The Howling: Restored

We have another somewhat early Scream Factory release, but by point, they had about 15-20 discs behind them.  It's Joe Dante's The Howling, and I was already on board for this release just because it's a bit of a horror classic, and this was our chance to finally get it in HD, with all the old extras, plus a bunch of new ones.  So I didn't bother reading updates or reviews for this disc, I just bought it on faith.  And it wound up not only to living up to my expectations, but it was a nice little surprise.

Update 9/5/116 - 11/9/21: The Howling was an older Scream Factory blu based on an even older MGM master.  This film was itself howling for an update, and Studio Canal have delivered.  And it's not just an upgraded blu with a fresh scan, which I would've thrilled with, it's a 4k Ultra HD release, with multiple discs in fancy packaging, new extras and everything you could ask for!  But is there anything off about it?
The Howling's always a pleasant surprise for me every time I revisit it anyway.  Some time goes by and I forget all the details, and I start to think of it as an okayish werewolf movie that was overshadowed by An American Werewolf In London and spawned some of the worst follow-ups in horror franchise history.  But then I rewatch it and I'm hit by it all again.  On the one hand, it's a quirky, fun play on all the traditional motifs with Dante's usual sense of humor, from Forrest Ackerman's appearance to the old Hollywood references, as if he'd made Piranha 2: This Time They're Werewolves (the less said about the actual Piranha 2 the better).  But this time it's based on the Gary Brandner novel, which gives it a serious heft to it, a dark side to take seriously.  Even when Paul Bartel was getting attacked by the killer fish and his life was really in danger, everything felt like it was all in fun.  But when Robert Picardo comes creeping after Dee Wallace, there's a real threatening vibe there.  It's a real roller coaster ride, diving from cute to disturbing and then rising back up to charming but never completely safe.
It isn't quite on Gremlins' level yet, but Dante's got a real studio budget behind him, and it shows.  It has a variety of great effects, and a killer cast including Patrick Macnee, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, Slim Pickens, and fun cameos by Dick Miller, John Sayles (who also worked on this screenplay) and Roger Corman.  It isn't 100% faithful to the novel, but honestly, I think it's better for it.  I never read the book, but I read Howling II as a kid and I just remember being really bored, like when is a werewolf ever going to attack somebody?  Plus, Howling 4 went back and did a completely faithful adaptation, and look how that turned out.  So I think this is a case of both creators lifting the other up to be better than they'd be on their own.  Or maybe John Sayles carried the pair of them.  Both theories are equally plausible to me.  But the point is, something really clicked in The Howling.
So The Howling was originally released on DVD by MGM in 2000, but their 2003 special edition reissue has been pretty much the default Howling DVD for years and years. DVD of course being standard def, though, so it was only a matter of time until it hit blu-ray and HD, and in the US, that came to us via Scream Factory's 2013 special edition.  Now, we all know the drill with Scream Factory and MGM.  They've been going through their whole horror catalog, licensing a ton of great titles and using MGM's HD master without doing additional restoration, regardless of the original master's quality - that's what led to the Ravenous disappointment.  But now in 2021, we don't have to stress over any of that, because Studio Canal has released it as a restored, 2-(or 3-, depending which edition you bought... we'll come back to that)disc 4k Ultra HD release with an all new scan.
1) MGM widescreen DVD; 2) MGM fullscreen DVD;
3) Scream Factory BD; 4) Studio Canal BD; 5) Studio Canal UHD.

Okay, well first of all, I forgot to mention: MGM's DVD was a flipper disc, with an open matte fullscreen version on the back.  So that's kind of fun to look at.  But don't let that distract you now; check out the widescreen DVD and the SF shots.  That's a totally different master!  The DVD is redder and the blu is greener, for a start.  But more compelling than that, check out the extra information on the blu-ray's sides.  The blu-ray is at the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the DVD's just at a weird 1.80.  And of course, that's in addition to the expected benefit of boosting the picture to HD.  Look how much more readable those magazine covers are now.  Would you have ever been able to make out "Fingers Become Claws" on the DVD?  Heck, the difference is even more extreme on his hand.  it actually looks like they might've used a little sharpening or something when you get in this close, but not to the point where it's an issue.  Overall, it's a bigger upgrade than I was expecting.

But, of course, SC's upgrade is even bigger.  First of all, it's still exactly 1.85:1, but it is revealing even a slight bit more around the edges.  But SF's old master really screams when you look at the film grain.  It's a mushy mess, whereas even SC's BD is fine and distinct, let alone their actual 4k UHD.  And a big part of the improvement is a benefit of not having the tinkering the old blu does.  Look at, for example, the writing on the bottom of that Famous Monsters magazine cover.  The tiny writing, which, even on the UHD is a struggle to make out.  One thing that makes it even harder to decipher on the SF disc, though, is all that black noise.  What is that?  That's an attempt at sharpening the old master, to separate the yellow from the dark blue background.  It also turns some of the yellow white, to make it further stand out.  That maybe, arguably is a successful effect when you're seeing it on a much smaller screen compressed to SD.  It made sense for the DVD.  But for the BD, it was just unwanted noise, and there was no way it could stand on a UHD.  Thankfully, SC's new transfer is free of all of that.  It also has much subtler highlights and more natural color timing (i.e., Dennis Dugan's face is no longer tinted blue).  This is a bigger leap forward than most BDs to UHDs, both because SC did a first class job and because the previous master was troubled.

Audio-wise, all three releases do it right, giving you the choice between a 5.1 mix and the original mono (both lossless on each of the BDs and UHD).  And they all have optional English subtitles.  For non-English speakers, MGM also has French and Spanish subtitles, while SC has lossless French and German dubs and subs.
And like I was saying, the MGM was already pretty nicely decked out with extras.  It has the old laserdisc commentary with Dante, Picardo, Stone and actor Christopher Stone.  They joke around a lot, but still manage to get in a good deal of memories and insight.  There's a substantial, almost hour-long 'making of' documentary called Unleashing the Beast that interviews almost everybody, including Dante, Sayles, Stone, Picardo, Miller, Belinda Belaski, producer Mike Finnell and DOP John Hora, plus Macnee is included by way of a vintage television interview And it's also got fifteen minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes, the vintage promo featurette, 2 galleries, 2 trailers, some bonus trailers, and an insert with liner notes.  Plus, hidden away as an easter egg, is a brief bonus interview with Dick Miller.
So it really didn't seem like The Howling could use anymore special features, but Scream Factory proved that idea wrong.  First of all, everything from the MGM special edition is carried over, even the easter egg Miller interview (making this one of the very few Scream Factory releases with easter eggs).  But then, Scream Factory went and recorded a new, second audio commentary with author Gary Brandner!  He's one of the most important voices that had always been absent from Howling stuff until now, and it's great to hear from him, even though they do unfortunately spend a lot of time covering the general "career overview" ground rather than Howling-specific talk, a direction the moderator seems more responsible for than Brandner.  They also do new, on-camera interviews with pretty much everybody else the documentary missed: effects artist David Allen, co-writer Terrance Winkles, editor Mark Goldblatt and executive producer Steven A. Lane. And last but certainly not least, there's another great episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds.  It has reversible cover art so you can replace their goofy comic book art with the original poster and a slipcover, though again, it's too bad no one's figured out a way to make reversible slips.

And the Studio Canal?  Unfortunately, it lost most of the legacy extras. Goodbye, commentaries, documentary and Scream Factory interviews.  Goodbye, Horror's Hallowed Grounds.  It does keep a few things, though, like the deleted scenes, outtakes, and the trailer.  But more importantly, there's new stuff.  So how does that add up?  Do they make up for the loss of the old stuff?  Are they essential viewing on their own?  And, well, here's where things get wonky.
technically, this is a shot from Welcome To Werewolfland.
Let's start with this.  Studio Canal has an all new documentary called Welcome To Werewolfland.  Except, it's just barelllllly new.  It's comprised entirely of the same interviews as Unleashing the Beast.  No, it's not the same doc.  It makes different choices, for example Unleashing cuts to a cover of Brandner's novel when it's brought up, Werewolfland doesn't.  That's a minor one, of course.  Werewolfland is actually longer, leaving in bits Unleashing cut out.  For example, in Werewolfland, Dante lists the sequels he's seen and mistakenly says Howling 4 takes place in a castle (he's thinking of Howling 5).  Unleashing removes that line, so he doesn't misspeak.  As a result of these changes, Werewolfland is three minutes longer.  Yay, so it's better!  Right?  Well, not so fast.  Werewolfland cuts out all of John Sayles and David Allen's footage.  I presume this change is purely a legal play around copyrights and licensing fees.  But in the end, I'd say Werewolfland is worse than Unleashing, though if you're an ultra-dedicated, die-hard, completist fan, I'll concede that it means both versions do have a little bit of unique content, so there's value in both.  But really, 90+% of the content is exactly the same.

But it's not all disappointment.  They do have a new featurette interviewing Joe Dante.  And while sure, he says some of the same things about The Howling he says in all the other extras; he also talks rather frankly about some of his later films, fights with the studios, etc, which is quite interesting and not in any previous Howling extra.  And there's more good news.  Yes, MGM, Scream Factory and Studio Canal all feature the same outtakes... except Studio Canal has discovered more.  So there are six additional minutes of never before scene outtakes on SC's release, in addition to all the ones on the older discs.  The only other feature to note is the very stylish steelbook packaging.

...Assuming you bought the 2-disc set.  If you bought the 3-disc set, instead of a steelbook it comes in a slipbox and also includes  20-page booklet, poster and 5 art cards.  And most importantly, it includes a third disc: a DVD of 2015's Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex (and some extras associated with that doc).  It's more of an overview of monster effects than anything Howling-specific, but they do talk a bunch about the Howling and talk to Dante.  If you picked up the recent Monster Collection set, or any previous release of The Frankenstein Complex, you don't need this (all of the extras here are also on those), but if you don't, this is a really nice treat.
So Scream Factory's The Howling was an essential release at the time, and they did everything they could to do to make it great, with an improved transfer, both audio tracks and a sweet collection of legacy and additional features.  And unlike Halloween 3, this time they remembered subs.  But it's gotten old, and SC has come to not just take the title but completely revitalize the Howling viewing experience.  This one's a must-upgrade.  But while the extras they do provide may be enough for a casual viewer (even in its Werewolfland form, it's a great doc that tells the film's story really well), the SF has so many great additional extras, it will probably still be essential to hold onto, if only as some kind of fancy bonus disc.  Oh, and speaking of bonuses...

Bonus video: see inside a Howling DVD, literally!


  1. It's worth bearing in mind that Arrow are also releasing this on Blu soon, so it will be interesting to see how it differs from the Scream disc (which it almost certainly will, even if only in the extras department).

    1. Really? Interesting! I hadn't seen that.

    2. Yeah, John, November 14th. Crazy film, haven't seen it for years, but will certainly be considering the Arrow when it comes out: