ByJames M. Tate, writer at Creators.co
Top Shark Cinema Writer at CultFilmFreaks.com and Now a Movie Pilot Remora...
James M. Tate

“I kind of cross this line where... I see it whether it's really there or not,” actress Dee Wallace, best known as the mother in E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, wrote in a Cult Film Freak interview. “Kind of like the monster in the closet when we're little… You just know it's there, so it is.”

And that’s how Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING begins, without seeing too much of anything – more of a creepy Film Noir than outright horror flick as Dee Wallace’s Karen White, an intrepid anchorwoman at a local news station, has planned to meet a mysterious man named Eddie Quist somewhere within the shadowy downtown city streets... And what Karen witnesses, kept from the audience, really sticks with her...

Thus the investigation trades off to snoopy reporter Terry Fisher, played by versatile character-actress Belinda Balaski, who, as a doomed camp counselor in Dante’s PIRANHA a few years earlier, resulted in a memorable scene where killer fish pull her into the depths of a bloody river.

Not much difference here as rotten luck goes, but Terry is the person we follow as she, along with Dennis Dugan’s reluctant Chris, investigate Eddie's apartment (after he's "killed" by police) and find several interesting sketches... Leading to an Occult Book Store where Terry and Chris get information from storeowner (and Roger Corman's BUCKET OF BLOOD hero) Walter Paisley…

Christopher Stone, Dennis Dugan, Kevin McCarthy
Christopher Stone, Dennis Dugan, Kevin McCarthy

Dick Miller spouts classic exposition about werewolves… That’s right, Eddie Quist might be one since his body went missing from the morgue… And Terry Fisher's on the case… But what about Karen White?

There’s this mountain resort where an assortment of oddballs, including a suicidal John Carradine and a primitive white trash sister and brother straight out of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, reside. Turns out Marsha Quist and her brother are related to Eddie…

Elisabeth Brooks makes for an intoxicatingly sexy wolf girl… a fanged femme fatale that winds up seducing Karen's boyfriend, played by Dee's real life husband Christopher Stone, into the formidably furry legion...

In THE HOWLING, Joe Dante, at his exploitation peak before teaming with Steven Spielberg in the more conventional GREMLINS, provides an ominous backdrop but not without quirky humor… And as Eddie, played by an extremely hairy Robert Picardo, is reintroduced, the movie thrusts into overdrive with hands-on special effects you can’t get with today's computer technology...

“When we shot THE HOWLING there was no werewolf," writes Belinda Balaski. "Rob Bottin hadn’t finished him yet! So all takes without the werewolf were shot first! We didn’t even know what he was going to look like, much less how big he was… So all my close-ups with the gurney and they rigged hanging (my feet dangling) were done without...”

THE HOWLING has many elements of Film Noir, and that’s not only during the opening city street nightlife… The fate of Belinda’s character occurs because her investigative determination wouldn’t let up… She opened Pandora’s box and, like in all things Noir, pays the ultimate price for curiosity…

And while the title alone is a dead giveaway for what and who the movie's about, the characters remain in the dark as suspenseful mystery unfolds... Scriptwriter John Sayles, who also penned Dante's PIRANHA and Lewis Teague's ALLIGATOR, brought the Creature-Feature genre to another level entirely... With cast and crew alike, the director was in excellent hands...

According to Belinda Balaski: “Working with Joe Dante is always fun and no one ever made me look better than [cinematographer] John Hora! The stuff in the shed where the hand pulses was just John and I in this tiny space, and of course the hand was done months later too! So virtually you are stuck with your ability to imagine!”

And that’s part of what makes THE HOWLING such a unique and personal experience: much of the chills and thrills, like in horror and in Noir – or in this particular case, Horror/Noir – are left to the viewer’s imagination.

Review & Archive Interview Selections by James M. Tate

www.cultfilmfreaks.com

Dee Wallace snoops through a noirish city
Dee Wallace snoops through a noirish city
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