Monday, December 17, 2012

The Howling (1981)

One must approach a text like The Howling with Philip Brophy's "Horrality" in mind. The phrase "it knows that you know it knows you know" is a perfect summation of this self-parodizing werewolf movie. Without even looking hard, "Wolf chili" cans and a statue of the twins of Rome suckling from the she-wolf were two of the more subtle points in the great stream of intertextuality that emerges during the middle of the film and rides on all the way out to the end credits. Switching to a commercial for dog food actually made me laugh out loud. Furthermore, the man at the bar commenting on the special effects is pleasantly cheeky. Another supplement to contextualizing The Howling is definitely Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue. The fact that it was released five months before An American Werewolf in London means the two contemporaries are naturally primed for comparative responses.

The Howling, probably due to its origin as a novel, contains a greater world of lycanthropy. The camera shot on an etching of Little Red Riding implies that the wolf is a symbol that is pervasive throughout cultures (The implications of Grandma actually turning into a werewolf and desiring to eat her own granddaughter opens up a tremendous new avenue of potential Freudian creativity). American Werewolf focuses on the single psychological transformation within its main character until the animal nature emerges in the physical realm. The Howling frames lycanthropy as a mental illness that makes the inflicted residents of The Colony feel alienated from the world. It works to demystify the curse and redefine it as a medical affliction that fundamentally separates "the animalistic" in our world from the rest of society. The resolution of  killing  those who are different is horrible in its own right and is definitely not the message of the film. However, as far as horror goes, monsters that are transformations of our own human body so often divide society and we can find no other answer to their monstrous nature except for violence.

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