“Repression is the father of neurosis,” chides Patrick MacNee in the first clearly audible moments of The Howling (1981). Fortunately, Joe Dante’s never been one to hold it all in. This is, after all, the guy who unleashed not one but two sets of crazed Gremlins (and a squadron of homicidal plastic G.I. Joe knock-offs) on multiplex audiences, the guy who first made his named with something called The Movie Orgy. If the werewolf genre is all about giving over to the beast within, then movie-brat Dante would seem to be an ideal to candidate to helm an all-out howler.
And yet The Howling isn’t nearly as zany as the rest of Dante’s films. It has a finely controlled script by John Sayles, who, long before his enshrinement as the (social) conscience of the Amer-indie movement, was trying to Say Something: namely, that in an over-saturated mediascape populated by chattering pop psychologists, slavering TV personalities, and cartoonish advertisements, the sudden, on-camera transformation of a human being into an honest-to-goodness monster would seem pretty de rigueur. (That’s the film’s punchline). Dante would further mine this vein in his amazing contribution to Twilight Zone: The Movie, “It’s a Good Life,” which imagined a world at the whim of a TV-addicted boy, but without the undergirding of Sayles’s (blessedly humorous) cynicism. In The Howling, these two very different film artists found a wonderfully wobbly equilibrium.
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