Dueling werewolves

The 1980s were a good time to be a werewolf, or at least a lover of werewolf movies.  1981 saw the release of John Landis’ horror comedy An American Werewolf in London, which features what is generally considered to be the werewolf-transformation scene to end all werewolf-transformation scenes (and which won makeup artist Rick Baker an Oscar for his efforts).  Joe Dante’s The Howling was released the same year, also with makeup effects by Baker, and 1984’s The Company of Wolves (dir. Neil Jordan) featured similarly protracted—and artfully designed—transformation sequences.  I’m partial to The Company of Wolves, myself, mainly because it strikes the perfect balance of fantasy, horror, and eroticism, but I also keep a soft spot in my heart for The Howling, the film which perhaps best exemplifies Joe Dante’s ability to make tongue-in-cheek genre films that aren’t contemptuous of the genres to which they belong.  Where similarly meta-generic films like The Cabin in the Woods affect a cynical superiority to horror conventions, The Howling remains good-natured, affectionate, even slightly lunatic in its enthusiasm for werewolf movies (this in addition to its proffering a neat little send-up of new-age psychotherapy).  We might call that tempering of parody with affection camp, which Susan Sontag famously insisted was not motivated by haughtiness or disdain but was a fundamentally “tender feeling.”  It’s that genuine tenderness for the cheap thrills of the horror genre that makes Dante’s films so easy to love, and so much fun to watch.   

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