to enter a portal into the world of the subject it’s display represents so, his co-eds and characters can come face to face with Dracula, The Mummy and the cruel and lustful Marquis. The results can be deviously gruesome until our leads figure out what is going on and then try to stop the diabolical Lincoln and his plan, which then culminates in a fun free-for-all between the fiends of lore and a group of armed monster fighters led by our remaining students and the Van Helsing-like Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee), who knew Mark’s grandfather. The only thing that takes this entertaining monster movie down a few pegs… and some of Hickox’s other films… is that the writer/director can be heavy handed with the humor. For the most part there is an even mix of gruesome, scary and campy fun but, occasionally things get silly right in the middle of a scene that should be a bit more intense. There are some delightfully gory sequences and the gore and make-up is well done but, then we get something more of a slapstick nature that neuters the effect of the more intense moments, especially during the last act brawl. For the most part things are evenly mixed and this rates as Hickox best and probably most renown of his flicks. Some of the director’s later films, including the sub-par Waxwork sequel, get very heavy handed with the humor and it out weighs the horror elements quite a bit. At least here, it is only occasional. There is some nice suspense too, especially in the first half when we are finding out the true sinister purpose of the wax museum and it is all very colorful under Gerry Lively’s lens. And the sequences inside the various worlds of the monsters that dwell in them are the best parts.

The cast are fine though I felt the younger members could have been a bit livelier, especially in the earlier scenes. Galligan plays the rich playboy Mark who finds the hero inside himself when he discovers there is a personal involvement for him in stopping Lincoln’s sinister plan. Deborah Foreman is cute and feisty as the girl next door who secretly crushes on Mark and shows an interesting hidden side when thrust into the Marquis de Sade’s world. Johnson is sexy and snooty as China and she shows some real fire when she finds herself at a dinner party at Dracula’s castle, the film’s most gruesome segment. And Ashbrook is fine as the stereotypical wiseass Tony. David Warner is top notch, as always, as the villainous Lincoln and Patrick Macnee is a pleasure, also, as always, as the paranormal expert and monster hunter Sir Wilfred. As for our legendary fiends, O’Keeffe, Rhys-Davies and Campbell and the rest all represent their monsters well in their sequences. A good enough cast who rise to the occasion when things get interesting.

I like Waxwork. It’s fun and gruesome at the same time and get’s things right more than it stumbles. Some of the humor gets a bit heavy handed and silly at times but, for the most part, the mix of humor and horror is fine. The veterans of the cast shine and while there could have been a bit more spark in our college co-eds, they do come through when their characters find themselves in situations from their worst nightmares… or desires. A fun flick and sadly a stride Hickox would never really hit again except for the entertaining Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth. There was a sadly inferior direct to DVD sequel Waxwork II: Lost In Time 4 years later.

3 surprisingly pro-de Sade heroines.

waxwork rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1979)

In my humble opinion, this is THE definitive telling of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and a must watch tradition for my family and I at Christmas time. Also going simply by the name of Scrooge, this is a true holiday classic that is filled with generous helpings of charm and Yuletide spirit, as well as, a wonderful adaptation of one of the holiday’s greatest stories ever written. For those not familiar, it is the simple tale of the grumpy and selfish Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), a man who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve…the spirits of Christmas past, present and future…and is transformed from a mean miser to a kind and merry soul. He is shown a reflection of his life and where his ways went sour and where they might be leading him.

Alastair Sim is the perfect Scrooge and there has been no equal yet to his portrayal of the classic character, though many have tried. He is totally scorn-worthy and hiss-able as the miserly and miserable curmudgeon and yet, as he masterfully takes us through his awakening and transformation, you will find yourself loving and cheering for him by the film’s end. And thanks to Brian Desmond-Hurst’s skilled and atmospheric direction, the scenes featuring the spirits of Christmas are delightfully spooky and help make Scrooge’s change of heart all the more believable. Hurst has a lush, rich visual style and the film looks gorgeous in the original black and white in which it was filmed…and intended to be watched in to enjoy the filmmakers’ original vision. Under Hurst’s guidance and the witty script by Noel Langley, based on Dickens’ classic, the movie also perfectly captures the feel of the age in which it takes place and yet retains a timelessness for all the ages. The cast supporting Sim all give passionate performances that bring these classic characters to vibrant life as if lifted from the very pages of Dickens’ story.

A perfect Christmas movie. Perhaps my all time favorite. Also stars the legendary Patrick Macnee as a young Jacob Marley and edited by Clive Donner who became a successful director in his own right, including his own version of this classic holiday tale in 1984 with George C. Scott as Scrooge. A holiday masterpiece!

4 Christmas trees!

cristmas carol rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE HOWLING (1981)

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THE HOWLING (1981)

The Howling is a true horror classic and ranks among one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Joe Dante, fresh off of Roger Corman’s Piranha, re-teams with writer John Sayles for a fun and spooky tale of lycanthrope loose in the California hills that was based on a book by Gary Brandner.

After a traumatic close call with a strangely animalistic serial killer named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), a young newswoman, Karen (Dee Wallace) is sent to a holistic retreat by her therapist, Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee) for treatment. But unknown to Karen and her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone), The Colony is actually a haven for werewolves that the therapist is trying to civilize…and that a certain, Eddie Quist was one of his ‘patients’. Some of the pack have other ideas and are looking at Karen as their next meal.

Dante brings a very Roger Corman feel to the proceedings and gives the legendary producer a cameo as well. The film has some fun moments, but also some legitimate scares, too and Dante mixes fear and fun very well with one never overshadowing the other. Makeup FX master Rob Bottin provides the creature and gore FX and beat American Werewolf In London by a few months with the first on-camera werewolf transformation and it still impresses after all these years and got him the job on John Carpenter’s The Thing.

A great cast, including legends Slim Pickens, John Carradine and Dick Miller, that knows when to play it straight and when to camp it up, adds to the mix and makes this a very entertaining Halloween treat and a bonfire horror classic. Countless sequels followed that all sucked, but this one still holds up and is one of my personal viewing choices for the Halloween season. Also stars the smoking hot Elizabeth Brooks as sexy nymphomaniac werewolf, Marsha. The Howling was just re-released on a gorgeously remastered and extra filled blu-ray from Scream Factory that gives the flick new bite!

The Howling bites off a classic 3 and 1/2 menaced reporters!

howling rating

Monster Zero NJ Trivia: Also a poet and singer, Elizabeth Brooks became a cult figure after the film, but her movie career never really took off despite the attention the sexy role got her. Single mom Brooks kept busy as a producer and acting coach, but sadly passed away in 1997 after a battle with brain cancer. Genre fans though, will always remember her fondly for her sizzling performance as one of the sexiest werewolves of all time and she is immortalized as Marsha in this classic horror!

elisabeth-brooks-the-howlingElizabeth Brooks as sexy lycanthrope Marsha Quist.

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