Werewolves and zombies are the stars of the latest Halloween horror flick fix.
October is here once again, which means all things spooky, creepy, and outright horrifying are currently making their way into the homes of millions of people – through their screens, of course. All Halloween aficionados know that this is the month where we attempt to watch as many horror movies as we can, marathoning as much blood and guts as anyone might be able to stand (or delight in). It may as well be a sacred tradition.
In that spirit, Knotfest has called on our very own Ryan J. Downey as well as resident film critic Nicolás Delgadillo to put together two individual lists of vital Halloween horror picks for every day of the month. The wide variety of macabre favorites range from classics to more obscure cult films and feature zombies, demons, serial killers, vampires, and monsters of all kinds from all different eras.
Today’s picks include an underrated werewolf classic from the 80s and a direct-to-video animated gem that stars one of the heroes of Saturday morning cartoons in their scariest adventure to date.
‘The Howling’ (1981) Directed by Joe Dante
Bark at the moon! Director Joe Dante’s werewolf classic The Howling returns to select theaters today (October 20), gloriously restored in 4k, in celebration of the movie’s 40th anniversary.
A few years before he made Gremlins, Dante teamed up with effects master Rob Bottin, who worked on some of the cantina creatures in the original Star Wars (and even performed as the tallest member of the Cantina band). Over the years, Bottin has worked multiple times with beloved filmmakers John Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing), Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct), and David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club). He earned an Oscar nomination for his work on Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) and was given a Special Achievement Academy Award in 1991. While his mentor Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation scenes in An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are better remembered by wider audiences, Bottin and Dante’s take on lycanthropy in The Howling preceded the legendary werewolf film from Baker and director John Landis by a few months.
The Howling is more of a straightforward horror film than the intentionally comedic An American Werewolf in London, though it’s not without its own brand of clever satire. (The late film critic Roger Ebert called it “comical at times,” but he probably meant something different.) It’s no surprise that Glenn Danzig, who named his comic book company Verotik, once cited The Howling as one of his Top 10 favorite horror movies, as it’s a relentlessly violent and erotic film.
At the center of the story is TV news anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace), traumatized and struck with amnesia after helping police capture a serial killer (in a porn theater, no less), which leads to an on-air breakdown. A TV therapist suggests a remote place called The Colony, where she and her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone), can rest and recuperate. Like the greatest of Twilight Zone episodes, it’s evident from the jump that something is up with this place. Are visitors to The Colony considered special guests… Or menu items?
Elisabeth Brooks steals every scene she’s in as the leather-loving Marsha Quist, whose failed effort to seduce Bill is followed by a werewolf attack which may or may not be related (cough, cough). Regular Dante player Belinda Balaski (Piranha, Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) plays Karen’s friend Terri, who comes to The Colony after Bill gets scratched up. Without giving too much away, The Colony is overrun with werewolves (d’oh!).
The Howling builds to a dizzying climax involving the news and just as importantly, the public’s relationship with the media we consume.
Social commentary, scary woods, imminent danger, and truly gruesome transformation scenes notwithstanding, The Howling is actually a lot of fun. Like Gremlins, the sense of peril is real, but not at the expense of popcorn thrills.
I’m a sucker for a brisk story about cults, conspiracies, and sexy killers, so adding werewolves here is just a bonus.
‘Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island’ (1998) Directed by Jim Stenstrum
That’s right. Scooby-Doo is an eternal staple of childhood and likely to be a kid’s first true introduction into the realm of monsters and horror, even if it’s just the PG kind. But while almost all of the ghouls and ghosts and goblins that the Mystery Inc. team takes on turn out to be crooks and con artists in masks and costumes, one of the biggest pulls of the legitimately brilliant direct-to-video Zombie Island is how this time around, the monsters are very real.
Zombie Island may not have been the first attempt at a feature-length Scooby-Doo movie, but it’s remained the most essential animated adventure for the iconic dog and his friends. The film follows Shaggy (Billy West), Scooby (Scott Innes), Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) and Velma (B.J. Ward) as they investigate a bayou island said to be haunted by the ghost of a centuries-old pirate, and wind up discovering far more than they bargained for.
The film was considered to be a real passion project for the team that made it, who were apparently given complete creative freedom. It certainly shows; Zombie Island is impressively ambitious and even surprisingly dark and scary for something starring Scooby-Doo, and the film truly felt like an event when it was first released in 1998. It solidified the talking dog’s popularity and place in pop culture after waning interest in the 90s, and the franchise has been living large ever since. A direct sequel, titled Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island, came out as recently as 2019, proof that this particular movie still has a lasting impact.
Also Third Eye Blind performs the theme song, and Skycycle’s now infamous “It’s Terror Time Again” is a jam and a half. Have a kid that loves Scooby-Doo? Show ’em this masterpiece immediately.
Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage: