Though a classic of the horror genre, I think The Howling is fundamentally flawed. The build-up is strong; it is rooted in urban anxieties, and the effects of trauma on the individual. Karen White is a reporter who has a close encounter with a serial killer that leaves her unable to carry on with her personal and professional life. Her psychiatrist recommends she spend the weekend at his “colony” an isolated community up in the mountains, so that she can overcome her fears.
As soon as Karen goes to the colony and other reporters seem to reveal that something less than human may be involved, the plot begins to crumble. The supporting characters are largely uninteresting, and this really drags the film down. Unlike many great horrors where the atmosphere of the film is largely defined by the cast of characters that surround the protagonist, this one is cheapened by how absurd and uninteresting they are.
Another fatal horror error is that the film betrays the idea of “less is more”. As impressive as some of the effects happen to be, on a whole, the focus on monster design drags the film down. The film could have done well to take a page out of other anamorphic horror films like Cat People, where nothing is really revealed. The long and medium shots of the werewolves, especially in motion, are laughably bad. Even technically successful shots, like the transformations, inevitably drag down the plot. They are overdrawn, and simply eliminate any sense of tension or suspense. The latter half of the film is destroyed by these interruptions that ruin the pace of the film.
The film’s final act, as Karen confronts the werewolves head on, should be a veiled metaphor for her emotional and psychological struggle. Though the story is somewhat overblown, the scarring event is reminiscent of very real sexual attacks and abuse. Not only in the setting, the mood but the effects it has on Karen. The film’s final act is simply not emotionally charged enough, and neither does it deal with the right kind of imagery or intensity. The film just seems afraid to really commit itself to the psychology of its horror, and its apparent commercial aspirations inevitably neuter any potential it may have had. This is simply a bland film.