“Joe Dante’s The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film” & “The Complete History of the Howling”, reviewed
Horror fans rightly consider The Howling one of the defining films of the werewolf genre. The practical transformation sequences put the most up to date CGI to shame – they’re visceral, organic and intense, and originated tropes that filmmakers still slavishly imitate. In fact, the design of the werewolves almost single-handedly redefined the look of the creature for the modern audience. Whereas the default werewolf used to be Jack Pierce’s Wolf Man, nowadays ask anyone what a werewolf looks like and you’ll get a description of Rob Bottin and his crew’s creation: a shaggy grey beast towering upright on doglike legs, with a muscular humanoid torso, clawed hands, and a demonically snarling lupine head. But The Howling was more than just an FX spectacular, with solid performances, stylish direction, a distinct and unforgettable score, and quirky, memorable characters populating an unusually smart script. It also boasts the dubious honor of having spawned seven sequels that, while distinctly less competently made, often have their own offbeat charms.
“Joe Dante’s The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film” by Lee Gambin (Centipede Press) focuses entirely on the original movie. Each chapter takes a scene and recaps it, with relevant snippets of interviews with the cast and crew, and explores the deeper thematic elements. Compared the shallow hack ‘n slash plots of most lower tier werewolf movies, The Howling’s clever, complex script truly deserves this in-depth treatment. Some of the insider stories – like the fate of the “rocket wolf” effects and the stop motion version of the fully transformed beasts – are known via DVD extras, but much of it is new and interesting even to hardcore fans.
At a chunky 351 pages in a 6×9 format, it’s packed with tons of behind the scenes photographs and illustrations. The drawings by Richard Hescox that flash by almost too quick to see as Eddie Quist’s art in the film are a special treat, especially considering their powerful impact on the popular concept of werewolves. It’s also amusing to spot details such as the sketches of skulls in mid-shift labeled “Larry Talbot syndrome”. The only thing lacking is a table of contents, and perhaps an index to the interviews, which would make navigating the book a bit easier for those who haven’t memorized the plot.
“The Complete History of the Howling” by Bryn Curt James Hammond (Miami Fox Publishing), by contrast, covers every single movie in the franchise. It runs 128 pages in 9×12 format, is also richly illustrated by stills and behind the scenes photos including full-page illustrations, and has text arranged in a two-column format that recalls magazines like Fangoria.
Currently film series are Serious Business, with studios competing to create merchandise-ready “universes” composed of interlocking high budget offerings, with varying degrees of success (compare the money-making juggernaut of the Marvel comics films to Universal’s stillborn “Dark Universe”). The Howling sequels were . . . not that. Right out of the gate, the second movie, Phillipe Mora’s “The Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf” aka “Stirba: Werewolf Bitch” utterly fails as a horror movie but succeeds as a bizarro comedy. The third movie, by the same director, was even stranger, featuring were-thylacines complete with a marsupial birth scene. It’s easy to sneer at Mora’s attempt, but “The Complete History” describes working conditions that would tax any director, such as shooting with Czech film crews that didn’t speak English, being assigned an Assistant Director who was a KGB spy, and having to make do with secondhand monkey suits to serve for werewolves! In fact, the stories behind the sequels are far more entertaining than the movies themselves.
The rest of the series are a mangy collection of mutts including a low-budget reboot shot in South Africa, a murder mystery in which the actual werewolf appeared for about 5 seconds on screen, a romance set in a freak show which introduced vampires into the mythology, a whole-movie clip show padded with endless country music and line dancing scenes, and the most recent, another reboot that disappointingly attempted to appeal to the Twilight crowd. Werewolf fans, well aware that Sturgeon’s Law applies heavily to our favorite genre, have the choice to either turn their noses up at them or turn off their critical facilities, pop some popcorn and enjoy them for what they are. Hammond gives all The Howling sequels the same fair, detailed, lavishly-illustrated coverage, reminding us that even the most hilariously inept flick had at least a few passionate artists behind it.
Both books are perfect complements to each other’s strengths and must-haves for the library of werewolf enthusiasts. Gambin’s is an informative, meticulous exploration of the crafting of an enduring classic. Hammond’s book is an entertaining, open-minded and fascinating perspective on the low-budget shenanigans behind the wonderful weirdness of the obscure sequels. Hopefully we’ll see similar books in the future showcasing An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps, and other outstanding lycanthro-pics!
Full Moon Features: The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)
The past couple years have seen a sharp uptick in the number of Paul Naschy films getting Blu-ray upgrades, along with some that had never even seen the light of day on DVD in the States. (Such was the case with 1975’s The Werewolf and the Yeti, a.k.a. Night of the Howling Beast, put out as part of Scream Factory’s The Paul Naschy Collection II set last year.) So it seems like it’s only a matter of time before a company like Mondo Macabro or Scream Factory does the same for the elusive The Beast and the Magic Sword.
Made in 1983, the Spanish/Japanese co-production was Naschy’s last hurrah as Waldemar Daninsky — at least for the next 13 years — and found him sending the cursed Polish count to feudal Japan in search of a cure for his condition. As usual, how he came by it is completely different from how he got cursed in any of the previous installments, but Naschy (who wrote and directed) dispenses with the particulars rather quickly, so I will, too.
Back in 10th-century Germany, one of Waldemar’s heavily bearded ancestors (also played by Naschy) defeated a fierce Magyar warrior (who was said to be the devil, a shapeshifter, and a vampire) in single combat and was allowed to marry the king’s youngest daughter. Unfortunately, this pissed off the warrior’s mistress, a witch who puts a very specific and easily avoidable curse on his family since it only affects the seventh-born son and only if they’re born during the first night of the full moon. “The Daninskys will be a race of murderers, hated and persecuted forever!” the witch cries, not taking into account that they could simply stop having children when they get to six.
Anyway, when we pick up in the action in the late 16th century, Waldemar and the love of his life, Kinga (Beatriz Escudero), are in Toledo, Spain, consulting with Jewish occult expert Salom Yehuda (Conrado San Martín) and his blind niece Esther (Violeta Cela) when the townspeople denounce the lot of them for practicing witchcraft. Even worse, some of the locals decide to save the Grand Inquisitor a trip, throw some makeshift hoods on, and descend upon Salom’s home, mortally wounding him before Waldemar (still in human form) can fight them off. It is at this point that Salom sends them on to Kyoto, making Waldemar Esther’s protector in the bargain.
Once the action shifts to Japan (about 23 minutes in), things pick up considerably, especially in the werewolf attack/transformation department. (There are eight of them, but the first one doesn’t really count since it’s entirely shot from Waldemar’s point of view.) Curiously enough, we meet Kian (Shigeru Amachi), the man Waldemar is trying to find, before he does, and it is Kian who tracks the weary werewolf back to his den. Instead of turning him in to the authorities, Kian agrees to help him find a cure, but his first formula, which uses the leaves of a certain Tibetan snow flower, fails to do the trick. In desperation, Waldemar goes to sorceress Satomi (Junko Asahina), who gives him a potion and locks him in a chamber where he transforms in the most low-tech way possible (in the wake of The Howling and American Werewolf, I guess Naschy decided he just couldn’t compete on that level) and does battle with a tiger named Shere Khan. (This is the image that’s on the poster, so I’m glad the film delivers on the promise of a werewolf in paw-to-paw combat with a tiger.)
As for Satomi, she threatens to do nasty things to Kinga and Esther and keeps Waldemar at bay with a silver katana (the magic sword of the title), which Kian later retrieves so he can be put out of his misery. However, it’s up to Kian’s sister Akane (Yôko Fuji) to do the deed because the killing stroke has to be delivered by somebody who loves Waldemar or else it won’t take. Not that I really believe it will. I’ve seen enough of these pictures (ten of the eleven that are extant) to know a dead Waldemar Daninsky is only a few keystrokes away from getting resurrected at will. It’s the nature of the beast.
HoOman Raad created this amazing werewolf model in two weeks
Detail of HoOman Raad's Werewolf model (image: HoOman Raad, ArtStation)
Happy Wolfenoot / Friday! It’s been a busy week, so here, like a furry oasis for your eyes, is a very good werewolf image. The artist is HoOman Raad, a 3D character / creature artist from Iran, and the werewolf is a creation of pure mathematics, containing over 33,000 polygons, including 23,000 for the hair alone.
Here is a Werewolf I did for Kunoichi studio.
it took around 2 weeks and I’ve done the Concept, Model, Texture and Material setup in UE4.
These images have captured from Unreal engine.
Hope you like them.
“Kunoichi studio”, near as I can tell, is Studio F.O.W – not a company whose products you should Google while you’re at work, if you know what I mean.
I try to avoid reposting full artwork these days, but I hope HoOman will forgive me for dropping this amazing animated GIF turnaround in here. I encourage you to click through to the ArtStation detail page, which has many more images, including a bloody variant, static turnaround images, and some hairless versions to show the sculpt off. HoOman also answers many questions in the comments, including the number one query: “how did you do the hair?” I’ll leave the discovery of the answer as an exercise for you, the reader.
Full Moon Features: Blood Freak (1972)
Since the full moon falls on Thanksgiving this year, I figured I’d highlight a slightly different kind of movie in this month’s column. While there’s no such thing as a movie about a wereturkey, there is 1972’s Blook Freak, which TCM’s Robert Osborne once sheepishly described as being about “a motorcycle enthusiast who’s turned into a blood-crazed turkey man.” Written, produced and directed by the dream team of Brad F. Grinter (who did the same jobs on 1970’s Flesh Feast and Devil Rider!) and Steve Hawkes (a Croatian-born actor who made this in between stints in a couple Tarzan knock-offs), Blood Freak presents itself as a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking illegal drugs and eating non-FDA-approved foodstuffs.
Hawkes plays Herschell, a ramrod-straight Vietnam vet who finds himself torn between a Bible-quoting drug counselor who gets him work doing odd jobs at a poultry ranch and her hedonist sister who gets him hooked on weed that has been laced with something to make it addictive. That would be bad enough, but since one of his odd jobs at the turkey farm involves eating what the guys in the laboratory cook up, the end result after one of the tests is Herschell’s transformation into a man wearing a rubber turkey mask and a ruff of feathers around his neck. Oh, yes. And he craves blood, which he gets by waylaying drug addicts and pushers and killing and mutilating them. These scenes are accompanied by a repetitive musical sting and one scream that is looped over and over. (Actually, there are two: one female and one male. Neither is particularly convincing.) Meanwhile, the sister who got him hooked feels guilty about what she’s done and worries needlessly about what their children would look like (as if she’s actually contemplating taking Mr. Turkey to bed).
Finally Herschell is put out of his misery by being beheaded (which Grinter and Hawkes depict by cutting to footage of an actual turkey with its head cut off), but it all turns out to be a dream (“My God,” Herschell moans, “I’ve been hallucinating. After eating that turkey, I went through hell.”), which is even more of a cop-out ending than it sounds. As if to further illustrate their contempt for the audience, Grinter and Hawekes periodically cut away to a narrator (played by an uncredited Grinter, obviously reading from a script) who recites deathless lines like “You ever think about this fantastic order of things? And how far does it go?” between drags on his cigarette, and actually goes into a coughing fit right before the final fade-out. Because why would you bother with a second take on something like that? It would only be a waste of film.
Note: This movie is real. I swear I did not make it up. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Wolfenoot is nearly upon us
The official Wolfenoot design (image: Megan Winters)
This Friday kicks off a holiday weekend, and I’m not talking about American Thanksgiving, although you can certainly celebrate that too – your roasted bird will work for both events. I’m talking about Wolfenoot, the wolf-centric holiday invented just a few months ago by a 7-year-old in New Zealand.
“My son has invented a holiday called Wolfenoot,” goes the original post, which appeared on Facebook, making this the only good idea to ever come from that place. “It is when the Spirit of the Wolf brings and hides small gifts around the house for everyone. People who have, have had, or are kind to dogs get better gifts than anyone else.”
And how does one actually observe this holiday? According to the gospel:
You eat roast meat (because wolves eat meat) and cake decorated like a full moon.
A holiday to the spirit of wolves that celebrates people who are kind to dogs? I can 100% get behind this. So we will be celebrating Wolfenoot. It’s on the 23rd November if anyone else is moved to celebrate it. 😉 If you do, please post pics, so he can see how his idea has spread.
If you’re posting publicly about it, use #wolfenoot.
I don’t care what kind of blood-soaked moon-crazed snarling horror hellbeast of a werewolf fan you are – if you can’t see the sweet appeal of this idea, you’ll get no full moon cake or sympathy from me.
I was initially cautious about spreading the Wolfenoot word, because this is the Internet, where even the sweetest concept can hide something bad, but this idea really did come out of nowhere in September of this year, and the anonymous mom and son duo behind it are keeping things legitimately wholesome.
According to the FAQ, vegetarian and other adaptations are welcome, donations to “shelters/wolf sanctuaries/dog based charities” are encouraged over other kinds of gift-giving, and if you do want to give a little support to the family, you can buy merch with the slogan “No hate, only snootboops” on it. You can find out more on the Wolfenoot web site, Twitter account or Facebook event (which has over 10,000 people involved as of this post).
Wolves aren’t werewolves, I’m not in New Zealand, and I don’t know where I’m going to find a ketogenically suitable full moon cake on such short notice, but it doesn’t matter. This Friday, I’m celebrating Wolfenoot.
Time lapse video of “Lycan” digital painting by Kirisute Silvermane
Detail of "Lycan" (image: kirisute silvermane)
Sometimes when you’re feeling under the weather, it’s nice to indulge in that classic trio of self-care staples we all know and love: chicken soup, a blanket on the couch, and watching time lapse videos of people painting werewolves.
Here’s a time lapse video by UK artist Kirisute Silvermane, who wrote to me with some links to his work a few days ago… almost as though he knew I’d be laid up sick, wearing a hoodie with the hood up indoors, and craving the meditative experience of watching a pencil drawing fill out with fur, fangs and drool.
Mask & costume maker Magpiebones brings her incredible werewolf to life
Magpiebones models her incredible werewolf costume (image: magpieb0nes)
She calls herself a mask and costume maker, but with all due respect to her astonishing mastery of craft, I’m going to refer to Briana Barber (aka Magpiebones) as a supernatural shapeshifter, because her latest personal project has transformed her into an utterly believable werewolf.
This werewolf costume, created over several years as a lycanthropic labour of love, features several types of synthetic fur, including NFT fur on the tail and hackles, detailed paint work, a moving jaw, hidden-heel digitigrade feet, a wire and foam-core tail, and a bespoke bodysuit to give the correct monstrous shape.
Check out some selected images from her recent photoshoot below. You can also see more of her astounding work on DeviantArt and Instagram. If you’d like her to work her magic and turn you into a mythical creature, be prepared to pounce when she re-opens for commissions in January.
Werewolf News editor’s 2012 short story “The Librarian” now available as a PDF
Cover art for "The Librarian" (image: Tandye Rowe)
Hi, werewolf pals! My 2012 short story “The Librarian” is now available as an e-book. For $2, you can read about Alexis LaPierre, a murderous werewolf who tries hard to be a good person, and succeeds… for a while.
Reformed werewolf Alexis LaPierre is doing her best to make a normal life for herself. She has a good job, a comfortable apartment, and a fridge full of raw steak. She has a friend, some reasonable hobbies, and she hardly feels like killing anyone anymore.
Then she meets Rick, and her normal life begins to unravel.
Indie slasher film “Bonehill Road” is out
Hollywood Premiere artwork for Bonehill Road (image: Alexander Cherepanov)
When I posted about crowdsourced werewolf movie Bonehill Road last year, I had the usual mix of high hopes and low expectations. Now it’s out, and according to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB reviews it’s… actually pretty good!
To be fair, most of the positive reviews are from people who were hoping for low-budget indie schlock featuring lots of gore and a guy in a werewolf suit, and most of the negative ones are from people who apparently don’t know that’s basically writer/director Todd Sheets’s whole thing.
My policy for movies that lean into the low-budget thing is to cut them some slack if they’re upfront about what they’re making, and everyone seems to be having fun. If you’re making a 90-minute tax write-off where everyone’s miserable, we can tell. But I’ve watched the official trailer below a few times, and yeah, it’s cheesy, and sure, there’s a guy (and maybe a gal?) in a bespoke werewolf suit, but that transformation shot, the synthy score and the slasher title splash at the end get me every time.
You can buy Bonehill Road on Amazon, in Walmarts and other physical goods retailers around America, and also directly from Todd himself, who says:
In addition to DVDs I have a few Blu-rays left and two or three VHS is left from the original Indiegogo. All items purchased from me are autographed by members of the cast and crew as well.
You can reach him through the Bonehill Road Facebook page.
Be kind to the new girl – an untitled werewolf comic
A panel from Untitled Comic (image: Foreign Shores)
This comic by Alex and Sidney (Ollioxn and squidpicture on Twitter) is making its way around Tumblr. I absolutely love the gentle artwork and the unapologetic use of red. It has no title, but I would like to suggest “New Girl”, after the Long Winters song of the same title (and, given the impressionistic lyrics, potentially a similar theme).