Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book and Film Review: The Howling (novel) by Gary Brandner (Film) by Joe Dante

The Howling by Gary Brandner

Mass Market Paperback, 215 pages

Published June 1986 by Fawcett (first published January 1977)

I was inspired by Desmond over at the Dread Media Podcast to read and watch the Howling. I had seen the movie many years ago and it was a classic of horror I had not read. After listening to Des and Darryl review the movie I thought I it would be fun to review the book. After reading it I felt the need to see movie again which I remembered liking more.

This is a rare case of the movie that is head and shoulders better than the book. I mean the book comes from a different era, with different expectations. 1977 was early in the Stephen King horror revolution, a time when all fiction ballooned into massive novels. At the time short novels were more common. This novel is tissue paper thin in every sense. Plotting, character and prose are all minimal. More interesting things happen in the first 20 minutes of the movie than the entire book.

I think this is a result of really talented filmmakers like John Sayles (who went on to write and direct arthouse films) and Joe Dante (Gremlins) directing. Both learned under Roger Corman who had a brief cameo at the phone booth early in the movie.

Contrast the prologue of the book with the movie. The plot hinges on the main character Karyn surviving a violent attack, a graphically told rape that happens with very little preamble or establishment of character. In the novel she is a housewife left at home alone when the apartment caretaker breaks in and attacks her. In the film Karyn is a TV news reporter on the trail of a psycho killer who has been sending her lurid letters. Already this is a more interesting concept, and creates story and character texture.

In the book when Karyn wants to escape the city there is very little logic to the decision, and the community with no phones and tucked away seems just accidentally chosen. Smartly the filmmakers gave a Karyn a connection and reason for ending up in the werewolf village. The killer played by Robert Picardo (who played the doctor on Voyager and worked with Dante again in Innerspace)was a part of the wolf cult, and so was one of her boss, who connected her to the story and eventually suggested a place where she could get away.

The novel has a few great moments including the first time Karyn hears the far out howling, this scene survives into the film and the over vibe is there. The movie simply enhances the story and gives it more strength. The story is told without almost zero depth, the mythlogy is barely touched upon and even the death of characters carry no weight.

I can't say I would recommend this novel, although I remembered liking Cameron's Closet a later novel by the same author. Whitley Strieber's novel from a year later is 1,000 times better. If you want to read a 70's werewolf novel go with Wolfen. Cool movie, really not so great novel.

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