Blu-Ray Review: The Howling

Director: Joe Dante
Screenplay: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Based on a Novel by: Gary Brandner
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens
Country: USA
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1981
BBFC Certificate: 18


Hollywood has a history of releasing two similarly themed films to fight for an audience in the same year (memorably, 1998 had a double bill of double bills with A Bug’s Life competing against Antz and Armageddon up against Deep Impact). Back in 1981 it was the battle of the werewolves, with three films released that featured the mythological creatures – An American Werewolf in London, Wolfen and The Howling. Wolfen was the most expensive of the three but bombed and is largely forgotten these days. An American Werewolf made the most money, but The Howling hit theatres first and was still fairly successful (particularly as it cost far less to make than the other two). It certainly went on to spawn the greater legacy, with its seven sequels and a remake coming soon. That said, it’s always stood in the shadow of An American Werewolf, especially since both films take a humorous approach to the subgenre. I couldn’t help but compare the two either, so my review is definitely affected by the fact that I’m a fan of John Landis’ film and have seen it quite a few times, whereas this viewing of The Howling was a first time watch.

The Howling opens with newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) being tailed by police as she goes to meet a possible serial killer, Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who is obsessed with her. The killer is shot dead whilst he tries to sexually assault Karen, who is left disturbed by the experience. It affects her marriage and work, so she is sent to a retreat called The Colony by her TV station’s resident doctor, George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who runs it. Once there, her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) gets bitten by a wolf and starts acting strangely. Meanwhile, a couple of Karen’s colleagues, Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), investigate Eddie for a story, but find his body missing from the morgue and uncover links between him and the Colony, so Terry heads over there to warn Karen. As more werewolves crop up, it becomes difficult to say who’s in danger from who.

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Trailer #2: Burying The Ex

The latest film from Joe Dante, Burying The Ex is rather flatly lit and somewhat lacking in stylistic verve, but there is a pretty solid screenplay at the core of it all. At least this second trailer doesn’t go plot point by plot point, like the first one.

Max (Anton Yelchin) is a nice guy. Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is his overbearing but incredibly beautiful girlfriend. Max knows it’s time to call it quits, but there’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies. Evelyn returns in zombie form and is determined to take her boyfriend back from her nicer, cuter, possible soul-mate replacement, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario).

Burying The Ex comes to VOD June 19th, with an accompanying limited theatrical release.

Trailer: Burying The Ex

Yes it has been 6 Years since Joe Dante released a feature film. The Hole is a so-so picture, with surprisingly good (and restrained) 3D, that very few folks in Canada or the US got a chance to see due to poor distribution, so more or less, it has been 12 years since Mr. Dante has had a theatrical feature in the multiplex (Looney Tunes Back in Action). As much as I quite adore his Trailers from Hell website (Seriously, spend some time there, it’s great!) and his occasional TV work, I’d really like to see a return to form.

By all accounts, Burying The Ax is not going to be that thing, and a muddled, often obvious trailer (cut rather artlessly considering trailer editing was Dante’s Truck & Trade for years under Roger Corman) seems to confirm this.

However.

Most Joe Dante pictures have a way of aging rather magnificently, from The Howling to The Burbs to Gremlins 2. So I look forward to being wrong on this.

Max (Anton Yelchin) is a nice guy. Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is his overbearing but incredibly beautiful girlfriend. Max knows it’s time to call it quits, but there’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies. Evelyn returns in zombie form and is determined to take her boyfriend back from her nicer, cuter, possible soul-mate replacement, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario).

Burying The Ex comes to VOD in June (with very limited theatrical.) To that I say, sorry folks, despite the success of both Warm Bodies and the Evil Dead remake (note image above, and how it resembles the original Evil Dead poster) Joe Dante’s multiplex days appear to be over. I remain hopeful that this is not the case, but we will always have Trailers from Hell.

Occultober – Day 9 – The ‘Burbs

The ‘Burbs
Ah The ‘Burbs…A film that leaves some unmoved, but (after repeated exposure) settles comfortably into many people’s personal Top 20 lists. My own first encounter with it 25 years ago left me unconvinced. Fortunately, I felt a pull back to it years later…

When the film was released, Tom Hanks was already a “star” comedy name and had a few big hits under his belt (most notably Splash and Big), but also a few klunkers. Name recognition still got people to the theatres in 1989, but then they weren’t sure about what they found there – the comedy in The ‘Burbs was both subtle and broad, it had action, horror & satire and it warned us of the hidden evil that lurked in the bedroom communities of our major cities (not the first to do so, but one of the more clever attempts). Director Joe Dante certainly liked using the suburbs as his playground of choice and in this case even reduced his focus to mostly just one particular block.

New neighbours (as typically happens) get the tongues wagging and curiosity turns to suspicion turns to obsession. Outside influences and out of the ordinary behaviour in the cozy suburbs can be considered potential malevolent forces to be reckoned with, so Ray (Hanks) and his neighbours begin to track the movements of The Klopeks. There’s something amiss about them, so of course they must be piling up the bodies in the basement for some kind of cult-like activities. Whether or not there are indeed occult happenings on the same street where kids ride their bikes, six packs of beer get guzzled and newspapers are the only obvious signs of the corrupt big cities is almost besides the point – the movie revels in the paranoid actions of its trio of husbands trying to “protect” their environment.

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Cinecast Episode 367 – Ginormous

After our brief September hiatus we are back to talk about…well…being ‘off the air’ for most of the month. Kurt gives (brief) highlights on the best things he saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. With no interest in either seeing or talking about Young Adult yawnfest The Maze Runner or A Walk Among The Tombstones (aka Taken 4), there is a brief conversation on last weeks’ cinema release, James Gandolfini’s final film, The Drop, a Brooklyn small-time gangster picture which also showcases a fine Tom Hardy performance. We go back to 1984 to re-examine the Joe Dante classic Gremlins. And there is a quite varied Watchlist including The Devil’s Rain, Open Range, Karate Kid III, Night of the Demon and Live.Die.Repeat.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Talking The ‘Burbs on Time Bandits Podcast

If there is one thing that keeps coming up on the Cinecast (and elsewhere on Rowthree), it is Joe Dante’s 1989 comedy, The ‘Burbs. So when the Time Bandits podcast circled around to talking about the film (and unfortunately, Skid Row’s debut album), I managed to finagle my way into Casey Lyons’s studio to join Greg LeGros and Dan Gorman in a session of ‘Burbs appreciation society. Have a listen over at their mother-site: Modern Superior.

The ‘Burbs @ 25

I hope you have a plate of crushed brownies, some salt crackers and a can of sardines to celebrate Joe Dante’s wonderfully re-watchable The ‘Burbs turning 25 years old today. All I ask is somebody please give us a BluRay, the fact that one doesn’t exist anywhere, we might have called it in Southeast Asia, ‘Bad Karma.’

If you look through the Rowthree achives, you’ll find so many references to this movie. It was a great homework assignment on the Cinecast (Where Joe Dante does an intro/bumper for us) as well as this Finite Focus entry and various little easter eggs here and there.

Below is the director waxing philosophically about the film last year when it had a repertory screening at TIFF Lightbox in Toronto.

“There Go The Goddamn Brownies!” – Joe Dante Talks The ‘Burbs

As a part of Toronto’s Fan Expo, Rue Morgue Magazine runs the Festival of Fear, and they invited Joe Dante up to present a 35mm print of his severely underrated, but nevertheless, cult-classic Tom Hanks comedy, The ‘burbs. Dante talks about shooting on the Universal backlot, set visits and defecation by Michael Jackson’s pet monkey Coco, the amazing talents of Bruce Dern and the eccentricities of Brother Theodore, how much of the screenplay was improvised by the performers (“That’s about a 9 on the tension scale, Rube.”) due to the ongoing writers strike at the time and of course, the Alfred Hitchcock and Looney Toons references on the film. A top shelf event all around.

Cinecast Episode 296 – Praying at the Juno Temple

Without much going on in theaters currently, Andrew and Kurt take to the internet and discuss the current VOD release of The Brass Teapot starring Juno Temple and Michael Angarano. A quiet little 80s style suburban fable with a a dash of Dante, a sprinkle of The Great Recession and a dollop of light bondage. Andrew sorts out his security issues with the Google-machine and the video edition returns. All the better to see you with (my dear) as we delve further into the Orson Scott Card boycott – which is a do-over of the Polanski debates had on previous Cinecast shows. Andrew finds pleasure in needling our frequent co-host, Matt Gamble, when he can’t defend himself. The Watch List is also Polanski heavy as well TV-talk with disparate subjects ranging from “Game of Thrones” season 2, and the long running medical dramedy with Zach Braff in “Scrubs.” We delve into the 1% defense examined in Richard Gere’s Arbitrage and sad-sack Stallone in James Mangold’s Copland.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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Full show notes and VIDEO version are under the seats…
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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 5

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Batten down the hatches and prep for battle – the horror is among us again…

 

The Hole (2009 – Joe Dante)
Part of me thought this would be a great “first” horror film for my 12 year-old. The characters are likeable, the pace is solid, the gore is minimal and the scares come from empathizing with those characters – not just from random jump scares or loud noises. Having said that, it’s pretty disturbing – both within individual key scenes and viewed as an overall concept. A hole in your basement that will bring your deepest darkest fears to life which you must face in order to survive? A hulking zombie-like father who used to beat his family regularly and still keeps track of where they move? Now there’s a film that understands something about what can scare a kid…It’s pretty entertaining too since they keep the mystery alive long enough and create some engaging moments and dialogue between the two brothers and the girl next door. And you also get Bruce Dern and Dick Miller popping up briefly to lend Dante a hand (which they do with ease). If the payoffs to the stories don’t quite hit with force or perfect accuracy, they still hit. It’s a shame this 3 year-old film never really got the wider audience it deserved. I’d even go so far as to say that I would be curious to see it in its 3-D incarnation because of Dante’s grasp of how to entertain an audience.

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Cabin In The Woods (2012 – Drew Goddard)
I guess I’ve missed the window for any real discussion of this film – since I get the feeling EVERYTHING has already been covered – but even though I greatly enjoyed it (I fall squarely on the “pro-Cabin-In-The-Woods” side of the divide), I don’t know how much I would have wanted to add to the conversation. I mean, it knows exactly what it’s doing and does so in wholly effective ways. I liked the performances across the board, felt every scene with Jenkins and Whitford was a winner and enjoyed the different uses (and meta-uses) of the horror film conventions – like the brief takes on foreign horror, the calling out of stupid decisions (“no wait, we should split up…”) and sudden changes of character to better fit stereotypes. I can certainly see complaints about it not being as clever as it thinks it is, but it sure felt at least as entertaining as it thinks it is. As a bonus, even if this were just a straight-up kids-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods horror film, it would still be a huge cut above many simply because the 5 main actors come across very well, remain interesting and even somewhat sympathetic. And can I just single out Kristen Connolly here for a second? Not just because she is incredibly attractive, but, well, she really is…

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