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The Howling

I rewatched this after having positive memories of seeing it on television long ago.

Plot recap:

Dee Wallace is Karen, a TV news anchorwoman in LA who has been getting messages from a serial killer who is obsessed with her. She agrees to meet with him, while wearing a wire, in the hope that she can bust him. But the wire doesn’t function and instead she is shadowed by a couple of cops. The killer lures her to a porno movie booth (through a happy face sticker device that is pretty creepy) and says disturbing killer-y things. When she screams, the cops shoot and apparently kill the guy.

Later she suffers from extreme PTSD, and cannot remember the details of what happened in the booth. Patrick Macnee, a counselor (psychiatrist?) with a book espousing some exotic theories about the “animal” side of human nature, sends her up to The Colony, which is supposedly a nice restful retreat and not at all a werewolf cult for weirdos, nope. Karen’s husband joins her. A sexy, witchy woman named Marcia tries to seduce Karen’s husband, even though she seems interesting and he seems really boring. After rejecting her advances a couple of times, hubby gets bitten by some kind of wolf-person thing, then the next night he sleeps with Marcia while both of them turn into wolf-person things. (This movie appears to use the three nights rule of full moon werewolfing.)

Meanwhile, two of Karen’s friends/co-workers investigate the serial killer. His body disappears from the morgue. They find his apartment full of obsessive drawings of Karen, and wolf people, and Karen as a wolf person. This sends them to an occult-themed used books-and-stuff emporium, where they get loaded up with werewolf-related mythology and have a box of *genuine silver bullets* pointed out to them. (Pay attention, this will be important later).

Karen suspects hubby’s infidelity (duh) and asks the female friend to come up to The Colony. The female friend discovers that one of the killer’s drawings depicts a scene near The Colony, and follows that up to discover more of those creepy happy face stickers, leading her to figure out who the killer is. Then he kills her.

Karen also finds out who the killer is. She calls the male friend for aid. He shows up with a shotgun and a whole bunch of silver bullets, ready to bust her out of there.

Then! Oh my God! They’re all werewolves! Even Patrick Macnee! Shoot shoot, burn burn. But hubby-wolf bites her right before they get away.
Back in LA, Karen decides that “the people need to know the truth” so she transforms into a wolf person live on camera during the news, then gets shot by the male friend. This plays out as if they planned the shooting part in advance. In 1980 could you just bring a shotgun into a TV studio? Whatever. Then in the coda, we see that Marcia wolf is just fine (go Marcia!) and hanging out in diners ordering hamburgers rare. Except then the closing credits show a sizzling hamburger clearly being cooked to a well-done state. The end.

So, yeah, if that plot recap didn’t make a whole lot of sense — you’re correct. After an intriguing but uneven setup, the rest of the movie suffers hugely from monster essentialism, confused plot resolution, and limply-fired narrative guns.

In fact, I misremembered the whole werewolf colony thing as being Dr. Macnee’s crazy idea about how to cure people with neurotic disorders, because of course werewolves are all in touch with their animal nature and therefore don’t have neurotic disorders.

(Note: in my Rougarou books, I generally operate on the assumption that werewolves are just as neurotic as everybody else. Just, you know, about different stuff. )

Anyway, I remembered the story as being much closer to “a werewolf doctor tries to use werewolfism to cure people of their psychological disorders, only to have it backfire when his treatment turns one man into a serial killer.”
I think that would have been kind of awesome, if that was the story. But I don’t think it’s really the story. Actually, having rewatched it, I’m not sure what the story is, other than Werewolves! Serial killers! Marital infidelity! Running around! Stuff!

The thing the movie really fails to deliver on is the serial killer’s creepy obsession with Karen. I think maybe the idea is that he wants to bite her so then they can be wolf people together? But if that’s his goal he seems insufficiently focused on it.

Plus, I found myself wondering why the other werewolves don’t seem more interested in stopping one of their own who’s taken to serial killing. Do they not know that’s what he’s doing? Or are we supposed to believe they’re okay with that sort of thing? Except we don’t see the other wolves try to kill any people. Until the end of the film, that is, when they’re trying to kill people who are coming after them with silver bullets, so, really, it’s self-defense.

Which is actually kind of a huge problem with this movie. We don’t see any indication that the wolves on the whole are dangerous in any way. Sure, they’ll engage in adultery with your loser husband, but is that actually supposed to be a killing offense? We just reach a certain point in the movie, the monster switch gets set to “on,” and HEY IT’S ALL MONSTERS KILL THEM BLAM!

That’s what I mean by monster essentialism. I don’t think a story involving any well-known monster trope, whether ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, Hulks, Loch Ness beasts, Sasquatches, Adam Frankensteins, fairies, robots, aliens, mad scientists, Kaiju, giant bees, invisible people, or — wait, where was I? Oh, yeah. I don’t think you can just say “oh, it’s X kind of monster, so it obviously has to die.” You have to establish the actual terms of the threat within the context of the story you’re telling, otherwise your “heroes” come across as the bad guys, killing perfectly average wolf people for no reason at all.

This lack also makes the ending seem really bizarre. Either Karen is so messed up that she is certain, based on very little evidence, that it’s better to be dead than wolfy, or her friend is equally certain of the same thing, based on equally scant evidence.

So, I dunno. I enjoyed watching it, mostly, but it just doesn’t make any sense.

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