MGM has included two versions of the film for viewers, as the DVD contains a 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation and an anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Thankfully, both versions of the film are on the same side of the disc and there is no need to flip the disc for one version or the other. In addition, this keeps the disc’s supplements, aside from the audio commentary, on one side rather than employing Fox’s method of splitting them between fullscreen and widescreen sides of the disc.
The image was respectable for a film of its age, as sharpness and detail remained slightly above-average for the vast majority of the film. However, The Howling suffers from a few compression issues from time to time … it’s nothing overly distracting, but it’s noticeable nonetheless. The color palette used in the film remained pretty solid, choosing to err slightly on the side of being muddy, with bleeding and smearing never becoming an issue. The nighttime and scenes, as well as those in dimly lit interiors, exhibited the vast majority of the grain and softness found in the transfer, but it was noted at levels expected for a film as old as this.
Fleshtones were accurate and natural, while the blood and guts moments in the film seemed pleasingly precise as well. The film remained properly balanced and contrasted the majority of the time, although the brightness seemed a little excessive in some of the darker scenes. Pixelation and edge enhancement were kept at a minimum – as were print flakes and flecks - and The Howling managed to impress, albeit not as much as much more recent releases.
MGM’s The Howling receives a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 surround update that is definitely a big improvement over the original monaural mix that the film was presented in theatrically and on the original DVD. The mono track was serviceable, but for the purposes of my review, I will only cover the 5.1 dynamics and fidelity here.
The 5.1 transfer is average, with some decent separation in the front channels, as well as occasional moments of ambience. Being 20+ years old, you might have guessed that there’s not much impressive in the mix, as the dynamics that the track exhibits are somewhat limited. Frequency response is pragmatic and dated and rear surrounds are rarely heard in any sort of impressive reinforcement. Ambient effects are relegated to howling wolves and environmental reinforcement in the form of what you would hear if you were out in the wilderness somewhere in North America.
The film’s very dated score receives some nice reinforcement from MGM’s transfer, although it pales in comparison to more recent films, while low end is lacking and far from impressive. Dialogue was crisp and clean throughout, although there was a moment very early in the film (when Dee Wallace’s character meets the serial killer, Eddie Quist, for the first time as “bait”) where the dialogue didn’t match up with the actor’s lips. This was the only scene that exhibited this flaw and it was more than a little surprising. It has been mentioned elsewhere that maybe this was because MGM contrasted the scene a little too brightly and we were never meant to see the actor’s lips move anyway. That may be so … but it’s hard to tell if this problem was present in the source material or not. However, with the issue popping back up in one of the supplements that uses this particular scene, I would imagine that this flaw has always been present. Either way, dialogue in the film was front, center, and easily understood.
MGM has also included subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, as well as the original monaural track that the film was supported with theatrically. Considering the age of the material, MGM’s audio transfer isn’t too shabby, but it’s just not much to write home about either.
MGM has given The Howling some decent supplements – beginning with the very nice, textured cardboard slipcover houses the case. While the images are exactly the same on the slipcover and the keep case, it’s a nice touch anyway. There’s also a respectable 4-page Insert Booklet that contains information on werewolves, as well as trivia related to the creatures.
The main supplement on the disc is an Audio Commentary with director Joe Dante and actors Dee Wallace, Robert Picardo and Christopher Stone. While this is a holdover from the laserdisc of years ago, it’s still a very nice addition to MGM’s most recent DVD release. This is a pretty dated commentary that contains extended gaps of silence and really crappy edits that make it a bit more difficult to follow that what most of us are used to. Even so, the group really seems to have had a great time recording the commentary and there are some really cool tidbits brought up in the commentary – many of which will be covered again in the new documentary created for the DVD – which make it slightly redundant in hindsight. Dante tells us some amazing tidbits on how the film was made on a shoestring budget of slightly over $1 million dollars, making fun of the throwback fashions seen in the film, relaying some interesting and fun tidbits from behind the scenes, editing, and talking about various techniques used in order to pull off certain scenes (many of which look very funny considering all the advances made in the past 20+ years). There’s some good stuff to be mined from the commentary if you can get past the somewhat shoddy and dated editing and fans of the film will find themselves engrossed in the participant’s comments.
A new documentary entitled Unleashing The Beast: Making The Howling (54:07) is next and is broken down into multiple chapters – “A Brief History of Werewolves”, “A Company of Werewolves”, “How To Make a Werewolf Picture”, “I Was a Latex Werewolf”, and “Requiem for a Werewolf”. Thankfully, MGM has included a –PLAY ALL- feature that will allow us to view the entire supplement without clicking on the individual chapters. All of the main players from the film come back for new interviews – Joe Dante (Director), John Sayles (Screenwriter), Mike Finnell (Producer), John Hora (Cinematographer), Dee Wallace Stone, Belinda Balaski, Dick Miller and Robert Picardo – and really make this supplement much more interesting that it would have been had MGM just decided to throw something together. We learn about how the book was optioned and the screenplay was born, tweaks made to the screenplay and the massive changes that departed from the novel, how Dante and the other principals became involved with the project, and obviously, a lot of time is spent covering the groundbreaking special effects used in creating the werewolves and the techniques used to morph man into beast. This was an exhaustively thorough documentary that was very engaging and entertaining. Definitely the cream of the crop as far as The Howling DVD is concerned.
Next is Making A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling (8:01). Totally cheesy and over-the-top, this is our promotional look at the film from a 1981 perspective. Bad hair and fashion abounds and while this was a nice feature to have from a time capsule point of view, the previous feature makes this one rather useless.
MGM has also included some Deleted Scenes (9:30) for our viewing pleasure and has presented them in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround. There are no headings to chapters to choose from here, as all of the scenes run as a continuous feed. Most seem rather pointless, but are nice to have nonetheless. This is followed by some Outtakes (5:18) from the film that failed to elicit any real laughs.
There are two Theatrical Trailers for the film (“Trailer #1” and “Trailer #2”), as well as a couple of still galleries; Theatrical Publicity Campaign Photos (12 stills of publicity photos and different posters for the film) and Production Photos (39 black and white stills from the set and behind-the-scenes).
Finishing off MGM’s DVD is Other Great MGM Releases and it includes trailers for MGM Means Great Movies, The Fog, Carrie, and Jeepers Creepers; all current DVDs in MGM’s stable.
The Howling hasn’t aged real well and for a film that barely lasts 90-minutes, I found myself checking the clock often. The film lives on in remembrance much better than it does in subsequent viewings and I can only recommend a blind purchase of MGM’s well done DVD to hardcore fans only.