The Howling is my favorite werewolf movie. It takes the age old tale of good versus evil, and manages to transport that whole theme into a conflict within a single person. It also has that mean streak of zany humor we all come to expect when watching a Joe Dante movie. Add in a great cameo by the ever fantastic Dick Smith, a great story that doesn't follow all of the tropes set by previous werewolf movies, and some truly bestial creatures, and what you have is not only the greatest werewolf movie of all time, but a movie that is sharp, sometimes sexy and nearly always terrifying.
A news reporter is involved in a strange and terrifying incident with a serial killer. After this harrowing event, she and her husband decide to go to a retreat to try and regain a little normality into their lives. Things don't go as well as expected, and she begins to realize that once again he life may very well be in danger. She doesn't realize that the retreat she is staying at is populated by a group of shape shifting werewolves who enjoy letting the beast free.
The film is an absolute joy to watch in every singe way. It epitomizes pretty much everything not only a werewolf should be, but everything a horror movie should be too. The story is tight, smartly written, scary, full of tension, but also humorous. It has magnificent special FX and truly frightening werewolves that look almost demonic in their bestiality.
There are many arguments out there as to which werewolf movie features the best transformation. I have to go for The Howling every time. Considering that the budget given for effects on The Howling was incredibly low, Rob Bottin managed to craft possibly the greatest werewolf transformation ever seen on screen. He also made the werewolves in the movie less human than they had been in previous Lycanthrope movies, showing them as evil over sized wolf-like creatures who tower over their victims and really do have an aura of pure evil about them. The coloring of some of the scenes in the movie bring to mind Dario Argento and Mario Bava, with deep reds and blues seen throughout, giving the movie a more fantastical, almost fairytale-like quality.
I love the way The Howling plays with the rules of Lycanthropy. Giving those infected with the curse the ability to change not only when there is a full moon, but at will, is a touch that makes the beasts in this movie that much more scarier. The constant references to werewolves, be it through cartoons, TV shows etc is a pleasing touch, and certainly adds that zany 'Joe Dante' humor streak to an otherwise strict horror movie.
The Howling is a disturbing and somewhat visceral glimpse into the beast that awaits within us all, and what happens when we allow that beast to control us, instead of us controlling it. It also gives us a look at a clash of cultures, with some of the lycanthropes preferring to hold onto the ways of old, while others want to introduce change and integrate into modern society, so they may survive unnoticed.
The Howling certainly doesn't have the comedy or shock value of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, but it's nightmarish atmosphere, relentless fear factor and inherent creepiness make this the greatest werewolf movie of all time.