Howling [1981]

A graduate of Roger Corman's school of low-budget ingenuity, Joe Dante gained enough momentum with 1978's Piranha to rise to the challenge of The Howling, and he brought along Piranha screenwriter John Sayles to cowrite this instant werewolf classic. Makeup wizard Rob Bottin was recruited to create what was then the wildest onscreen transformation ever seen. With Gary Brandner's novel The Howling as a starting point, Sayles and Dante conceived a werewolf colony on the California coast, posing as a self-help haven led by a seemingly benevolent doctor (Patrick Macnee), and populated by a variety of "patients," from sexy, leather-clad sirens (among them Elisabeth Brooks) to an old coot (John Carradine) who's quite literally long in the tooth. When a TV reporter (Dee Wallace) arrives at the colony to recover from a recent trauma, the resident lycanthropes prepare for a howlin' good time. Dante handles it all with equal measures of humor, sex, gore, and horror, pulling out all the stops when the ravenous Eddie (Dante favorite Robert Picardo, later known as the Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager) transforms into a towering, bloodthirsty werewolf. (Bottin's mentor Rick Baker would soon raise the makeup ante with An American Werewolf in London.) As usual, in-jokes abound, from characters named after werewolf-movie directors, amusing cameos (Corman, Sayles, Forrest J. Ackerman), and hammy inserts of wolfish cartoons and Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." It's best appreciated now as a quintessential example of early-'80s horror, with low-budget limitations evident throughout, but The Howling remains a giddy genre milestone. --Jeff Shannon

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