The Howling: Special Edition

The Howling: Special Edition (1981)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Dee Wallace, Patrick MacNee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes

Exactly two years after releasing "The Howling" on DVD for the first time, MGM Home Entertainment has now prepared a Special Edition for the film and is unleashing it onto DVD owners. Alongside John Ladis’ "An American Werewolf In London," "Joe Dante’s werewolf thriller "The Howling" ranks as one of the best lycantropic films of modern horror, and I am glad to report that MGM finally made good on the Spartan initial release of the film, not offering plenty of bonus materials to complement this great flick.

TV anchorwoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) agrees to meet with a serial-killer on the loose she had been reporting on and corresponding with. During the meeting in a sleazy porn theater she is almost killed as Eddie The Mangler (Robert Picardo) reveals his true self to her, and she barely escapes the hail of police bullets that finishes the encounter.

Shellshocked and unable to go back to work she consults her psychiatrist Dr. Waggner, who suggests she and her husband should visit the Colony, a rural retreat he has set up for her to forget about the events. But upon their arrival at the Colony, it is immediately striking how odd some of the guests behave and occasionally the retreat appears more like an insane asylum than a haven for relaxation.

With "The Howling," director Joe Dante stepped away from the traditional template that had been used for werewolves for many years, and gave these creatures traits that made them universally more appealing. The sexual undertones, the pride and enjoyment of being a superior creature are played very strongly, showing werewolves not as victims of their fate, but as very dominant creatures that are extremely conscious of their powers.
But there are many other reasons why "The Howling" has become a classic in the genre. The movie manages to create an atmosphere of suspense and thrills and perfectly blends horror with humor, without ever crossing the border to the extreme on either side. Perfectly balanced and wonderfully paced, "The Howling" also captures the viewer’s imagination with its great cinematography and the spectacular special effects. It is all about the atmosphere in the film and the special effects become revelatory the icing on the cake that tips it off perfectly.

The DVD contains a <$PS,widescreen> version of the movie as well as a <$PS,fullscreen> presentation, selectable from the DVD’s Menu. The <$PS,widescreen> version is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. Although I did not do a side-by-side comparison, judging from memory, the new transfer appears much better than the one from the previous release. It boasts strong colors and solid blacks and only very occasionally minor blemishes are visible in the print, indicating that this is an entirely new transfer of the film that has been cleaned up and massaged. The strong colors help to wash the screen in powerful blues and reds in some of the key scenes, and the blacks create deep shadows that wonderfully balance the picture while never losing definition. No edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer and the compression has also been handled carefully, making sure the colors remain stable at all times and that the image detail is never reduced by compression artifacts.

The DVD comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track and a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track in English that are complemented by subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio is a remix of the movie’s original mono soundtrack and works surprisingly well. Whether it’s the inner city traffic noise or the subtle ambiance of the rural outdoors, the track makes good use of the surround channels. It gets notably more aggressive during some of the film’s climactic scenes, giving it a much more in-you-face feel that what the film previously had to offer. Dialogues are well integrated and their frequency response has been expanded to take away some of the harshness audible in the original elements. The music has also been expanded making sure it s coming through as clear as possible.

The DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring Joe Dante, and his stars Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo. The track is full of tidbits and memories and gets quite energetic at times, as the four discuss their experience of making the film. It is full of anecdotes and is very entertaining throughout, so make sure to check it out – and while you’re at it, don’t overlook the hidden feature on this disc.

On the flip side of the DVD you will find many more bonus features such as a large selection of deleted scenes – though they are not presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. 5-minutes worth of outtakes are also included – once again in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>.

The core of the supplements are two featurettes. "Unleashing The Beast" is a new making-of featurette in 5 parts. In these parts it covers the history of werewolves, finding the cast, making the actual movie, the film’s special effects, and also taking a look at the movie’s success and the sequels it spawned. Filled with scenes from the film and other promo footage, accompanied by many interviews, "Unleashing The Beast" is a nice look at the movie as a whole.

"Inside The Howling" is the second featurette on the disc. It is the original 1981 promotional making-of featurette that helped promote the film. While dated, it is still a great addition to the movie, as it shows us Rob Bottin at the age of 21, who had shown his incredible talent by creating all the special effects for the film, as well as interview segments with Patrick MacNee.

There you have, folks. The howling Special Edition you have been waiting for and MGM certainly hasn’t let fans down here. The quality of the DVD is top notch and the supplements are fun to watch and expand on the film itself a bit. Being one of the greatest werewolf films ever made, make sure to get your copy of "The Howling."