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HORROR NOIR RETROSPECTIVE OF JOE DANTE'S 'THE HOWLING'

Belinda Balaski snooping around THE HOWLING Year: 1981
“I kind of cross this line where... I see it whether it's really there or not,” actress Dee Wallace 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 look 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 death scene...

Joe Dante filmed this to be neon noir w/ Dee Wallace
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 owner (and Roger Corman's BUCKET OF BLOOD hero) Walter Paisley…

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…

Legendary John Carradine in THE HOWLING
Elisabeth Brooks makes for an intoxicating, gorgeous, dangerous, primal and especially 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 after PIRANHA and right before teaming with Steven Spielberg (it was JAWS that PIRANHA was somewhat parodying) in the more conventional and mainstream 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...
 
Rob Bottin's wolf with his meal Belinda Balaski
“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...

Belinda Balaski studying up THE HOWLING Rates: ****1/2
Scriptwriter John Sayles, who also penned Dante's PIRANHA and Lewis Teague's ALLIGATOR, brought the Creature-Feature genre to another level entirely, adding a multilevel of creativity to a source novel that deals with a couple, a rural cabin, and an ancient werewolf... And the director brought it wonderfully to life...

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…
Christopher Stone, Dennis Dugan, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy in THE HOWLING
Dick Miller with Belinda Balaski and Dennis Dugan in THE HOWLING Occult bookstore
The late, beautiful Elizabeth Brooks steals scenes in THE HOWLING
Screenwriting/Screenwriter Genius John Sayes cameo in THE HOWLING
Robert Picardo as Eddie with Dee Wallace as Karen White in THE HOWLING
Belinda Balasmi in her last stretch of the Eddie Investigation
Belinda Balaski The Howling Belinda Balaski THE HOWLING REVIEW by James M. Tate
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