The Howling (1981):

John Landis sends the werewolves to London, but Joe Dante keeps them square in the heartland, the better to locate American beasts with, my dear. The static of TV chatter points to modern times, specifically California transitioning from the '70s into the '80s, though Dante's realm is the timeless one of ominous reveries and fantasies, primeval impulses caught by the media as TV newscaster Dee Wallace-Stone, wired for an undercover report, ventures for a rendezvous with foaming serial killer Robert Picardo at a peep show. Cops barge in, though the blood on the porno screen sticks to Wallace-Stone's memory, so a stay at "The Colony" is advised by psychiatrist Patrick Macnee to soothe traumas, a "very low-key" place -- cut to John Carradine, a frontal close-up, howling at the lenses. Nocturnal lupine cacophonies, slaughtered cattle, hubby Christopher Stone shifting from meek vegan to hairy carnivore; could the feel-good vibe extend to sprouting fur and fangs? The satire is of New Agism, lycanthropy as a therapy step beyond acid, health food, orgies and, with John Sayles at the screenplay when not beside a platter of brains at the morgue, of '60s radicalism, politicized vigor then and "this 'channel your energies' crap" now. Either way, Dante reveres the "Hollywood baloney" of Lon Chaney, Jr. furries and genre gags, two nuns sneaking into a bookstore for the occult run by Dick Miller. Corman and Cocteau are the main influences here; Corman waits outside the phone booth and Cocteau hides in the misty woods for the midnight tryst with Elisabeth Brooks, a wolf-babe in heat, or maybe in the pop yricism of the many transformations, skin bubbling and snouts breaking through faces. The showstopper is Picardo's return, shaggy like Manson to finish what he started, "a piece of my mind" literally pulled out of his skull, but not before Dante intercuts Belinda Balaski's slaughter with a Big Bad Wolf 'toon. "You can't tame what's meant to be wild," and repression is to be exposed on national TV only to be cut to a dog-food commercial and a complement on the special-effects. With Dennis Dugan, Kevin McCarthy, Slim Pickens, Margie Impert, and Kenneth Tobey.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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